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Why a porcelain watercolor palette is better

When it comes to palettes for watercolors, I prefer a porcelain watercolor palette. But a caveat. I don’t paint when I travel.

When I travel, I take a sketchpad with me. I sketch only. A porcelain watercolor palette won’t be ideal for travel purposes. If you got my luck, you’d get an angry baggage handler who will throw your suitcase as far as he possibly can and crunch! So much for that gorgeous piece of porcelain.

However, it rules for at home use.

I won’t get into plastic watercolor palettes because for one, you shouldn’t be using them unless you’re so broke you have to beg to eat. Seriously. They’re garbage. They bead something terrible and after a lot of use, they stain. At worst, plastic watercolor palettes should be a last resort.

So, in reality, we’re really talking about a porcelain watercolor palette vs a metal watercolor palette. But I’m not about to get into a squabbling match with metal watercolor palette lovers. I think both camps can agree to just thumb our noses up to those plastic palette people and be done with it. Rather, I’ll just argue why you should get yourself a real nice porcelain (also called ceramic) one.

Colors are exactly as they should be

Why do we paint in the first place? It’s because we have something to convey. And when it comes to watercolors, you want to get the most out of your colors.

For this, a porcelain watercolor palette rules over all else.

You pour some paint from your tubes into the palette and they paint exactly how you want them to paint. The next day, they’ve dried and you simply re-wet them. No extra steps are needed. They will perform the same way the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that.

Cleanup is easy

Porcelain doesn’t stain. When you clean it up, it looks brand new. After you’ve painted over a hundred paintings, it still looks brand new.

You can even clean it by putting it in the dishwasher. Yes, I’m quite serious. I’ll wash it though under the heavy cycle since I’m not into eating my watercolors and I’m washing it with other dishes. It’s just like a ceramic dish. You know why? Because it is!

Porcelain mixes perfectly

You’ll find that plastic beads something terrible. For mixing, porcelain is where it’s at.

Sure, I’ve heard you can “treat the plastic.” I don’t want to treat the plastic. That’s one more extra thing I have to do. I’m too lazy to stretch my watercolor paper. Do you think I want to treat some cheap plastic palette?

You don’t lose anything when you mix with porcelain. You get exactly what you get. And when the paints dry, all you need to do is re-wet them.

So easy. After all, we want simple. We want our tools to behave exactly as they’re supposed to behave because the artist is supposed to do the thinking, not the tools. They’re supposed to do their jobs.

porcelain watercolor palette
Working on a Selkie painting

Above you see the next morning. The paints dried from the night before. All I have to do is re-wet the paints and I’m ready to get back to work.

If I remember correctly, that palette went through the dishwasher a few nights before. Look how brand new it looks. That’s after literally over a hundred paintings and it still looks brand new.

I’ll have that thing until I either lose it or one of my students drops it (I only drop my phone, never my watercolor equipment). And you know what? It will still look brand new after it goes through the dishwasher.

The above palette is the one I used to get Roxy’s hair for a previous painting. (She’s my brunette model).

(Also about that image, you probably don’t want to share two colors you don’t want to mix in the same well like I do. But I live dangerously!)

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What are your favorite mermaid paint colors?

Everyone has their favorite mermaid paint colors. Because after all, we all love to paint mermaids. Right? Right?!

Alright. Not everyone is as cool as you or I. There are some weirdos out there who don’t paint mermaids. I stopped returning their calls a long time ago.

Her skin

I wrote a whole article on how I get skin tones in watercolor awhile back. To keep it short, I use the following four colors to get either Allie’s (my blonde model) or Roxy’s (my brunette model) skin color – Titanium White, Burnt Sienna, Hansa Yellow Medium, and Perylene Red.

I paint seven total layers and I always paint in the same order. The reason I do that is to really play to watercolor’s strengths. Watercolor is absolutely tantalizing for layering. Since it’s transparent, you get to see the layers of paint under the fresh layer of paint you just painted. They all show through each other.

You generally paint light to dark, but always with some exceptions. My very last layer is kind of a white wash where I gloss over her entire body with Titanium White. I found this out by complete accident and have been doing it ever since.

Her tail

I only learned about Daniel Smith’s Iridescent paints very recently. And you know what? They’re downright magical!

I aim for lascivious when painting mermaids. They should be seductive, since in some of the myths, they’re cursed femme fatale creatures that lure men to their doom. In other tales, they’re more innocent. Totally depends on the set of myths the writer chooses to follow.

I’m intentionally vague. I want you to decide for yourself what you see.

To be honest though, I’m pretty much copying what I see Allie or Roxy doing. They often initiate the poses. Or, we’ll work on an idea together.

But back to her tail – I use only two colors, both by Daniel Smith. I use Rose of Ultramarine and Iridescent Electric Blue. The latter paint is actually a mix of several other paints and when you look closely, you’ll see it. It’s like buying two or three paints in one. Almost scandalous how awesome these paints are!

mermaid paint colors
My mermaid paint color

Her hair

This comes down to my subject. If it’s Allie, I’m using Hansa Yellow Medium and Perylene Red.

If it’s Roxy, I create my brown from mixing Perylene Red with Hooker’s Green, about 50/50. Those two colors make a luscious brown.

I love both of their hair in real life. Allie’s is currently past her shoulder and Roxy’s is all the way down to her waist.

Anyways, for blondes, I use watered down Perylene Red for where the shadow will be. Then, I do a layer of Hansa Yellow Medium over everywhere.

For brunettes, I use the same brown mix except thicker when I want it darker and more watered down when I want it lighter. That’s yet another thing I love about watercolors. You can change the color’s tone simply by adding more or less water.

Her eyes, lips, nipples, and eye shadow

I’ve been gunning for realism in the past. However, these are mermaids we’re talking about. So I decided to make them more fantasy.

Neptune's Daughters
Neptune’s Daughters – Allie modeled for all 3 of these sisters

For their eyes, I decided to use that Iridescent one for Allie’s eyes and the same brown mix for Roxy’s eyes as her hair. As for Allie’s eyeshadow, Rose of Ultramarine, slightly watered down. I love how that color really makes the blue pop. For Roxy’s eyeshadow, I use Burnt Sienna slightly watered down. That really brings out the brazen brown of Roxy’s eyes.

Both of them have beautiful nipples in real life. The funny thing is you can get nipple pink from watered down Perylene Red. You’ll use less water where you want the color darker and more water where you want the color lighter. It’s all technique.

And for lips and fingernails? Perylene Red, of course. I can’t possibly compliment this color enough. It’s one of my favorite colors to paint with. It can play so many roles.

I won’t go over the backgrounds. That all depends on whether I have them in regular underwater, deep water, or above water on a beach or a rock.

Let me know if you have any questions. And I’d love to hear from you what colors you love to use for your mermaid paint colors.

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How to mount watercolor paper on wood

Do you need to know how to mount watercolor paper onto wood

The good news – it’s easy. The bad news – it’s time consuming and a lot can go wrong. But don’t worry, we’ll walk through the process step-by-step.

Afterwards, we’ll tell you how to preserve your watercolor painting. That’s another article though. I’ll put the link at the end of this article as well.

(Note that this works for both watercolor and gouache, assuming you’re using watercolor paper).

The benefits

After you mount watercolor paper on wood, assuming you’re using a cradled piece of wood, it’s already ready to hang up. You can decide to frame it later. Or, you can hang it up as is.

Either way it’s going to look great. Some folks prefer art framed. Some don’t. It’s personal opinion.

When it’s finished, it will look like this. I used my leather couch as the backdrop.

mermaid after I mount watercolor paper on wood
Mermaid pulling her hair back

Item list

You’ll need the following tools:

  • Something to cut the paper on (I simply use a real large cutting board)
  • An X-Acto knife
  • Cradled wood so it could be hung up immediately
  • An adhesive
  • sandpaper
  • An old brush

The cutting board, you can pick up at a garage sale or a secondhand store. You probably don’t want to use the one you’re eating from. As for the brush, either use an old one or a cheap one. This brush won’t be usable for painting any more. You might already have sandpaper lying around.

Planning

There’s an old saying in carpentry. Measure twice, cut once. You only get one chance at this so you have to make it right.

You’re going to cut your painting and you may lose an inch of margin. I’ve already planned out in advance as I’m actually painting, so I don’t lose anything of value.

You should actually measure with a ruler your painting area vs the piece of wood you’re going to put it on. You’ll have to do this if you decide to frame it anyways.

So have a plan in advance where you’re going to make the cuts. It will save you heartache in the future.

Measure

OK, the fun part. Measure the wood vs measure what part of the painting you’ll be keeping. Note that when I actually make the cut, the painting is already glued to the wood. But I know in advance what I’m keeping and what I’m losing.

This is a very important step. Do not neglect this. You may lose a piece of your painting that you’re emotionally attached to if you don’t plan and measure correctly.

For instance, for a 9″x12″ painting, you’re probably going to buy the 8″x10″ piece of wood. You’ll be losing one total inch horizontally and two total inches vertically. Or vice versa, depending on whether your painting is landscape or portrait.

Clean, then glue the wood

Before I even glue the wood, I make sure it’s pretty clean. You don’t want dirt or dust interfering with the glue. After all, you’re an artist and you want this piece to last for hundreds of years. I can’t speak for you, but I take that mentality quite seriously. I assume you do too.

adhesive used to mount watercolor paper onto wood
I use this as the adhesive and you see the wood in the background

Now, I assume you already know in advance where you’re going to cut. So now glue the wood. I use an old paintbrush.

Very important! Err on the side of too much glue rather than not enough. Trust me on this one. Nothing more annoying than the next day to see a corner pop up because you didn’t use enough glue.

Make sure the edges are glued well. Also make sure you’ve glued the corners well.

What’s the brush for?

The brush is to even things out. If you have way too much glue, you’ll see a little glue bump in your painting after it’s glued and dried. Whereas this may not be a big deal to some folks, it may drive you nuts. Thus, the brush.

So be sure to brush it down and even it out. Make sure there’s an even layer of glue throughout the wood. And do this relatively fast as we’re dealing with glue.

Stick the painting on

Fun part. I hope you planned well.

This is where you actually stick the painting on the glued wood. Like I’ve mentioned already, you’re going to lose the parts of the painting that don’t fit on the wood. We’ll be cutting them off with your knife.

Once you’ve stuck the painting on the wood, make sure it’s on there well. This is where I hope you’ve had preschool experience. Remember preschool?

This isn’t a joke. A lot can go wrong at this stage. If you’ve never had preschool, you should practice gluing paper onto something else. And once again, this isn’t a joke. You can ruin your painting at this stage. You only get one chance to do this.

You’ll need the painting to stick for the next few hundred years. We’re using pretty good adhesive. This is what professional artists use, and it’s the right formula that it won’t damage your watercolor paper either.

The cut

You’ll need to let your painting dry overnight. I put the painting on a wood table and put heavy books over it because I want the gluing stage to work. I’ve made the mistake once of not gluing a corner correctly. Note, once. I’m telling you this so you don’t make the same mistake.

The next morning, grab your painting. It should be glued on the wood well. Congratulations! You’ve been successful at the hardest part. However, before we pop open the champagne, we still have to make the cut.

This is where I hope you’ve had high school art. If you’ve never used an X-Acto knife, you need to practice first. Don’t take this step lightly because if you screw up the initial cut, you better be really good with sandpaper.

Now put the painting face down onto your cutting surface. Cut with your X-Acto knife around the edges, as close to the edge as you possibly can. Once again, if you’ve never used an X-Acto knife before, practice on something that isn’t important first. You get one chance to do this.

Once this is done, simply sandpaper the edges and it’s ready to be preserved. Oh, wipe away the dust with a soft brush. I assume you already have plenty of those.

After you mount watercolor paper on wood

You’ll now need to preserve your watercolor painting. I wrote a separate article for that since I don’t like to cram too much information into one article. I don’t know about you, but my head hurts if I get too much information. That’s why I like to break things down.

After I’ve preserved my paintings, I make a cold, hard decision. If it’s an A, I put it on the store. If not, I give it to a friend.

I sincerely hope this helps and let me know if you have any questions.

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How to avoid muddy watercolors

So you need to know how to avoid muddy watercolors? Well first off, what is muddiness?

It’s one of those you’ll know it when you see it issues. Muddiness looks like, well, mud all over your watercolor painting. Once your watercolor painting becomes muddy, it’s time to throw it out.

“Seriously Roman?”

Yes, seriously.

A lot of things can cause muddiness. Unfortunately, there are too many to list. But at least I can give you the main reasons so you can learn how to avoid muddy watercolors.

Change your water often

I have two jars – one for the first rinse and one for the final rinse. When changing between colors, make sure you use both jars. Then, when the first jar has too much paint, change it.

Not changing your water often enough can contribute to muddiness.

Paint either totally dry or wet to wet

This is counterintuitive in a way. But if you want to avoid muddy watercolors, it’s something you need to learn to do.

Either paint wet on wet or wet on completely dry. Don’t half ass this.

What I mean is you either need to paint wet on wet or you have to wait until the paper is completely dry before you continue. When the paper is in that in between state is when you’re going to have the problems.

Using cheap paper

It’s funny. Awhile back, I wrote about several reasons not to use cheap watercolor paper. And you know what? I mentioned all these reasons, but forgot to include muddiness.

Yes, you’re way more likely to have muddiness problems with cheap paper than with quality paper. But keep reading. Cheap paper is only one culprit.

Reds, greens, and browns

It’s these three colors you have to be careful with. It’s actually quite funny. Mixing some of nature’s most natural colors give you the best chance to get a muddy watercolor painting.

Well, call me Captain Obvious then. Obvious, but often forgotten.

Cheap paints without enough pigment

In my post about budgeting watercolors, I mention some of the downsides to using cheap paints. To make a profit, they got to cut corners somewhere, so they’ll often use less pigment.

Not enough pigment and you’ll end up with too much smear and not enough paint. Well, take one guess what that leads to.

So like I’ve said, this is by no means a complete list. However, these are your main reasons. Not changing your water often enough, painting with the wrong amount of wetness, cheap paper, natural colors, and cheap paints.

Oh, and before I forget, I better give you the sixth. Not knowing when to quit. Sometimes, artists keep on piling on more paint and that will muddy the painting. Sometimes, you need to just call it done. Don’t totally overdo it.

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Budgeting watercolor – Most important expenditures in watercolor

There’s always that guy. He’s got thousands of bucks laying around and expects everyone else to have money for expensive equipment. Then of course, he plays holier than thou when some of your equipment is less than gold plated.

Well, I’m not that guy. I realize people have budgets. (I’m definitely with you there). That’s why I write articles like “the most important expenditures in watercolor.”

So, I’m going to prioritize things. I have no idea what your budget is. I’ll just state my argument for the most important expenditure in watercolor. Then, I’ll say what the second most important is. Then, I’ll list the next one. And so on.

That way, you could decide by your budget what you’re going to spend money on.

Also, feel free to disagree. I’m not Michelangelo. I’m just a guy who sells pinup watercolor paintings on the side. I still have a day job.

But, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a guy who loves watercolors as much as I do. That’s my authority right there.

I absolutely love them! Every single day, I wake up early and paint. Then, I rush home and paint. On the weekends, I paint. Actually, you’re simply not going to find someone who loves watercolors more than I do.

Expenditures in watercolor in order

Paper

There are only two times I will suggest that you get cheap watercolor paper. When you first start out. And, for your watercolor journal.

When you first start out, you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re going to throw away the first ten paintings anyways. So that doesn’t matter.

As for your journal, nobody’s going to see it besides you. That’s where you do your testing, your experimentation, and also where you take a shitload of notes. My journals actually have more text than paint. I’m always writing in them, describing in detail what to do and what not to do.

But when you first get serious with watercolor, you will need real paper. This isn’t an option.

Cheap paper is cheap paper and it will ruin your paintings. If you have to spend money on one expensive thing and only one expensive thing, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any artist who uses watercolor who would argue with me. Everyone agrees with me for a reason. Cheap paper ruins your work.

Almost everyone uses Arches and it’s for a damn good reason. It’s the standard archival quality watercolor paper.

Arches is not the only archival quality paper. It’s just the one everyone uses. I strongly suggest starting off with that paper when it’s time to get serious.

You may end up liking other papers better. That’s totally fine. Everyone has personal preferences.

But, nobody dislikes Arches. At worst, they say they prefer X brand because of Y quality.

Paints

Of the expenditures in watercolor, paints rank second. Cheap paints use less pigment and are often less quality controlled. Here’s the thing – if you want to make money selling a product, you have to charge more than it costs to produce the product.

If you sell a high end product, you can charge a lot. However, if you’re trying to sell a cheap product, you’re going to have to cut corners to make a profit.

With cheap paints, they’re using less pigment. That’s how they make a profit.

You can get by with cheap paints and only the high end watercolor snobs will know the difference if you’re really good. Quality paints are not as important as quality paper. But they’re still important. But once again, if you’re good, you could fool most people with cheap paints. Most people can’t tell the difference.

I swear by Daniel Smith and Winsor and Newton paints. Both brands kick ass. I have no complaints with either brand. In my personal opinion, Daniel Smith paints have a more modern edge to them. Winsor and Newton paints look like they’re from the 1800s. That’s just my personal opinion, but I’m a guy who has lots and lots of paints.

For gouache, I’m falling in love with M Graham. They simply make pretty freaking good gouache.

I can’t suggest low end paints because I’ve never used them. I only suggest products that I’ve used.

Brushes

Brushes are not the most important expenditures in watercolor
We use used Kimchi jars for both our brushes and for the watercolor water

I have a confession to make. I use archival quality paper only and only really good paints. But my brushes are the store brand. That’s where I cut the costs.

After over a hundred paintings, only now can I tell you that cheap brushes act like cheap brushes. That said, they’re a pretty good weak link. Nobody, not even the top of the top watercolor snobs, could tell you which brushes you used by looking at your paintings.

So brushes are the perfect place to cut costs if you had to cut costs.

However, when I make a little bit more money, I’m going to reward myself with some good brushes. I can’t recommend which ones because I’ve only used the cheap ones.

Miscellaneous

I use Kimchi jars for my water. You could use spaghetti sauce jars, or jelly jars, or whatever.

If you’re flat broke, you can use jar lids for your mixing palette until you can afford a real mixing palette. I know that sounds lame, but I know what it’s like to be flat broke and have to make due with what you got available.

I do buy good paper towels as paper towels help you rescue mistakes. Bad paper towels suck. I learned that one the heard way. They don’t absorb enough water and if you have a bad spill, you’re going to wish you bought good paper towels.

I use plain old masking tape when not painting on a watercolor block. Regular masking tape works great as long as you’re not painting on cheap watercolor paper. It will rip cheap watercolor paper. From experience.

You don’t have to buy expensive/fancy masking tape.

So there you have it. If you only have money for one expensive item, buy good watercolor paper. If you have the money for good watercolor paper and good something else, reward yourself with good paint. And if you’re rich, buy good brushes as well.

Actually if you’re rich, please buy my paintings so I can also have good brushes.

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You need a watercolor journal

You should have at least one watercolor journal.

I’m not going to get into which watercolor journal is better. To me, it’s an exercise in absurdity. I’ve rarely seen anyone sell their journals. Rather, most of us use them either for traveling or experimentation.

Travelers may want something like a decent pouch or other features. To be honest, I’m the wrong person to ask here.

When I travel, I get heavily into drawing, not watercolor. When I first started watercolors, I heard from an old man that he wishes he spent more time drawing. In fact, he said that he should have spent his first year drawing two hours for every hour painting.

That stuck with me. Painting has always been easier than drawing. So I focus on drawing. The painting for me is easy.

A Watercolor journal for experiments

You’re going to make a lot of mistakes. That’s a good thing. Show me someone who is perfect and I’ll show you someone afraid of taking risks.

If you’re going to get better at anything, you have to take risks. That goes from everything from life to sports to art.

A watercolor journal gives you the cheap opportunity to take risks and not cry about ruining something you spent a lot of money on.

Strathmore makes pretty cheap journals. I think I bought mine on sale at the art store for under $5. Moleskin makes ones that are a little bit more expensive. But still, wrong mindset to even think that way. You’re saving money by making your mistakes in a watercolor journal rather than the real deal.

That’s what I’m getting at. Do your experiments there. Make your mistakes there.

For instance, I talked about testing inks in a journal. Also, I do my initial mixing in a journal first. I learned how to make black, brown, and pink in a journal. Black is a mix of blue and red with a little yellow. Brown is red and green, about 50/50. I make my pink by watering down red.

Whereas a watercolor journal may not necessarily have high end watercolor paper, it’s still watercolor paper. Since I’m using the thing for experiments anyways, I’m not doing the seven layers of wet on wet I do for skin tones. It’s always simple stuff.

I even test colored pencils with watercolors in the journal. One of these days, I’ll incorporate colored pencils more. I rarely use them, despite having some pretty decent ones.

The funny thing though – my journal literally had more words than paint. I’m always writing detailed notes for everything I try in that thing. Makes a great reference for the future.

One more thing. You know how watercolors are transparent and gouache is opaque? Well, some colors are more transparent than others. Some mixes will become somewhat opaque. You can learn this cheaply in a notebook rather than learning it the hard way on a real painting.

Definitely get one. It will save you money, and also may prevent a bit of heartbreak. So much better to ruin a page from a journal rather than the real deal.

watercolor journal
My journals are almost all experimentation

“What’s the difference between a watercolor journal and a watercolor notebook?”

Nothing. Those terms are used interchangeably. They’re both watercolor books that artists use for either outdoor painting or experimentation. Or both.

Some people like the term journaling. Some people like the term note-taking. They mean the same thing in this context.

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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

two succubi
Notice all that pencil. All that pencil needs to be erased or else it may show up in the final painting

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!


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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. 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.