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)

Happy New Year!

I thought I would start the new year by spending my day sketching. I picked up one of my currently inked pens and had a “just do it” moment. I started out with a rough sketch using my pencil for an outline and using a pen with my carbon ink to add in some depth and permanent lines.

My carbon ink is water resistant and works well when I apply my water washes

A few weeks ago, I cleaned out all my TWSBI GOs that I had filled with ink back in July. Now, I’m slowly pulling out different ink colors to use for the winter months and filling my TWSBIs again. I now have a mix of Robert Oster and Diamine inks to use.

Here’s my sketch from this morning.

I had most of the ink colors I wanted to use, but I was missing a sparkling silver ink. (Thanks to my fellow fountain pen ink friends, I now have some good recommendations). I had a light bulb moment and pulled out my watercolor palette of metallic paints. I dabbled some silver and gold paints to my sketch.

My porcelain mixing palette.

I love using my porcelain dish to mix my watercolors. This is actually an appetizer dish that came packaged as a set of 4 plates. I found this at my local home discount store. It’s small enough that I can put one in my backpack, keep one on my desk, and the others in my art tote. I prefer to use porcelain as I do not have to do any priming to the surface. Plastic palettes require some priming to the surface.

Close up showing the subtle gold and silver paints over the ink colors.

For the next few weeks I will be busy creating some artwork, taking some fun online courses (technology and music), getting reacquainted with my embroidery machine and learning a new embroidery software. So much to do. A great way to start 2021!

Supplies Used:

Pens – TWSBI GOs with Stub 1.1

Inks – Diamine Enchanted Ocean and Tropical Glow. Robert Oster Carbon Fire, Heart of Gold, and Thunderstorm

Paints – Daniel Smith Luminescent Watercolors

Brushes – Cheap Joes Travel size

Accessories – Metal Pocket Palette, Pentel Water Brush, blue shop towel, and Porcelain dish

Journal – Stillman & Birn Zeta

Tips:

Plastic palettes have a surface that allows watercolors to “run off” in different areas. To prime the surface, I use a bit of Soft Scrub on a damp paper towel and rub the surface of the palette. I then rinse the palette with water to remove the cleaner. I only need to do this once. This process “roughens” the surface so the paint/water sticks to the areas where I am mixing the paints.

I have found porcelain plates/palettes are perfect for mixing watercolors. No need to prime the surface. I like the smaller plates that have a narrow sides. This allows me to carry my palette around without spilling the paint over the sides. Porcelain plates are heavy and less prone to tipping over or accidental movements.

Besides Robert Oster inks, I do enjoy using Diamine inks for sketching and water washes. I’m finding the Diamine inks are lovely saturated inks including their shimmering inks.

Quick Sketches

A quick sketch (pen and ink) in my Stalogy journal

It’s raining outside and so I had to turn on my natural light lamp to brighten my studio a bit. I do enjoy listening to the rain and the steady drops of water hitting the roof, trees and plants outside. It would be a great day to lounge and read some art books (to entertain my right brain) or go find my Raspberry Pi book (exercise my left brain) that I’ve misplaced. Will do that after this post.

I was sorting through some photos and thought this would be a good day for something art-related. Like share some sketches I’ve done over the past few weeks.

We had a special rose bush that was still blooming into late October. I had cut a few roses to bring into my studio. Who doesn’t like the sweet rose scent filling a room? Then I started to sketch

Here was the setup on my desk:

A rose sketch using graphite

Sometimes I will wander outside and do a quick sketch:

We have this tree that has an unusual trunk. Graphite.

It wasn’t until mid-summer of this year that I started using shimmering fountain pen inks. I was hooked. I did a few sketches with the shimmering ink and loved the results.

Can you see the shimmers in my pen and ink sketch?

Then I stumbled upon the world of metallic watercolor paints. Oh my! So grateful that Daniel Smith carried tubes and in such beautiful colors.

Here are three metallic colors I have layered on top of my regular watercolor painting. Cool, huh?

I am having too much fun! I have to be careful with the metallics and not go overboard or overwork my paintings.

Enjoy your day!