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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Why Buying Quality Watercolor Products Matters to the Beginner

It is extremely tempting, especially in the beginner stages of an artists career to select cheap products, however these products almost always fail to perform. Cheap papers will have too little sizing, and cause the paint to soak into the lower layers of the paper, making it impossible to create uniform washes.  Poor quality paint is often made from chalky, opaque pigments that are neither light fast, and make more than one layer of paint impossible. Additionally even the best painting will look flat and lifeless due to the pigments poor quality, and you can pretty much forget mixing unless you want to make mud.  Many people worry about spending extra money on a media they may not be willing to pursue in the long term however, failing to buy quality products can set the budding artist up for failure. Many would be watercolor artist abandons the media altogether without ever getting a chance to appreciate the wonderful possibilities that quality watercolors can create.

All About Paper
Sizing on watercolor paper is the product applied to the paper to keep the paints from being absorbed into the paper in an uncontrolled manner.  A properly sized paper will allow multiple layers of controlled washes. cheap paper allows the watercolor to soak into the layers of the paper itself, causing unsightly bleeding.  Avoid student papers for this reason, more often than not there is little to no sizing, and the final result is a painting with paint that has leached into the paper itself.

Paper Weight
The weight of the paper is translated as how much a ream of that particular paper would weigh.  140 lb paper would weight 140 pounds per ream.  The higher the paper weight, the heaver the paper is itself, and of course the more expensive it is.  Avoid using watercolor paper lighter than 140lb, as it will buckle and perform very poorly, make it difficult to paint even if it is taped down.  The heavier the paper, the more it usually costs.

Types of paper
Paper may be purchases in tablets, blocks, loose, and in large sheets that can be used as is, or cut into smaller sheets. They may have deckled edge, created when made in a mould, or hand made, or cut edges.  High rag papers are made of cotton. Arches, one of my favorites is an all cotton paper that performs well even with multiple washes. Look for archival, high rag papers to ensure that the paintings will be around for a long time.  There are also good quality recycled papers made of a combination of wood, cotton, and other recycled products. When shopping these always look for products labelled archival. Also look for artist and professional in the labeling.  Avoid student papers like the plague, the hassle isn't worth it.

There are lots of reasons to avoid cheap brushes, but the biggest reason is that you will spend a great deal of time picking brush hair out of your work, an act that can damage the surface of the painting and cause a great deal of aggravation.  I have addressed this in a previous post "know your brushes"
which explains the different types of brushes and their care.

As with many of the products, avoiding poor quality paint is crucial, yet unlike the often poor quality found in student paper, there are some perfectly good quality student paints. Windsor and Newton has their academy paint line that is usually of good quality. Their professional artist line is also very good, and not overly expensive.  What makes the difference is  lightfastness of the paint, intensity of the pigments, and transparency.  The best bet for anyone starting out is to choose a paint that is both light fast and transparent.  The cost of the paint rises with the intensity, which is created by introducing large amounts of finely ground, quality pigment into a binding agent. High intensity artist paint lines like Sennelier and Old Holland (to name a few of the many many excellent artist paints) are wonderful to work with, and very cost effective despite the expense as you need to use much less to create a vibrant wash.  

For those looking to try paints out, here is a list of colors that can be used to try watercolor out.
Cobalt blue, 
rose madder, 
These are a basic transparent palette that can be used to mix a very large variety of colors.  Their transparency means that multiple washes can be created without the worry of mud.

The last most important artist must have is not a paint or a paper, but a library of reference books that can be referred to in moments that need inspiration, or when there is confusion on mixing a particular color.  One of the books I cannot recommend more highly is Janie Dobie's book "Making color sing" which I will include a link here. She can help a young artist create a highly sophisticated palette, while choosing the right color to make paintings "pop"   This is one of my favorite and most referred to books in my personal library, and I still even after 28 years of painting look to it when I feel my paintings could use help.  For the beginning artist I would say this is a must have for your private collection.  

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