Learn to Draw > Managing brushes and paper while painting

Detail (1:1) from a watercolor study using rough Whatman paper, once slightly wetted Since watercolor must be painted broadly and fast and since every new shade must be mixed clearly on the palette, we shall soon fill up all the space on it.

It would take far too much time to clean a section for each new mixture, so it is best to use a second palette and even a third if necessary. Unused left-over paints are then still available, and this can be very convenient if a first application has been too thin and needs going over again. This often happens as the work progresses.

Watercolor can be done quite well with one brush, but three are better: one for yellow, orange, and cadmium red, one for alizarin red to violet, and one for green to blue. If you want to work in the really grand manner, use one more for gray and one for brown.

If you work with only one brush it must be very carefully cleaned before each use. This takes time and is never quite certain. If, for instance, you use yellow after blue it is more than likely that a trace of blue will stay in the brush and give the yellow a greenish tinge.

It looks very fine to hold all the brushes in the left hand, and the palette too, but it is not really very practical. It is much better to have two brush jars, one for blunt brushes for taking out paint and mixing it and one for painting brushes.

If the brushes stand spread out like a sparse bunch of flowers it is easy to see which one you want. Often even several palettes get filled up, and sponge-rubber cloths or rags are needed to wipe them clean. A whole stock of these should lie ready to wipe away paint that is finished with.

Dirty cloths can be thrown into a box, and after the artistic side of the work is done they must be carefully washed out under the tap. These cloths are also excellent for removing unwanted paint from the picture.

Later, when the paper has dried out too much from the first painting, it cannot, of course, be dampened with the cloth again. A fixative spray filled with clear water is then used-but be careful! Not more than a breath of water should be sprayed on-perhaps to be repeated again later-or the colors will run into each other and all over the place. For painting with watercolors you sh'ould sit at a table supporting the block or board at the edge with the left hand.

Then you can hold the surface flat and at the correct angle. The more fluid your painting is the more the color will tend to run down and be darker at the bottom. This has to be prevented. The palette, too, should lie on the table. If it is held in the hand the fluid colors will spill into each other in the heat of the moment. Easels and palettes held in the hand are used only with thick, not liquid, paints.

However much you try to get the final tones at once, you will very rarely succeed. As you work, the effect of the picture evolves only gradually, and you see how to heighten it with darker depths and alterations in the colors; also you will need to put on two or three layers of color. Provide yourself, too, with a few strips of paper for testing colors, particularly mixtures; watercolors always look different on paper and on the palette.

Watercolor technique continued

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