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How to ink watercolor

So you want to know how to ink watercolor? It’s actually a very simple three step process. First you draw it in pencil. Then you ink it. Then you erase the pencil after the ink dries.

That’s all there is to it. But, let’s not end this article just yet. You probably need a lot more detail than that.

Drawing your piece

There are two types of artists who use watercolor. Some of us just paint. I’m not that type.

I’m the type that has to ink watercolor. The drawing is the most important and the most difficult part of the entire process for me.

That’s because I do pinup art. You pretty much have to draw a reference for it to be any good.

That said, you could keep the drawing in pencil. Or you can ink your painting.

Dryad at Night, not painted yet
“Dryad at Night”, inked but not painted yet. I prefer ink to pencil as I love the look afterwards

I’ve done both, and every single painting you see in my Opium Tales store is inked. To my eyes, it looks way better.

But let’s go back to drawing the piece. Some folks use high tech or expensive pencils. I just use plain America’s Pencil HB 2 pencils. They’re good pencils. Then I put those erasers you get in a ten-pack to put over the eraser it comes with. I swear, I probably do just as much erasing as I do drawing.

I strongly suggest you try different kinds of pencils. Try the high tech ones and try the simple ones. There is no right answer here. You need to find the tool you’re most comfortable with. Once you find that tool, you’ll more than likely use the same tool for years.

Inking the piece

Now the fun part. If you mess up the inking, you’ll need to use a little bit of watercolor ground to fix it.

Inking is the scariest part for me. Drawing is easy. You can always erase. Once you ink, it’s permanent.

Now, the kind of ink to ink watercolor? Good question.

Once again, try different tools until you find the one you like. Now this is very, very important. You need to buy a permanent ink that is waterproof. If you don’t, it will smear all over your painting once you add water. I’ve made this mistake once and I’ll never, ever make it again.

tools to ink watercolor
Some tools I use to ink watercolor

Ink brushes

I have one ink brush and I never use it. It’s simply too thick for me.

If you’re doing something with super fine detail, you can’t use an ink brush. However if you’re doing something a little bit more abstract, ink brushes look cool!

I actually love how ink brushes work. But since I’m doing pinup art, I have no place for it. It depends on what you’re doing though. You may love it.

Ink pens

This is what I use. Once again, it needs to be waterproof.

I swear by Sakura Micron pens. I think they’re dang good pens for watercolor and gouache.

Personally, I’m using the 005 because I need very fine lines. You may not need something that fine. Buy a few of these pens and see which ones you like the best.

Note that you need to wait until the ink is completely dry before going to the next step.

Hot tip - Store your pens upside down.  They'll last longer that way.

Testing the ink first

Sakura Micron pens won’t run. But, one thing I learned the hard way, not everyone who works at the art store knows everything. I had one employee suggest a “great pen for watercolor” and when I actually started watercoloring, it ran all over the place and completely ruined the painting.

If you’re not sure, test it on your test notebook. You do have one of those, right?

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, they’re these little watercolor notebooks. Strathmore and Moleskin both make decent ones.

Strathmore watercolor notebook example
Two example pages of my Strathmore watercolor notebook

I don’t use them for anything other than testing and making notes. You can clearly see that I write in the thing just as much as I actually paint in it. It’s for experimenting only.

Erasing the pencil

Finally, you erase the pencil, leaving behind only the ink. All the shading, depth, shadowing, etc, you do with the watercolors. You won’t need to see any of the pencils.

For this, I either use the eraser I put on the pencil or a gum eraser. Either are fine.

Using this succubus painting as an example how to ink watercolor
“She comes in peace”, inked but not painted yet

Watercolor is transparent so if you leave behind any pencil, there’s a good chance it will show. Some of the pencil gets wiped away in the water. Some of it does not. So if you don’t want it showing, it’s in your best interest to not skip this step.

Make sure you’re not leaving any eraser residue behind. Wipe that off well, and you’re now free to paint!

Equipment list

Sakura Micron pen set

Pentel erasers

Strathmore watercolor journal for all your watercolor experimental needs

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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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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.

What does this have to do with beginning watercolor?

Um, everything. 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.

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.

Recommended products

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.


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.

Recommended product – Krylon Kamar Varnish


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.

Recommended product – Dorland’s Wax Medium

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.

Please note that as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This is as absolutely no cost to you, and helps keep my bills paid. I will never recommend a product that I do not use myself. And thank you.

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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.


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.


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.

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.


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 Cobalt Blue gouache combined with Daniel Smith Moonglow watercolor. I like how it turned out.

painting from a dream
The sky is using both gouache and watercolor

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.

A note about affiliate links – as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This is as absolutely no cost to you, and helps keep my bills paid. I will never recommend a product that I do not use myself. And thank you.

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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.

Recommended products:

Qor Watercolor Ground

Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground

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.

Please note that as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This is as absolutely no cost to you, and helps keep my bills paid. I will never recommend a product that I do not use myself. And thank you.

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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.

Roman recommends Arches watercolor paper. Please note that as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This is as absolutely no cost to you, and helps keep my bills paid. I will never recommend a product that I do not use myself. And thank you.

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Seven color watercolor palette

7 color watercolor palette

There’s an old adage that you should be able to cut down to six colors if you had to. You know what? There’s no way I can. I need seven.

So I’m going to break the rules and cut down to a seven color watercolor palette. What’s in my watercolor palette? Keep reading and I’ll not only explain my colors; I’ll also explain my reasoning.

Now, if your subjects are different than mine, you’re going to use different colors. That’s just how it is. For instance, if you like painting flowers or birds, you’re not going to obsess over your human model’s skin and hair coloring. Likewise, if you’re painting deserts, you’re going to have desert colors.

Nobody is right or wrong. Colors depend on your subject. And also your style.

Watercolor palette for this pinup artist

I paint fantasy pinups. My main model is a blonde. My secondary model is a brunette.

I love painting them both. I just happen to paint Allie a lot more than Roxy since I see Allie a lot more.

So now let’s do colors. I wrote an article on how I paint skin colors awhile back. I use Titanium White and Burnt Sienna as my primary two colors. For my secondary two colors, I use Hansa Yellow Medium and Perylene Red. All Daniel Smith. That’s because Daniel Smith is what I’m used to. I also like how big and vibrant that brand’s colors are.

That’s four colors right there. I need all four of them for skin colors alone.

If you look closely at your model’s skin, it’s not one color. You have everything from shading to bruises/scars to veins to birthmarks to moles, and everything else. But, I don’t go into super detail. I’m aiming more for beauty. I’m a pinup artist after all, not a super duper realist.


That shade of yellow also doubles as Allie’s hair color.

Speaking of hair, Roxy’s a brunette. I won’t include a brown in my seven color watercolor palette, but more on that in a bit.


I paint a lot of mermaids, so I’ll need some kind of underwater blue. My favorite blue I’ve found for water so far? French Ultramarine. I absolutely love that color!

I use that color both for water and also for eye color. For blue eyes, it’s the best.

That’s now five. Two more to go.


Yes, you can get a green from mixing yellow and blue. But, I really like Hooker’s Green. It looks fabulous for green eyes when slightly watered down. It also makes brown when mixed 50/50 with Perylene Red. I use that brown for Roxy’s hair. She’s got gorgeous long dark brown hair in real life. I hope she keeps her hair long forever. I have a thing for long hair.

And for number seven – Rose of Ultramarine. Yes, you can get a purple from mixing blue and red. But, this is a special purple. A more rose purple, except it looks like something you’ll see underwater.

It’s the main color I use for mermaid tails. Also, I love using it in my witches’ skirts. I worked it in to most of their skirts.

For black, you can make a real nice watercolor black with yellow, blue, and red. You use a pinch of yellow with a healthy mix of both blue and red, and you’ll end up with a deep black. It’s like a purple black. Real nice looking color.

If I had more colors to work with

I use gold in most of my paintings. Long story short, I bought gold watercolor ground, having no idea what watercolor ground was at the time. So here I am with this big jar of gold. So I decided, I needed to use it.

Then and there, I decided that Allie’s characters will always get a double golden bracelet on her left arm and Roxy will get a gold necklace. In real life, Roxy wears a lot more jewelry. But I wanted to use that gold, so that’s what I decided I’d do.

When I get a third model, I’ll probably give her gold somewhere else. Like maybe a gold headband or golden rings. I haven’t decided yet. Whatever it is, it will have to fit her personality. But that’s in the future.

I’d also get a real black. I hate mixing black. It’s actually hard to replicate. Although yes, that black I mix is nice, it’s never the same twice.

I don’t need a pink since I get my nipple pink from watering down the Perylene Red. That’s one of the magics with watercolors. Water itself actually changes the colors.

What would you use?

If you had an evil witch who broke into your home and had a wand to your head, and said that she’d turn you into frog if you didn’t get rid of everything but seven colors, which seven would you cut down to? And, could you do six? I’d really, really have a problem cutting down to six. But since she has a wand to my head, goodbye Rose of Ultramarine.

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Why I prefer hot press paper

blonde mermaid painted on hot press watercolor paper

Keep in mind, there is no perfect tool. There are no right answers. What works for you may not necessarily work for me. And vice versa.

I personally prefer hot press paper. Why? Because the beef of my art isn’t the colors. It’s the drawing under the colors. Hot press paper is the most smooth, and the easiest to draw on.

If you’re wondering the difference between the two papers, cold press paper has a bumpier texture. It’s slightly better for multiple washes. However, I paint my skin tones seven times wet on wet on hot press paper and don’t have any complaints.

Hot press paper rules for drawings

For practice sketching, I just used plain, cheap copy paper. Since I’m not going to do anything with those sketches anyways, I don’t care. They’re for practice, and if they turn out really good, I’ll give them to a friend. But when it’s time to actually paint, I’m using either Arches or Blick Premier hot press paper.

Note the most important thing here – it comes down to style. If you’re a pure painter, you’ll more than likely prefer cold press paper. Cold press paper is more popular. You’ll notice this when you go into any art store and actually count how much cold press is available vs how much hot press is available.

I’m not a pure painter. I do fantasy pinups. Stylistically, hot press paper serves me better than cold press paper.

Not that that’s all I’ll ever use. Sometimes, I’ll paint on wood or clay. But when it comes to paper, I’m using hot press.

mermaid drawing on hot press watercolor paper
Pigma Micron 005 on Blick Premier block 140 lb hot press paper

For my style, the drawing is my bread and butter. I’ll still need to do seven layers of wet on wet to make her skin smooth and lovely. But both Blick Premier and Arches hot press paper can take that much water, no problem.

Negatives of hot press paper

It takes longer to dry

Hot press paper takes longer to dry than cold press paper. I’m not a blow dryer guy. I go and do something else in between layers.

For cold press, I can usually start painting again in a half an hour. For hot press, I’ll wait at least 45-60 minutes between layers.

Washes are different

This isn’t necessarily a negative. Although since most watercolor artists start off with cold press paper, they’re thrown off by how hot press paper acts differently.

The colors on hot press wash off faster after multiple washes. Cold press papers tend to “keep” the colors more than hot press. This is neither here nor there. It’s just something to be aware of.

mermaid work in progress
Work in progress – after a few washes. Yes, my wife and I eat a lot of kimchi

That’s one reason why some folks with start off with cold press, try hot press, then move immediately back to cold press. They don’t like how hot press doesn’t keep the colors as well.

As with anything, you get used to how things work with the method you use the most. That includes the tools. You get comfortable with the tools you use the most.

I’m now more comfortable with hot press paper. I’ve adjusted accordingly, despite actually starting with cheap cold press paper (which I will strongly not recommend – another story for another day).

Try them both

I strongly suggest that you try them both and see which one you like better. You may completely disagree with me. Which is fine. You be you. You and I may have completely different styles, or may need different aspects from the paper. That’s part of art.

Try having a conversation with ten different people about what is the best car and you may get eight, nine, or ten different responses. Same thing.

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Watercolor on wood vs paper

mermaid watercolor on wood

Watercolor on wood. It just sounds cool. However, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it will end up a disaster.

I’m assuming you’ve already painted watercolor on watercolor paper (which is made from acid-free cotton, not regular paper). If you haven’t, watercolor paper is what most watercolor artists paint on most of the time.

Some of us love to experiment on different mediums for whatever reason. I’m one of those people.

I’ve now painted on watercolor paper, clay (a product called Aquabord), and wood. I won’t go into clay in this article. But I will give you some differences between watercolor on wood and watercolor on watercolor paper.

Watercolor on paper

This is your generic watercolor painting. I don’t want to spend too much time on this because I assume you’ve done this many, many times. This article is written for people who have already painted on paper and want to experiment on wood. But if you’re wondering what to start out on, I’ll give you a few paragraphs.

Watercolor on paper is as generic as it gets. Good paper absorbs washes beautifully. It also takes in your colors as you expect them to.

I always paint with a blank piece of copy paper on my right side and when I mix colors, I try them out first on the copy paper. Those colors will be very close to what you’ll see on the watercolor paper. Not exact, but close enough.

You’ll also get used to drying times. You have to wait until one layer is dry before moving onto the next layer. You’ll need to know terms like “wet on wet” and “wet on dry” at the very least to be a decent watercolor artist. You’ll be using both.

Watercolor on wood

Now, this is where it gets tricky. Assuming you’re used to painting on watercolor paper, wood is, well, weird.


Wood bleeds a lot. Not every watercolor artist inks. However, I always ink. If you use ink, keep in mind that wood really bleeds a lot. You’ll want to use a thinner ink pen/brush. Here, I’m using a Pigma Micron 005, which is very thin.

watercolor on wood - inking
Inked with Pigma Micron 005

You can’t ink too slowly or else it will bleed all over the place. You’ll need to get confident with your lines.

After you’ve inked, keep in mind that watercolor bleeds with paint as well. Whereas with paper, you can make mistakes, you can’t make mistakes with wood. Good luck trying to get your mistake out. The paint will bleed into where you don’t want it to bleed, then stain. You’re more than likely not going to be able to cover up that stain.

To anticipate the bleeding, you’ll need to know which way the wood flows. Look closely at the lines in the wood. Know them well.

Also, know exactly how wet your brush is. The more wet, the more bleed. For fine details and edges, you almost want to dry brush.

Sucks paint

Is the price of paint an issue for you? I’m not saying this to be an asshole. I’m saying this to be a realist. If you’re broke, keep in mind that you’re going to go through a lot of paint. You simply need more paint than you will with paper.

watercolor on wood - you'll use way more paint
Water finished – this was a lot of paint!

You see that blue for the water? That was a shitload of paint. That’s enough paint for at least three or four watercolor paper paintings. No, I’m not exaggerating.

Light colors don’t show

You’ve more than likely learned the rule to never, ever go dark to light. You always want to paint light to dark. Right?

Well, that is correct for paper. However for watercolor on wood, it’s different.

Allie has light skin. When I first painted her skin color, it didn’t show up at all. This was exactly the same paint I just mixed for my previous painting on paper.

So, I did a cardinal sin. I mixed a darker paint, then went dark to light.

It worked perfectly. Whereas you never, ever want to do this on paper, you may have to do this on wood for the lighter colors.

Yes, the darker colors will show through as watercolor paint is very transparent. However, do you want the darker colors to show through versus having nothing show up at all? I’ll take the former.

Wet on wet

Here’s where it gets weird. You’re used to painting wet on wet and everything working well on paper. Well guess what? On wood, your water just got sucked into the wood. You’re going to need more water.

But then, if you use too much water, your paint will bleed all over the place and ruin your painting. But if you don’t use enough water, your wet on wet won’t be a wet on wet.

Heh. Catch 22. Good luck with this.

OK, I won’t be an asshole about it.

You need to do this carefully. Wet on wet still works with wood. You just need to figure you’ll need more water, but you have to be very careful about bleed.

Waiting for the paint to dry to paint the next layer

This is one thing I absolutely love about wood. Whereas it doesn’t per se dry faster. In reality, it sucks the paint so you can paint the next layer sooner. You save time painting on wood.

Also, layering looks really cool when you do this. The wood isn’t necessarily dry, but the previous paint layer has been sucked in enough that you can put the next paint layer over it.

I can’t speak for you, but I’m a classic Type A person. I’m extremely impatient. I have to be doing something at all times.

This is one of the reason I love painting on wood. Some folks use hair dryers to speed things up. I don’t own a hair dryer, so in between layers on watercolor paper, I go play my guitar.

For wood though, the wait is very short. For paper, I wait an hour between layers. Watercolor on wood though, I wait about ten minutes. Yes, it’s that fast between layers.

Do not make mistakes

I said this before but it needs repeating. Do not make mistakes when painting on wood.

You can pretty much fix most mistakes when painting on paper. On wood though, good luck. Bleed is harder to cover up and wood is unforgiving for mistakes. They’ll be noticeable.

I’d only recommend wood for someone who’s confident in their ink and their brush strokes.

A few more notes

I love drawing on wood. It looks really cool. I need to say this again because it’s really, really important. Watercolor on wood looks really cool! (Isn’t that why artists do anything anyways?)

I pencil before I ink. The pencil erases similarly to paper. Actually, it erases better than a lot of watercolor papers.

Wood being not white though, you’ll have to look more closely at the pencil. It hides more with the coloring of the wood. That often means either penciling with more force or penciling more than once.

Once I got the ink down though, the ink busts through. It looks great.

The other thing is some wood requires sanding. All wood requires cleaning. Before painting, clean your surface with a moist cloth before you even start drawing on it.

And lastly, I mentioned that for watercolor on paper, I test the colors with a piece of copy paper first. You’re simply not going to get the same colors on wood that you will get on paper. Colors look different on wood. If you’re a color purist, you might want to stick to paper.

Conceptually, it feels more like you’re staining the wood than painting. You’ll know what I mean when you start painting on wood.

Preserving your piece

When you’re finished, it’s going to look different than watercolor paper. You can still see the wood. Which I absolutely love about it.

I use a real thick coat of varnish spray. I let it dry overnight, then I put two generous layers of wax finish over it. Between the varnish spray and the wash, your watercolor on wood painting should last hundreds of years if taken care of.