Swatching My Way Back into Watercolors

I know I’ve spent some time talking about my fountain pens and fountain pen inks. Okay, it’s been a few months of pen and ink ramblings. That’s because I’ve made several new friends in the fountain pen world and wanted to share with them my experiences, research, and pen & ink artwork. Also my creative mojo has been going full speed ahead which means I will be venturing into my other creative hobbies.

It takes a bit longer for me to create a painting versus doing a quick pen & ink sketch. There’s a bit of “setup time” involved with watercolors since I do not have a designated space for painting. In my tote, I have my palette of colors, my porcelain mixing dish, my travel/portable brushes, my sketching tools, my collapsible water container, and small sheets of watercolor paper. When I’m working with pen & ink, I only have to carry my fountain pens, a water brush, and my journal with me.

In a previous post I mentioned about swatching the dots on my Daniel Smith dot sheets into rectangle shapes of color. I decided to take it a step further and created color swatches in my watercolor art journal. So here are the 238 colors in my journal pages:

Look how bright the yellow colors are!
I love the two pages of earth tone colors
A close up of the shimmering paints

As you can see, I created the blocks of colors without any guidelines and tried my best to keep them straight and almost lined up. Creating the swatches helped get me back into the watercolor frame of mind and getting reacquainted with my brushes, paint, and paper.

I started a small painting over the weekend and I will be back to share a quick picture in a new post.

Paints: Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors (Dot Sheets)

Brush: Cheap Joe’s Golden Fleece #8

Journal: Stillman & Birn Beta Spiral Bound

Why Use Professional Artist Quality Supplies?

It was at the beginning of my watercolor adventure and my first class where I learned to use student-grade supplies and I developed some bad habits with using the cheap paints and cheap papers. I kept hearing buy what you can afford. At some point in my watercolor painting life I was miserable with what I created and could not get to the next level of seeing any improvements in what I was painting. My paintings were dull and lifeless.

I found a local artist who had a studio in town and she took me under her wings for a few weeks. I showed up for the first session and she told me to get rid of my student grade paints and papers and start using artist quality supplies. She mentioned there’s a huge difference in quality between student grade and artist grade. She let me use her tubes of Winsor & Newton Artist paint for my first lesson and I immediately saw a difference. A few weeks later my mentor saw a huge improvement in my paintings. This eye opening experience brought life back to my art adventure.

When I graduated to artist grade supplies, I had to re-learn or develop new habits with using better grade paints and papers. I went from paint fillers to pure translucent colors. In regards to paper, I went from cellulose paper to 100% cotton paper. It was definitely an eye opening experience and instead of frowning at what I created, it was pure joy to see beautiful colors pop on my cotton paper.

If I had learned to use artist grade supplies at the beginning, I would have immediately developed good habits right from the start.

I was thankful to have the basic small tubes of Winsor & Newton Artist colors and not go hog-crazy getting the rainbow of colors they manufactured. I learned to mix the basic colors of yellows, reds, and blues to create the secondary colors. For example yellow and red to create orange. Yellow and blue to create green. Red and blue to create purple.

I followed several watercolor artists on the Internet and noticed they were branching out into other watercolor paint manufacturers. One brand that peaked my interest was a US based manufacturer, Daniel Smith. I purchased a few small tubes of his paints and immediately fell in love with his pure bright colors.

A few years ago, I signed up for a refresher watercolor class at my local art center. I was glad to see the instructor’s art supply list included Daniel Smith paints and I was happy to try out new colors. I had a lot of fun in that class and enjoyed learning new tips and painting styles. It showed in my final paintings I produced.

Over the last few months I saw Daniel Smith had a watercolor “dot sheet” that contained almost all of the Daniel Smith watercolor paints available. The sheet is arranged by colors and the one I purchased had 4 sheets covering a total of 238 color dots. That’s a lot of colors from one manufacturer! Scroll through the following pictures to see the 8.5″x11″ sheets of colors:

I spent some time playing with the dots. I took my #6 round paint brush and applied some water to each dot. I painted out each dot in rectangle blocks of color. Most of the colors immediately reacted with the water and it was easy to pull the colors out. A few were so dry that it took some time to get the paint to react to the water and move it around the paper.

For the last 10 years, I have accumulated over 40+tubes of Daniel Smith watercolor paints in my collection. As I mentioned before, I used to mix the basic colors to get my secondary and some tertiary colors. Some colors like turquoise and teal take more effort to create. It made more sense for me to purchase a tube of the exact color I needed.

Did I mention DS makes shimmering paint colors? They are actually called Duochrome and Iridescent colors. Here’s a few close up pictures:

Beautiful shimmering colors!
The Duochrome colors are gorgeous! Reminds me of the Caribbean.
Here’s a close up of a few Iridescent colors

I have my shimmering fountain pen inks to thank for getting me into the sparkling watercolor paints. I never thought I would end up with tubes of shimmering beauties. Oh my! Daniel Smith is doing a great job with their paint offerings.

My paint bin is full of paint tubes. I had to create an inventory (spreadsheet) of my watercolor paint collection. Out of the 40+ tubes in my possession, only 5 colors were duplicates. Not too bad as they are the colors I enjoy using the most.

I plan on getting back into creating some watercolor pieces of art. I just need to carve out a few hours a day and just do it!

Tips/Tricks

Before I sign up for a class (online or in person instructions), I look for the instructor’s supply list to see which brands of paint they use or like to use. It’s not uncommon to see good instructors use a combination of brands like Daniel Smith or Winsor & Newton Professional. Artists/instructors will have favorites they like to use. That’s part of my art adventure and enjoying new colors I have not tried.

You may have heard the saying “a tiny bit goes a long way”. It definitely does with Daniel Smith or Winsor & Newton Professional paints. Artist grade or professional paints are made from pure pigments of color. Student grade paints are made with a small amount of pigment and lots of fillers and that explains why I used up so many tubes of the student grade paints. Student grade can also be opaque and not as vibrant in color.

Dot Cards are a good investment. Both Daniel Smith and Winsor & Newton have dot cards. As you can see from the previous pictures, the cards contain the actual paint dropped onto a card along with the name of the paint, lightfastness, staining/nonstaining, granulation, and transparency. The color dot can be activated with a damp brush. Remember I mentioned about a tiny bit goes a long way? This card makes swatching so easy. You can see what the colors look like and the consistency before committing to a tube of paint.

Winsor & Newton has two lines of watercolor paints. One is their “Professional” artist grade paints. The other is their “Cotman” name which is their student grade paint.

I have not discussed watercolor paint brushes. For me, it’s a personal choice. I’ve accumulated several different brands that I’ve tried over the years. I still have a few of my student-type brushes that have served me well. I did try out a few real sable hair and squirrel brushes that I still have and use occasionally. I now prefer to use synthetic brushes. I enjoy the synthetic sable brushes for the lovely points they keep and the synthetic squirrel for the amount of water and color the brush can carry.

My Favorite Watercolor Supplies

Paints: Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors

Paper (140lb/300gsm and 100% cotton): Arches Cold Press, Strathmore Series 500 Premium Cold Press, and Bee Paper Rag Cold Press

Brushes: Cheap Joe’s Golden Fleece, Escoda Versatil, Robert Simmons, and Princeton

Travel Palette: Art Toolkit by Expeditionary Art

Mixing Palette: Small 3″-4″ round porcelain dishes (Tuesday Morning or Home Goods)

Solvent Free Oil Paints: M. Graham

From my last art class, Color Explorations, I learned about an oil paint called M. Graham Artist Oil Paints.  They are made with pure walnut oil and made in the US.  The paint is solvent free meaning it’s better for the environment as well as better for artist use.  It’s eco-friendly.  I have to say the colors are brilliant and vivid and the paint is so buttery.

I had the notion, from my previous experience and use with water-miscible oil paints, that the water-miscible oils were solvent-free.  Apparently not.

I learned from class that the local schools use M. Graham because it’s 100% solvent free.

So, I decided to invest in a basic set:

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The above set included five colors to get started:  Titanium White, Ultramarine Blue, Naphthol Red, Azo Yellow, and Phthalo Green.  Also included is a small bottle of Walnut Oil and a bottle of Walnut Alkyd Medium.

The Walnut Alkyd Medium is a thinning medium and is used to increase the drying time of the paint.  It’s helpful to use this medium in the first layer of painting to give the painting a good strong foundation.  All you need is a small drop and mix it into your paint color.

The Walnut Oil is a natural vegetable oil and will slow the drying process of the oil paint.  It also enhances the flow when applying the paint to canvas and increases the sheen of the paint.  It is also used to remove color from your brushes.  In class we would dip our brush into the walnut oil and run the brush over paper towels to remove the excess paint.  We then cleaned the brushes with a gentle dish detergent and rinsed with water.  Basically, the walnut oil is used in place of turpentine or odorless mineral spirit.  It is definitely safer.

I worked with the same basic set of five colors in class.  I knew I needed additional colors and I picked out some colors I knew could not mix easily on my own.  I added tubes of turquoise, burnt sienna, sap green, yellow ochre, hanse yellow, and alizarin crimson.

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I had ordered the paints online and they came individually packaged in their own plastic bags.  The basic paint set also came in a zip lock bag.  As you can see from the above picture, some of the tubes got squished a bit.  No worries as there wasn’t any leakage from the tubes.  All is good!

I have a supply of brushes and white canvas from my oil painting adventures several years ago.  So, I’m ready to go.  I just need to finish my current pastel projects before I shift gears.

My Pastel Painting Project: Bucket, Bottle, & Glass

I had a grandiose idea to try to do a drawing/painting each evening for the month of August.  So far, it’s not happening.  Summer activities got in the way and since there were no classes in my queue for this month, my motivation has dwindled.  So I decided to make efficient use of my time during the evenings and look through my pictures (thousands of them) and print the ones I wanted to recreate on paper or canvas.  Several 5×7 packs of paper and ink later, I have a nice collection.

A few weekends ago I had the chance to start a painting.  Well, I started a sketch/outline from one of my pictures.  It was a picture I took at a winery where they placed a bottle of wine in a brightly colored beach pail/bucket.  Naturally, I had to take a picture.  Here’s my pencil sketch:

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I painted the first few layers of the bucket and then let the painting sit on my easel.  I would walk by it in the evenings and waited for some sort of inspiration to take over me. I really liked how the shovel came out:

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Eventually my motivation came back and I painted in the bottle.  Then I realized that I should have painted the backgrounds first.  That was a suggestion I learned from my last class.  Paint in the dark values and then the background.  So I shifted gears and painted a rough background.  Hmmm.  Did not turn out as I expected:

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So my painting sat on my easel and once again I continued to walk by it.  I decided I needed some inspiration.  I spent some time on the Internet looking at other artist’s pastel paintings.  Some were very realistic with lots of details (completed in 80-90) hours and others were loosely painted gestures (6-8 hours).  I also read many artists would paint practice pieces.  The key word was practice.

Today, I sat down in front of my easel and started to paint.  There was no pressure.  No schedule or errands to run.  It did not take long for me to get into my creative groove.   More than likely because I did not think too much about what I was doing.  A few hours later this is what I had accomplished:

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I did light layers of color as I knew I would be building up the colors or in some areas changed my mind.  I did a lot of blending as I like having a softer painting effect versus harsh lines of colors.

I was so happy to be painting again that I forgot to take a break and get up and look at my work.  It wasn’t until I took the picture that I noticed the “not quite right” issues.  I’ll tackle those issues another day as I’m thinking too much about them right now.

I need to create a painting or signage for my new art mottos:  “Painting is very good!”,  “Just Paint It!” and “Think less and paint more!”

Art Medium:  NuPastels by Prismacolor on 11″ x 14″ – Premium Toned Artist Paper by Global Art

Color Explorations Class – Finishing with Oils

Tonight we have to finish our paintings.  My goal is to finish my oil painting and it’s also Emily’s goal as well.    

Tonight I worked on painting the lighter values or layers.  Still I was missing the “punch” in my painting and therefore the peppers were still looking quite flat.  Emily pushed me and made some suggestions on blending more between the values to smooth out the colors.  Also, to mix in some colors (medium values and light values) to make the peppers pop.  Better transition of colors.  I also worked on the two background peppers to make the foreground peppers stand out more.  That worked.  

Here’s my final oil painting:  

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It wasn’t until I actually stood back and looked at my artwork that I started to get a bit of that “wow” feeling.  Then I took a picture and saw a huge difference from what I had done two night’s ago.

It will actually take a couple of day’s for this artwork to dry completely.  I plan on leaving it on an easel at home for a couple of weeks before I hang it on my wall.

My take away from class:  Of all the mediums I used in class, I thoroughly enjoyed painting with oils.  I enjoyed the smooth paint texture and gliding the brush over canvas.  I enjoyed mixing the colors with my palette knife.  Need to layer the colors from dark to medium to light and let dry in between those layers.  This is progress.  

Canvas used:  8″ x 10″

Color Explorations Class – Working with Acrylics

For tonight’s class we are painting with acrylics.  I am still on the fence with acrylics.  This paint dries quickly.  Too quickly for me.  

I will admit, I struggled in tonight’s class.  Acrylics is a different beast to work with.  We were given a tray of tubes in different colors.  Oh, I don’t need to mix that much tonight?  I find I still do.  

I painted a picture which I’m not too happy with.  So, I was told by another artist that it’s okay to have a bad drawing or painting.  It’s also okay to not show it in public.  Hmmmm.  

So, I will make an exception and actually show a “I’m not too happy” with my artwork here:

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I do have tubes of acrylics at home.  Maybe one day, I will finish this artwork in the proper way and do another post on acrylics.

My take away from class:  I do not care for acrylics.  It is unforgiving and dries quickly.  Maybe artist grade acrylics are better?  That’s okay I’ll stick with the other art mediums that I enjoy working with.

Canvas used:  Canvas panel 8″ x 10″

Color Explorations Class – Continuing with Oils

When I arrived early for class, Emily had already placed my canvas on a table top easel for me.  She suggested I paint the background first before touching the peppers.  I used Burnt Sienna with a mixture of purple (created with red and blue) and painted the background.  Now, I was beginning to see my peppers pop out a bit.  

I continued to work on my peppers adding the medium values.  I was mixing variations of yellow/orange for the left pepper, greens for the middle pepper, and reds for the right pepper.  

Here’s the results of my evening’s work:

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Parts of my peppers still look flat.  Still need to work on creating and painting the different values.  That will be Friday’s task.

I did as much as I could painting the medium values and had to stop to let it dry.  I was one of two students to finish early.  Emily suggested we prime our acrylic panels to use for tomorrow night’s class.  She prepared a Burnt Sienna wash and I grabbed a brush and lightly brushed the paint over the panel.  I think I’ve got the hang of this.  I was able to see my rough sketch of the peppers on my panel.  

My take away from class:  enjoy painting with oils even though it takes a loooong time to dry.  Need to get up and stand a few feet away from my painting and look at what I’ve painted.  I do see a different perspective and what’s missing in my painting (e.g. depth, contrast, etc).

Canvas used:  8″ x 10″

The Start of Another Art Class: Color Explorations – Working with Oils

Before my next art class started I received an email suggesting I bring photos to work from.  If I did not have any, the art center would have some available.  We are supposed to be working with three mediums:  oils, acrylics, and pastels.  Should be a long, but interesting week.  

We are having class on the second floor of the art center.  It’s an open room with tables setup in the middle.  I see there are suppose to be a total of six students taking the class.  I strategically pick a seat at a corner of the table and not in the middle.  Since we’ll be working with several mediums including painting I want to make sure I have enough elbow room.  

I brought two photos with me.  One was a coneflower and the other was the infamous habanero peppers from Grand Cayman.  On instinct, I selected the pepper picture to use during class.  I wasn’t too sure how much time we would spend on each medium and so I thought peppers could be quickly drawn.  

I was watching the other younger students pick out landscape scenes that include beaches and mountains.

Our art instructor tonight was Emily.  She also taught the Drawing Explorations class I took back in May.  

We were given sketch paper (8×10) and told to do a rough sketch of our photo.  Once that was completed we had to flip our paper over and cover most of paper with graphite.  Ahhhh…we are going to trace our design onto our canvas.  Clever.

I carefully placed my sketch paper over my 8×10 canvas and drew the outlines of my peppers.  Here’s what I ended up with:  

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Next, Emily did a demonstration on how to prime our canvas with a light brushing of burnt sienna and a small mix of walnut alkyd (thins the paint and increases drying time).  Like giving the canvas a good light wash of color.  That way we are not staring at a white canvas.  So merrily I went with my brush across my canvas only to find that it was not a light brushing I produced.  I guess I have a heavy hand tonight.  I could barely see the outlines of my peppers.  No worries.  I know these peppers very well and could probably draw them with my eyes closed.  

Our first official instruction was to paint the dark values first.  Emily showed us how to mix the colors from the standard tubes we were given.  We were using M. Graham oil paints.  In our set was the basic Ultramarine Blue, Naphthol Red, Azo Yellow, Titanium White, and Pthalo Green.  The paint consistency is very smooth.  There was also tubes of brown available for us to use.  M. Graham paints are walnut-oil based and are non-toxic.  Solvent free.  Very much artist quality. Interesting.   

I grabbed some Ultramarine blue and burnt sienna and mixed a dark color for the shadows under and around the peppers.  For the shadows, I added some color to give a slight reflection of color under each pepper.  Once done, I squinted at my peppers to find their dark values.  I saw a dark green with blue, dark orange with a bit of red, and dark purple with some red.  I mixed my colors and made sure I had enough so I could complete the peppers.  

I worked the dark values over the peppers.  Before I knew it, it was time to clean up before class ended for the night.  We dipped our brushes into the walnut oil and cleaned out as much paint as we could.  Then we went over to the sink and used Dawn detergent to get the remaining paint out of the brushes.  

Unfortunately, my painting looked a bit weird/wonky and I forgot to take a picture of it at this stage.  

My take away from class:  the walnut oil is used to remove color from the brushes and also increases the flow and slows the drying process of the paint.  The walnut alkyd medium thins the color and accelerates the drying and enhances the adhesion between layers.  It also increases surface sheen.  Must remember to go lightly with the initial wash of color over the canvas.  

Canvas used:  8″ x 10″

Lotus Leaf Painting with Acrylics

When I saw this class listed in the catalog, I was intrigued with what I would be painting on.  It’s not a canvas, but a panel.  From what I understand the lotus leaf is grown in Thailand.  The leaf is cut and dried and then applied onto a panel and dried again.  A single panel can contain several leaves of different sizes.

Again, I arrived early to class and found that I had a spot reserved at a table.

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I immediately liked my panel and the leaf composition.  We each had a tray of acrylic paints along with our mixing plates.  From a community table, I picked out an apron to wear as I was told that this particular paint would be hard to remove from fabric.

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There were 11 others who signed up for this class and we were given three hours to complete our painting.  Carla, our instructor, roamed around our tables providing us with background information on the panels,  She also helped us with mixing colors,  using the different brushes, decorating ideas using stencils and more elaborate paints, and suggestions on what colors to use.

I chose to do something Caribbean related.  Well, I tried.

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After I finished my painting, Carla went ahead and applied a spray varnish.  The colors came out a bit darker than I originally painted.  Now I know what some artist talk about when applying fixatives or varnishes to their artwork…tends to make the artwork darker.  So it does.

I am looking forward to the Fall/Winter catalog and hope to see this class offered again.  I would like to paint two more panels to complement the one I have already painted.

This was a very relaxing class.  I enjoyed picking out my own colors to paint with.  All twelve of us created some unique pieces of art.