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Two alternatives to stretching watercolor paper

If you’re coming here to learn about stretching watercolor paper, I’m the wrong person to ask. I’m way too lazy to do that.

“But you work 10 hour days, Roman.”

Yeah, that still doesn’t mean not I’m lazy. And, I wouldn’t call art working. It’s something I love doing. Remember how Brett Favre used to play football? He never called it work. He loved the game.

That’s exactly how I see art. It’s not working. Or another example – that 80s song Money for Nothing. “That ain’t working. That’s the way to do it.”

But stretching watercolor paper? That’s work. That’s something I’d rather not do. Rather, I’ll give you two alternatives to stretching watercolor paper.

Painting on a watercolor block

If you’re like me, you’d rather do something other than damping watercolor paper and leaving it over night with some clamps or what not. Geez, to be honest, I don’t even know how to do it. I don’t care either. I’d rather spend my time painting.

Luckily, most watercolor paper companies also give you the alternative of watercolor blocks. Arches is your standard brand for archival quality watercolor paper and they offer various sizes up to 18″x24″. I personally prefer hot press watercolor paper since my style mainly involves fantasy pinups. Hot press is easier for me to draw on.

painting on a watercolor block is an alternative to stretching watercolor paper
Allie as Marilyn was painted on a watercolor block

Watercolor blocks are super easy to use. You just do your thing, wait for the paint to dry, then whip out a knife.

No, not a Crocodile Dundee knife. A butter knife. Or a letter opener. (Do people still own those?)

Watercolor blocks don’t need to be stretched. The glue holds them down. I do some pretty heavy work with water too. Seven layers of wet on wet to get my skin tones looking good. I really abuse that paper, yet it still holds up and won’t buckle.

Taping it down with masking tape

Or, if you don’t want to use a watercolor block, you can tape it down with masking tape. Another fine alternative to stretching watercolor paper.

Note that when you tape it down, you’re pretty much going to lose the part that you tape. Which is great if you’re either chopping a little off when you mount it on wood or if you’re losing a little bit under the framing.

Just keep that in mind though. You’re going to lose the part that you’re taping. See example below.

using masking tape is another alternative to stretching watercolor paper
For Mermaid in Love, I used masking tape instead of stretching the watercolor paper

Taping it down is easy. My wife owns a pretty nice wooden artist board that I use rather than an easel. I’m weird. I literally paint on the floor. I’m more comfortable doing that than an easel.

Anyways, you tape down the watercolor paper with masking tape. Note that this will actually damage crappy watercolor paper. I’ve never had a problem with Arches archival quality paper though. The masking tape comes right off without ripping it.

Let’s discuss losing that part you taped in more detail

You don’t actually lose it. Since it’s covered with masking tape, you cannot paint on it. If you have something in your painting that “goes off the painting,” then it’s going to look bad. For instance in the painting above, her mermaid tail is mostly off the painting.

However, this is a complete non-issue in this case. I mounted this painting on wood which requires me to cut off about an inch of margins on all sides in order to fit the wood. I had that planned in advance so it was a complete non-issue.

You need to keep this stuff in mind when you’re planning in case you’re actually going to do something with your watercolor art. If you’re just keeping it for yourself, then it doesn’t matter. But if you plan to give it to your best friend or put it up for sale, then you need to plan accordingly.

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What is a succubus?

“But everyone knows what a succubus is, Roman.”

No, not everyone knows everything about fantasy. You may be a kid who’s just getting into fantasy RPGs for the first time in your life. Or, you may be an adult who has just gotten the itch for fantasy literature. For all I know, you just got out of a cult who limited your interaction with the outside world.

I don’t know who reads this blog. Regardless, I love you. And I really mean that.

I’ve always been an artist/musician, and yes, we’re the feeling types. I never play the holier than thou game. I’m not better than you or more important.

By the same token, I don’t hang out with people who think they’re intrinsically better than me either. I don’t play that game.

So whether you’re the resident expert at all things fantasy or you’re a complete newbie, welcome. I want you here either way.

The history of a succubus

I’ll need to do more research. But I do know a few things. I know a lot of Bible scholars say that Lilith was the first succubus. Did succubi go back even before the Bible? I don’t know.

Lilith was the first Succubus
John Collier’s Lilith (1887)

Most famous mention of a succubus? Well, not exactly a succubus. Rather, her male counterpart. An incubus.

Merlin, the greatest magician of all time, was fathered by an incubus. That’s one reason he was destined for so much power.

What is a succubus?

A succubus is a female demon. Different stories give her different powers.

Generally, they seduce men in their dreams. I’ve heard that if they successfully seduce you in your sleep, you’ll die in your dream and they get your soul.

I also heard they’re not quite that powerful. If you’re a writer, it’s your world. You can choose how powerful you want to make them.

Regardless, they are dream demons.

There was even a Pope who they claimed got his power from a succubus.

Revival

Succubi were popular scary stories during the Middle Ages. Gary Gygax with his Dungeons and Dragons brought the character back big time.

I’m now seeing her everywhere, including in a lot of anime and manga. She’s a pretty potent and powerful fantasy character.

Anyways, I’m writing about succubi because I’m currently working on a painting with a succubus lead. Just in case some folk don’t know what she is.

Other characteristics

The legend goes something like this. The succubus enters a man’s dream at night. She starts off as a beautiful young woman. Since men have different views of what constitutes beauty, she definitely meets your standards (an incubus for the ladies).

If you can resist her, you’ll start to see her as she really is. Not all at once, but more like a process. You’ll start to see horns, a tail, scales, and other demonic deformities.

When she becomes unattractive to you, she loses any control over you. Then she had to find another victim to haunt.

So stay strong men. And of course ladies if an incubus enters your dreams.

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Some tips on beginning watercolor

Do you cook? If so, how did you learn to cook?

If you cook, you’re most likely one of three people. The first person took cooking classes until he felt confident enough to venture out on his own.

The second person watched someone else. This person she watched could be anyone, from a parent to an older sibling to even a friend or lover. But the point is, she watched and repeated until she felt confident enough to venture out on their own.

The last person is self-taught. He stole concepts from here and there but mostly experimented on his own until he got so good, he now invites all his friends over and they absolutely love his cooking.

How learning cooking relates to beginning watercolor

What does learning cooking and beginning watercolor have in common? You’re more than likely one of those three people. You learn by either taking classes, watching someone else, or experimenting on your own.

None of these methods are better than each other. They totally depend on the person. You need to know who you are, and which method would work best for you.

The student

If you’re the student, don’t buy anything. Instead, enroll in a beginner watercolor course or two.

Your teacher will either give you a list of supplies to buy or she will supply them herself. Either way is great.

For the student, I have no advice for you at all other than to follow the course to a T. Ask appropriate questions. And most importantly, do your homework. Do these things and you’ll improve.

The copier

This method is great. Blues, the music, not the color, came from this. Cats would jam and improvise until they got really good.

Musicians inspired and stole from each other. The ones who played the most improved the most.

The same concept applies for the beginning watercolor painter. Hang out with fellow artists. Copy their methods. The more people you steal from, the more unique your style will become.

I started off as a guitarist by doing exactly this and I got good enough to play some pretty cool cover tunes live within only two years.

This method works, especially for an extrovert or people person. You’ll just have to find the right people to learn from.

The experimenter

And lastly, we have the self-taught master. As I’ve said, none of these methods are necessarily better than the other. You just need to do the one that works for you.

If you’re the experimenter, then do the following. Look online at people’s art. Find out what paints the people you like use. Buy them.

Then while buying paints, pick up a cheap pack of watercolor paper. You’ll throw out the first ten watercolor paintings anyways.

Get some brushes. Which ones? Depends on what you do. Artists love to argue over stupid shit. I just say get the brushes that make the most sense for what you do. I use different brushes than the average watercolor artist since I paint pinups rather than the usual scenery/flowers/birds/buildings that everyone else seems to paint.

some hot tips for beginning watercolor
These are the brushes I used for this particular painting. Your style may require different brushes

Get two jars. I use kimchi jars. You can use spaghetti sauce jars. It doesn’t matter.

Get yourself some paper towels, and get to work.

Remember, your first ten paintings will suck. Don’t get discouraged. The key is, you keep painting.

Hot tip - total hours is more important than years practiced. 

This means exactly that. The guy who practices five hours a day in only one year will smoke the guy who painted one hour a week for five years. You improve by honing your craft. It’s the same as everything from playing piano to working on cars to watercolor painting. The one who puts the most hours in will improve the fastest. If there’s one thing that I’d like you to remember the most out of this article on beginning watercolor, it’s that.

A mix of all three

And there’s always that one guy who’s a mix of any two or maybe even all three. That’s totally fine too. If you’re that person, then apply all these concepts.

Good luck, my friend. If you keep with this and get really good, then maybe my grandkids will be buying your paintings and putting them up on their walls.

Once you get past your first 10 paintings, I strongly suggest you start using real watercolor paper. That’s paper you can push. You won’t be fighting the paper so much.

You’ll know what I mean once you pass your first 10.

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How to protect a watercolor painting

OK, I have to make an assumption here. There are two types of people who will look up how to protect a watercolor painting and come across this article. The buyer of course wants her watercolor painting she just bought from the artist to last a lifetime. I’m assuming you’re not the buyer. I’m assuming you’re the artist.

If you’re the artist, this is who this article is for, not the buyer. So let’s go over how to protect a watercolor painting, from the artist’s perspective. For after all, if you’re a professional artist, your art is your legacy.

You’re insanely talented. Your artwork is so good that we all want it to not only outlive you, we’d love to know it will be around for literally hundreds of years.

The problem with colors are they fade. This is a problem all art mediums face. Even the great Leonardo da Vinci faced this.

We won’t cover oil or acrylics. I’m only covering watercolor and of course her cousin gouache. I’m also assuming you’re painting on watercolor paper. Note that this will also work for watercolor paintings on wood.

Preserving your watercolor painting

Alright, let’s go over how to protect a watercolor painting. You’ll only need two things – varnish and wax. I’ll note the specific ones I use.

You don’t have to use the same brands. These are just the brands I use and I think they’re excellent. I also love the way my paintings look after they’ve been waxed. But first things first.

Varnish

When the average person thinks of varnish, they think of wood varnish. Same concept.

We’ll be adding a protective layer of varnish directly over the painting.

Note that varnish is bad for your lungs. Luckily for me, I used to swim. I can hold my breath for a long time.

Always, always, always varnish outside. You don’t want your family breathing this stuff.

Krylon Kamar Varnish for watercolor paintings
I use Krylon Kamar Varnish for my watercolor paintings

Take your painting outside. Note to read the bottle carefully. You don’t want to do this when it’s really humid outside as it won’t work correctly.

Shake the bottle vigorously for two whole minutes. You want it shaken enough that you can do the whole shebang with only one continuous spray.

I get the painting in position over a big piece of cardboard. You can use a moving box if you have to. Then, I hold my breath and shoot. I really pack it on.

Wait at least several hours. Varnish has a real strong smell to it and if it’s outside for a few hours, it won’t be so bad when you bring it back in. Just don’t leave it out overnight. And if it starts to get humid, you’re going to have to bring it in. I’m not sure where you’re at, but when I lived in the South, it seemed like the weather changed on a whim.

Wax

After I brought my painting inside, I still wait overnight to wax it. This is the wax I use.

Dorland's wax medium
Dorland’s Wax Medium is very good for protecting your artwork

I made a mistake. I bought a bottle that was too small. I’ll be going through this sooner than later. Next time I buy this stuff, I’m buying the bigger bottle of Dorland’s Wax Medium. It’s great stuff!

After the varnish is totally dry, I take a soft cloth and a nice sized chunk of wax, and smear the wax over the painting. I let that go overnight, then put on a second layer of wax the next day.

So yes, preserving your artwork is a three night process. But the thing is, you don’t have to watch the varnish dry and the wax settle. I’m always doing the next piece of art while waiting for this one to get ready.

What does the wax do?

You might be wondering why you waxed it after already applying the varnish. The wax gives you an added sealant for protection. It also gives your painting some extra luster.

After all, our goal is for your beautiful painting to last hundreds of years after we die.

After waiting yet another night after the second layer of wax, it’s time to buff the wax. I simply use a paper towel.

After buffing the painting, the wax really makes it shine. You’ll love how it looks. For my pinups, the girls really pop when waxed. Whether you also paint people, or wildlife, flowers, scenery, or whatever, the wax really makes the colors pop while also adding additional layers of protection for your watercolor painting.

Allie as Marilyn side view
My latest painting – Allie as Marilyn – varnished and waxed and ready for sale
Note - you don't have to do this, but I always do.  I always add wax over the wood as well.  It gives an extra bit of protection to the wood as well as your painting.

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Fantasy femme fatales list for inspiration/my memory

I don’t know about you, but I forget stuff all the time. No, I’m not getting senile. I’m always trying to do too many things at once.

So I live and die by post it notes. They’re my reminders to do pretty much everything.

I make a new list every day of things I need to knock off. Sometimes it’s a few things and sometimes it’s a lot. Depends on the day.

Anyways, this is my second time talking about writer’s block or creative’s block this month. Since I paint women, I’m making a character list for myself. You’re more than welcome to use this list too if you’re anything from an author to a painter to a dungeon master. This may just inspire you to add a creature or two to your upcoming novel, screenplay, or fantasy campaign.

Human like fantasy femme fatales

Right away, we have mermaids, fairies, witches, sirens, dryads, nymphs, and naiads.

Sirens

I assume you already know what mermaids, witches, nymphs, and fairies are. Just in case you don’t know the others, sirens are a mythological creature from Ancient Greece. They had such a beautiful song that sailors would be so captivated by it that they’d forget what they’re doing and crash into the rocks and die.

Some cultures had overlaps between sirens and mermaids. And some cultures even said they’re the same thing.

sirens are fantasy femme fatales
John William Waterhouse – Odysseus and the Sirens. Sirens are fantasy femme fatales

Dryads and Naiads

Dryads are forest spirits who literally live inside a tree. They’re rather lonely creatures and will lure a young handsome man into their tree to live with them forever.

Don’t you love that word forever? It’s used so often in fairy tales and live songs.

Naiads are beautiful water spirits. They live in freshwater only. Naiads are fascinating creatures in Greek mythology. Often jealous, they blinded one young man and fused with another.

Sometimes they’re worshipped. Other times, they’re scary stories. And other times, they’re lovers of Kings.

Semi-human fantasy femme fatales

The Sphinx

You’ve heard the story of the Sphinx. Since the Egyptian Sphinx is a male, I’ll talk about the Greek Sphinx instead.

She has the head of a beautiful woman, the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle, and the tail of a snake. She’s quite dangerous as she riddles you, and if you cannot answer the riddle, she’ll eat you.

Oedipus finally defeated the Sphinx by answering her riddle. Afterwards, she got so mad that he got it right that she killed herself.

The riddle? What has four legs in the morning, two legs in the day, and three legs at night. The answer? Man.

A baby crawls on all fours. Learns to walk on two legs. And needs a cane in his old age.

The harpy

Have you ever seen Fantasia? Walt obviously did his homework.

Romans saw them as hideous creatures but the early Greeks saw them as beautiful women with wings. In Fantasia, they were the Roman version – hideously scary and dangerous.

Succubi

A succubus is the female version of an incubus. Both slip into the dreams of their respective opposite sex and if they successfully seduce you in your dream, you die and they get your soul.

Lilith, Adam’s first wife before Eve, supposedly was a succubus.

At first inspection, they’re beautiful young women. But as you really look into them, you can start to see demonic deformities. Yet another reason not to close your eyes when making love, right?

Alright friends. I think that should be enough to get you started. One of these days, I’ll write a sequel to this article.

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Watercolor vs Gouache

I named this article “watercolor vs gouache” but in reality, watercolor and gouache are friends. They play nicely together. They even share the same paper for their main choice of surface.

But, you should know when to use one and when to use the other. Each has her own advantages and disadvantages.

So since this is a sequel to that previous article, assuming you’ve read it, I finally bought the good stuff. I’ve always been using mostly Daniel Smith watercolors with a little bit of Windsor and Newton thrown in there. But for gouache, since I’ve barely used it other than that glitter in Allie’s or Roxy’s eyes, I’ve used the cheap ass stuff. No longer.

I’ve read tons of online reviews and decided on this one:

M Graham gouache set
M Graham professional grade gouache

If I’m going to compare watercolor vs gouache, I should at least compare top quality paints. So for comparisons, I’m using Daniel Smith and Winsor and Newton for watercolors. And M Graham Artists’ Gouache for gouache.

Strengths of watercolor

Layers, layers, and more layers

I paint pinups. I work with two live models – Allie and Roxy. Allie is the blonde. Roxy is the brunette.

They’re both drop dead gorgeous in real life and I love painting them both. I first start off with sketches. Then I paint.

Stylistically, I love painting women with watercolor since I could do layers after layers. After over a hundred paintings to my name (most you’ll never see), I got really good at layering.

Watercolors are fantastic for layering. Since watercolors are transparent, you can still see the bottom layers. That’s why you specifically have to paint light to dark. If you don’t, the dark will drown out the light.

When I paint my models, I use seven layers of paint, wet on wet. When complete, my pinups look fantastic. The more you paint with watercolors, the better you get with layering and colors. You’ll fall in love with your ability to layer. I can guarantee that the more you paint with watercolors.

Clean up

I have a confession to make to you. I live in a tiny ass apartment with my wife. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a consideration when I decided on watercolors over acrylics and oils.

Let’s actually get straight to the point. That was my main consideration.

Our apartment is so tiny that we don’t have room for anything. If my models weren’t friends of mine, they’d probably tell me where I could put my paint brushes. I literally paint on the floor. I don’t even own an easel. They barely have room to pose.

Watercolors are the easiest paints of all to clean up. They also wash right off your brushes. If you get decent brushes, they’ll last for years. You don’t have to buy brush cleaner. You just clean them off with water.

Easy to reuse

OK, time for another confession. When I mix skin colors, I use the same mix for at least three or four paintings.

The paint dries after I finish a painting. And when I start on the next painting, I simply re-wet the paint and it’s exactly the same color as before. So if I’m painting Allie three or four times in a row, which I often do, I can make a batch of the same skin color for all those paintings.

No solvents

Geez I’m getting personal here. I’m very odor sensitive. If someone stinks or is wearing too much cologne or perfume, I’ll know it before anyone else knows it. I can’t see worth shit but my nose is stronger than most people I know.

I hate the smell of solvents. I hate that smell almost as much as I hate burnt automatic transmission fluid. It’s one of my least favorite smells on the planet.

Watercolors don’t ever need solvents. You don’t need solvents for spills. You don’t need solvents for your brushes. So you don’t need to air out your home when you’re painting and/or cleaning up.

Strengths of gouache

Gouache on the other hand is opaque. I’ve heard it compared to acrylics. Some folks even refer to gouache as “opaque watercolor” for after all, it’s technically more a subset of watercolor than its own thing.

Gouache has its own character

I only have one painting to my name that is mostly gouache. And you know what? I already love gouache!

It doesn’t layer as well as watercolor. But, it’s great for covering up. If you’re going to combine gouache and watercolor, it’s probably best to paint the gouache first.

Gouache reacts differently to water than watercolor does. It gets funky with too much water. You’re going to be using less water and more paint.

Gouache also pops. You’ll know what I mean when you use it.

Cheap

I’m not a cheap person when it comes to my art. My car is a piece of shit and I don’t care. I never even repaired the dents. But for certain things, like food, tipping my bartenders and servers, and my art, I’m spending the money.

That said, it’s pretty nice when even the high end stuff is cheap. Gouache retails cheaper than watercolors. If money is a consideration, you might want to consider starting with gouache. I’m talking artist grade vs artist grade, not the good stuff for one vs the cheap stuff for the other.

Speed

Before cartoons went digital, artists used either gouache or acrylic paints for the cels. Plus, a lot of commercial artists used gouache.

Why? It’s fast. You have timelines. When under the gun, you want something fast. Gouache is perfect in those regards.

Easier to get started with

No, not the same concept as speed. I’m talking about for the very beginner.

With watercolors, I’ve said your first ten paintings will end up in the garbage. Half that with gouache. Gouache simply has easier concepts. I picked it up right away. Watercolors took awhile to pick up.

I’m not implying gouache has no technique by any means. However, if you want to at least get started with the basics, you’ll pick them up faster with gouache than you will with watercolor.

Weaknesses of watercolor

Transparency – strength that is also a weakness

Whereas I listed transparency as a strength, it’s also a weakness. For instance, if you make a mistake, you can’t just cover it up like you can do with other mediums.

Some folks use pencil as a guide. I actually ink. I actually love the look of watercolor over ink. If I do a bad job at inking, I can’t cover it up with watercolor. In that particular case, I either have to use gouache or watercolor ground to cover up the mistake.

Also, to get dark, you have to really pile on the paint. For instance, I painted four layers of wet on wet black to get this black to look like this.

watercolor vs gouache - evil witch casting spell
It took a lot of paint to get the black to look this black

Other people’s stereotypes

“Who cares what other people think?”

I do when I’m trying to sell my work. Some folks have a negative connotation to watercolors. They see it as a lesser medium to oils.

I completely disagree with them. But let’s not pretend it’s not there.

A lot of great art from the Romantic era was actually done with watercolors. The artists painted in the field with watercolors since it’s easy to transport.

Now, I could say “easy to transport” as a strength but I’ve never painted outside and I don’t ever want to give someone advice that I have never done. That would be like me telling you how to ski on an advanced slope. I’ve never done it.

I’d be either lying or regurgitating what other people have said. I don’t do that. If I’m giving you advice, it’s from my own personal experience.

But back to other people’s stereotypes, I’m hoping to help my fellow watercolor artists here. You can do more with watercolors than most people realize. I think once people see my pinups, they’ll realize how diversified and powerful watercolors really are.

Muddiness

You can avoid muddiness with experience. However, if you don’t have enough experience, you can really turn a painting muddy with watercolors. There are no easy ways to fix muddiness. It looks really bad.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure how else to explain it. It’s one of those “you’ll know it when you see it.”

Concepts take a long time to master

I feel like watercolor has some concepts that really take a long time to master. For instance, the whole concept of how water changes the colors. It’s an easy concept to understand. However, it’s a complicated concept to execute.

I got good at it with a lot of practice. For instance, look at the witch above. That paint for the inside of her nails is actually the same color for the outside of her nails and her lips. Yet, it appears like I’m using three different colors.

The difference? The amounts of water. This is something that you really have to practice a lot to execute properly.

That’s why I suggest buying a watercolor journal. Be sure to use it often and take lots of notes. I swear I have just as many words in the journal as I do actual painting examples. And I need every single word in there.

You’re going to do a lot of experimenting. Washes take a long time to master. Controlling the water takes a long time to master. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Advanced watercolor artists are more than likely thinking to themselves that I left out a dozen other concepts.

Weaknesses of gouache

Colors are straightforward

When you’re used to watercolors, gouache can be too straightforward. What you paint is what you get. It’s not something you’re going to layer. Blends don’t have as much depth as blends do with watercolors.

I’ll put this more in computer terms. Think about how you can take two colors with watercolor and when you blend them, you actually get eight colors if you look very closely. Now, I’m making that number eight up. But it’s for effect.

Whereas, you do exactly the same thing with gouache and you get three. Once again, I’m making that number up for effect.

What I’m getting at is you’ll get more colors when blending with watercolors than you will with gouache. Colors are more straightforward.

Now don’t get me wrong. You can still create tons of colors with gouache. But the actual numbers you’ll create when you blend will be less than you’ll get when you do exactly the same techniques with watercolors.

Nobody knows what you’re talking about

A friend of mine is a digital artist. He and his friend are working on a game as we speak. My friend is doing the artwork. I’ve seen some of his work and it’s actually pretty good.

When I told him that I just bought a gouache set, he said “what the fuck is gouache?”

Commercial art stereotype

And of those who do know what you’re talking about when you mention gouache, many of them only think of commercial art. Which, I think there’s nothing wrong with.

I may get chastised for this, but I don’t romanticize the starving artist. Sometimes artists have families. And families need to eat.

If you take a job making art for a corporation so you can actually eat, I get it. I’m not one of those people who plays holier than thou and think artists have to follow some strict moral code or take a vow of poverty.

But those people are out there. They think everything commercial is bad, and the only way to make it as an artist should be to sell your own work privately, and not working for The Man.

Whatever. I’m not one of those people.

Those people also thumb their noses at gouache for this very reason. Gouache at one time was the most common medium for print ads. If I’m not mistaken, digital art surpassed gouache long ago.

So they see it as a less than serious medium. Which is a shame since there is some really cool gouache work out there. I happen to love Olivia De Berardinis for instance, who makes some pretty dang fine pinups with gouache.

Gouache is harder to get off brushes

I have two Kim-chi jars when I paint with watercolors. One I use to wash the brush. The second I use for the final rinse.

With gouache, I still use the same method. However, it takes a lot more swishing to get all the gouache paint off the brushes than it does with watercolor.

Is this a big deal? Not really. You’re just going to have to work harder at keeping the brushes clean. But it’s definitely noticeable.

Note – this may not necessarily be a gouache thing and might be an M Graham thing. M Graham is honey based, and if that’s the reason why it’s harder to get off the brushes, it’s the brand, not the type of paint.

Can you mix them?

I did. The sky you see here is actually M Graham gouache combined with Daniel Smith watercolor. I like how it turned out.

combining watercolor and gouache
The castle and the sky are using both watercolor and gouache

Watercolor vs Gouache – Final verdict

You already know what I’m going to say about the whole watercolor vs gouache debate. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I use both.

I finally bought some good quality gouache as pictured up above and I love it. You can see what I use watercolor for and what I use gouache for. When I want to layer something heavily, I’m using watercolors. When I want opaque, I use gouache. So it totally depends on what I’m working on.

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25 inspirations for the uninspired

We’ve all had those days whether you’re a writer, a composer, or an artist. You sit down. You got work to do. And nothing comes.

The muse has left the building and you’re badly trying to summon her back.

Well, my friend, fret not. What you need is a list.

This list will work for you whether you’re trying to compose that song that will make you famous or you’re working on the Great American Novel.

How to use this list

Here’s the trick. Actually take a pen and paper and write down the answers.

Every lyric you have, every word you write, every painting you paint, it all comes from your head. When you are uninspired, the problem revolves around the lack of communication between your brain and your medium. Your hands are the in between and once you start getting ideas to go to your hands, your inspiration will come right back.

Sound crazy? Actually, it’s not. It’s a mental block.

Try it. It’s a brain trick I’ve learned over the years. I guarantee it will work.


1.  Who is the love of your life?
2.  Who is the one that got away?
3.  Who hurt you the most?
4.  Who did you hurt the most?
5.  What did you want to be when you grew up?
6.  Who was your idol as a kid?
7.  Who was your idol as a teen?
8.  Who was your first crush?
9.  Who was your first kiss?
10.  Where were you when you had your first kiss?
11.  What was the most painful argument you’ve ever been in?
12.  Did it resolve?
13.  If it resolved, how? If not, why not?
14.  Who is the person who has passed on that you miss the most?
15.  What would you tell them if you’re allowed one more day with them?
16.  Where would you take them?
17.  Why is that place so meaningful to you?
18.  Whether or not you’re married, describe your dream wedding?
19.  Who will you want to be there?
20.  Who do you not want to be there?
21.  What happens to us after we die?
22.  Why is your best friend your best friend?
23.  What is something your best friend knows that nobody else knows?
24.  If you have unlimited money, describe your dream vacation
25.  If you have unlimited money, describe your dream home

Did you notice something about this list? It’s not a simple yes or no list. I made your brain wake up.

Now, you’re ready to write, paint, or compose the next big hit!

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Correcting watercolor mistakes with watercolor ground

If you’re wondering about correcting watercolor mistakes, look no further. Several wonderful companies have created a product called watercolor ground. You paint it on just like you’d used paint. But then, it actually becomes part of the paper and you can paint right over it.

Last night, I had a wonderful evening with the Mrs. We played a board game called Pandemic where you actually work as a team to save the world from pandemic diseases. You either save the world together or you both lose. It’s a cooperative board game, very different from most games.

Anyways, I had a lot of Scotch to drink. I like my Scotch. And I had the bright idea to ink some parts of my watercolor without penciling first. Yeah, ’twas dumb. But it happens.

Well, I inked the armpit lines in the wrong place.

No worries! I simply let the ink dry, then let the watercolor ground do its job.

correcting watercolor mistakes with watercolor ground
Allie posing as Marilyn

I took this shot before I added any paint so you can see my mistake. That’s how the watercolor ground looks like when it’s drying. It’s like white out for watercolors.

Correcting watercolor mistakes

If you’re wondering how to use it, it’s very simple. With the watercolor ground, you simply wet your brush and paint on the watercolor ground over the mistake. Note that it generally takes three layers of ground to cover the mistake completely.

Qor and Daniel Smith both make quality products. To be honest, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend one over the other. They both do a pretty good job at correcting watercolor mistakes.

Qor watercolor ground
Qor Watercolor ground is a pretty good product for correcting watercolor mistakes

That said, I would not recommend using watercolor ground on wood if you’re painting with watercolors. I can’t speak for you, but when I’m painting on wood, I want the wood to show through. The ground when it dries will look like blank watercolor paper.

Remember to wait 24 hours for it to dry. The first time I used it, I made the mistake of waiting only an hour and it didn’t dry completely. So some of it came off when I started painting. I made that mistake already so you don’t have to. (In other words, feel free to learn from my mistakes).

Also, some folks use watercolor ground to paint on weird surfaces. I’ve read about people painting on glass or metal after adding a few layers of watercolor ground. I haven’t tried that yet so I can’t tell you how well that works.

One last thing

Be sure to clean your brush thoroughly after the final layer of ground. Since it dries with the consistency of paper, I imagine it’s hard on your brushes.

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Don’t skimp with cheap watercolor paper

When to use cheap watercolor paper

In the very beginning, I knew that I would paint ten throwaway paintings. When I say throwaway, I mean it literally. They sucked, and ended up in the garbage. So no, you’ll never see them. They’re in a landfill somewhere.

I bought ten sheets of cheap watercolor paper. It didn’t matter since I didn’t know the difference between cheap watercolor paper and the good stuff anyways.

Well, that ten turned into thirty. However, of the next twenty, some of them were actually good enough to give to friends. But none of those first thirty paintings are in the Opium Tales art store. I wasn’t quite ready yet.

Your first ten paintings

For your first ten paintings, you’re more than likely learning and/or experimenting. You already know they’re not going to be good. And yes, that’s a good thing. You have to start somewhere.

I wasn’t doing multiple washes and multiple layerings. I wasn’t doing any of the advanced techniques I do today. There was very little color blending.

I made a lot of mistakes. At first, I used way too much paint. At other times, I used way too much water.

The skin coloring especially was off. Later of course, I got really good at skin coloring. But back then, I painted both Allie and Roxy quite poorly.

When you get better

When you get better, you’re simply going to have to buy better paper. You’re going to be doing advanced stuff like painting multiple washes, wet on wet blending, and other advanced techniques. You’ll push the limits of the paper.

Today, I generally paint on either Arches paper or Blick watercolor blocks. Personally, I love both of them.

You’ll have a preference for paper. That’s personal. It may be completely different than mine and there’s nothing wrong with that. You and I are different people with different tastes.

But, you can’t use the cheap stuff any more. This is a perfect example. When not using a block, I have to tape the paper down or else it will buckle something terrible. I use a lot of water. I push the paper to her limits.

cheap watercolor paper may tear
Notice the tearing?

You can see in the image that the cheap paper actually tore. This is just plain masking tape. With Arches, you’re not going to have that problem. This is only a problem with cheap watercolor paper.

Two more problems with cheap watercolor paper

One, it puddles. The absolute last thing you want (besides a tear) is a puddle. Great way to ruin a painting. Good paper absorbs.

Of course you can still puddle if you’re using way too much water, but I can assure you after you finish your throwaway ten, you’ll learn not to do that. The cheap stuff will have much shorter limits than the good stuff though. That’s what I’m getting at.

And the second problem, I can’t tell if it’s the paper itself or the paint, but there were little crumbles in my water when I’d paint. I’m not a scientist and I don’t have a microscope, so I can’t actually tell what those crumbles are. I can’t tell if they’re the paint crumbling or the paper. Regardless, they’re pretty gross and not something you want in your painting.

I never had a problem with quality watercolor paper like Arches or Blick blocks. (Note that a lot of fans of Blick blocks actually think it’s a way more expensive paper that Blick gets as a discount since they buy such large quantities. Costco does the same thing with Scotch. If you drink Scotch, try the Costco branded Scotch. It’s actually something pretty good).

Archival quality

If you become a serious artist, you need archival quality. That means that the paper if properly taken care of will live hundreds of years after you pass on from this world. This is your legacy we’re talking about. You’re going to want archival quality paper.

Arches is archival quality. Since this is my name we’re talking about, I’m all about it. I want my art to last hundreds of years after my death.

So don’t be cheap when it comes to paper, my friends. Yes, in the very beginning, buy the cheap crap. But when you actually have your legacy on the line, be sure it’s archival quality paper.

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Music to paint to

music to paint to

What music do you paint to? And does music help set the mood for your painting?

Since I’m doing more fantasy pinup art, I like music that helps the setting.

I have eclectic tastes. They range from pretty heavy to pretty deep. But a lot of my music totally fits my paintings’ themes.

Heavy Metal is great music to paint to

“What? You paint to Heavy Metal?”

Of course I paint to Heavy Metal. What other genre even touches fantasy a fraction of what Metal does?

I paint a lot of fantasy femme fatales. Metal music totally fits the attitude that these bad girls have.

From the Golden Age of Metal, I love Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, etc. Recently, I like HIM, High on Fire, Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, and Nightwish.

All these bands have both lyrics and attitudes that totally fit my bad girls.

Non-Metal music that I love to paint to

Sometimes, I need something softer. For those moods, Loreena McKinnett, Blackmore’s Night, Enya, and random Celtic stations from the Internet radio do wonders for my paintings.

McKinnett and Blackmore’s Night especially. Their lyrics and moods are totally fantasy. For painting background music, they’re downright awesome.

Celtic music is great music! It’s just so alive. So real.

For random background music, I’ll take Celtic music above anything else. I’ve bought CDs from live Celtic acts we’ve seen anywhere from Celtic pubs to farmers’ markets. I don’t have a drop of Irish blood. But I sure love their music. (And their women!)

Classical music

And of course Classical music. Except I’m quite particular when it comes to Classical. I love the Romantic era. If you’re wondering who they are – Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Mendelssohn, Chopin, etc.

They all had themes and sometimes even the characters that I paint. I would have loved to have been alive back then and heard that music while the composers were still alive. Imagine being alive to see your heroes actually conducting their own music!

So what about you?

What do you paint to? Does your music fit your painting? Why or why not? And, does it make a difference?

Photo credits

Loreena McKennitt – performing at the InterCeltic Festival at Lorient, Brittany in August 2008. Photographed by Maelor
Blackmore’s Night – live at the Tarrytown Music Hall, October 2012. Photographed by Nsoveiko
Beethoven – Painting by Mähler, 1815
Judas Priest – Live in 2005 Moline, Illinois. Photograph by Zach Petersen
Tchaikovsky painted by Nikolai Dimitriyevich Kuznetsov