Meet the Medium: Watercolour

Hello all, Rosie here! As we mentioned in this weeks episode about ‘Watercolour at War’ currently exhibiting at the Laing, I am a practising artist who primarily uses watercolour and ink.  To celebrate the Laing’s watercolour gallery I thought it would be nice to introduce you to my materials and how I got to know them.

There is no right or wrong way to use watercolours (or any other medium for that matter), what’s important is that you find a system that works for you and makes it easy and enjoyable for you to express yourself through creativity.

If you are not a painter but are interested in learning how, starting a new 2019 hobby perhaps, watercolours could be a fabulous choice. As we discussed in the episode, watercolours are quick drying, easy to set up and pack away, portable and above all fun! There are so many different techniques to learn and play with that you will be able to find the style that feels right for you! Watercolour allows for a wide range of artistic expression, which is one of the reasons ‘Watercolour at War’ was such a varied exhibition.

As I am a big believer in learning through play, I would recommend just having a go! Because it is activated by water you can continue to use your pallet once the paint has dried meaning you can pick up your painting at any point and you are less likely to waste any of your paint or ruin any of your brushes if you forget to wash them (which is always a bonus for a forgetful artist like myself).

As a child, I was given watercolour paints as my first paints as they are water soluble meaning they would not stain my clothes or make an irreversible mess. I started out with tins of very affordable ‘beginners’ paints, a couple of which have survived to this day. These were a fantastic starting point and would keep me entertained for hours. As I was young, I would usually need to be supervised when using liquid paints such as poster paint or acrylic, however as watercolour was solid I could play with these as often as I wanted. Playing with pallets such as these gave me a good understanding of mixing colours, an understanding of how to implement the correct amount of water to activate the paints and achieve the look I needed and, arguable most importantly, how to not cross contaminate colours and waste paint having to clean it up. Too many times in my childhood was my white paint pink. These were all important lessons in the fundamentals of painting that can be applied to many other mediums.

As I got older and was trusted not to destroy all my clothes and my house, I was given a Winsor and Newton pallet and a Van Gogh pallet. These originally came with little brushes (which are now lost to the ages) and would serve me well for many years. The colour was richer, much more pigmented. The paint mixed with the water with more ease than my earlier pallets which were dusty in comparison. Unlike my last pallets, each colour was in a self contained tray they could be replaced when empty. This also gave me the luxury of rearranging the colours to my liking and giving the pallet a deep clean in between projects. As I had no money I quickly discovered that you could refill the trays with paint from a tube and maintain a fully functioning pallet for a reduced cost. The Van Gogh pallet was a gift from my grandad and has always been a favourite.

flash forward to 2016. I have graduated and have now been using watercolour as a serious hobby for 3 years. With new found freedom from the constraints of my university fine art practice, I take the time to dabble in watercolour more seriously and decide to use my tubes of paint to create my own pallet. I pick up this repetitively cheap plastic pallet and add all of the colours I feel I am likely to use in an order that makes sense to me.

Although my pallet may look messy there is method to the madness! The mixing trays feature some of the colours I have mixed for ongoing projects that I can activate again simply by adding water. once I have completed my project I can give the trays a wipe down with a cloth to restore order and start all over again! This is unlike most other mediums, which would be unusable once they have dried. For this reason one could perhaps argue that watercolours are less wasteful than other paints, such as acrylic which cannot be used once dry, as they do not demand that you asses exactly how much paint you will need for a painting session. Watercolour allows you to revisit the exact same pallet weeks after you mixed it, which can be quite useful if you have a busy schedule!

Because this is my first pallet, I can admit that I got a couple of details wrong which I can alter next time. For example I put the black and browns in the slots with no mixing tray which in retrospect I now know is not smart (I use this colours WAY more that I thought!) and I could probably do with one less blue. The beauty of this is that when my paints become scarce I can re do it!

Brushes:
Watercolours require soft brushes that can hold the water (and paint) as you use them. This inst a rule so feel free to use the brushes available to you or the ones that you prefer, but a soft brush is usually standard practice. My watercolour game was forever changed when I discovered these water brushes that can be filled with liquid and squeezed to distribute its contents into the bristles of the brush. I always have one of these in my pencil case ready to go as it allows me to start a quick painting wherever I am, even if water is limited! I have found you still need to clean them and use a container of water as you go, but I find this so so useful when using water soluble materials.

I would also like to try filling my water brushes with ink and having a play.

If you are interested in purchasing some watercolours but aren’t sure where to start you could pop into Details, the art supply shop in Newcastle Art Centre, which is a independent and family run store. The staff are super knowledgeable and will be more than happy to help and inform you about the watercolours available on the market. I also pick up a lot of my materials from Amazon, which is always good for a bargain!

If you know of any good art supply shops please let me know! I am always on the hunt for additions to my supplies and I am keen to support local businesses and independent shops!

Remember, you do not have to spend a lot of money on art materials! Work with what you have and what you can afford. You can still develop your skills and your craft with a £10 as you could a £100 pallet – its all about putting the time in. Practice makes perfect.

I hope you enjoyed meeting my medium! If you want to see what I do with these materials you can follow my practice on my Instagram! I sketchbook work, completed pieces and process videos in watercolour, ink and drawing so go check it out if you fancy it
@rosie.the.artist

Thanks for taking some time to meet my medium and happy art-ing my friends!

-Rosie

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