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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Pugh

The Excitement of Watercolour

My work is intuative and usually non-objective, but I do have a clear focus. This may be to push the values to their extremes in watercolour or work on a large scale. It is only much later in the painting process that a theme may occur to me. To start with I have no subject in mind. I'm playing with paint, enjoying the interactions of pigments and water. Perhaps this is why I love watercolour so much as each pigment has such differing properties which are often lost when they are mixed with an acrylic binder.

The pigments may be opaque or transparent. Although all watercolour is transparent with enough water added, some pigments are inherantly opaque if applied thick enough. If you want really opaque watercolour you need to use gouache as thick watercolour or gouache can crack. Gouache can be thinned with a little water without loosing it's opacity. My favourite opaqe watercolour is cobalt turquoise light by windsor and newton which is naturally very opaque, but when thinned with lots of water, gives a beautiful transparent pale blue.

Opaque pigments tend to sit on the surface of the paper this makes them easy to lift with a damp bush to bring back lights in a painting but this also makes them difficult to glaze over. That is why it is often recommended that you don't use opaque colours until the final layer. A quick spray of workable fixative such as spectrafix can help alieviate this problem to some extent.

Transparent colours are wonderful for layering and optically mixing colours. When watercolour is mixed on a palette the particles are completely integrated. This can lead to muddy colours, however layering the same two colours on the paper wet over dry can have a completly different look. This is where a soft bush is really needed so that the layers below are not disturbed. This gives you lots of options and decision making when trying to create the look you want.

Watercolours can be staining or non-staining. This means that some can not be lifted completly from the paper, so the only way back to white is to use an opaque material on top. If you want to use pure watercolour reserving the white of the paper is important and more planning is needed early on. Another option is to use other media. This could be gouache which is water soluable and so can be changed at any time. White acrylic can also be used although this can be quite shiny and stand out if watercolour is not floated over the top (acrylic ink is the best to float colour over). You could also use a watercolour ground/ absorbent ground but you do need to integrate this carefully into the painting. I love using gouache as often it will pick up some of the watercolour below giving some wonderful light tints but this can be achieved with the acrylic based mediums if you add a little water to them. The advantage, or disadvantage of this is that when they have dried the colour will now not move. The circles on the painting below were removed through a stencil and you can see that the magenta is staining so you do not get back to the while of the paper even with a lot of scrubbing.

Another property of watercolours is that some granulate. This is where the particles separate causing a mottled effect on the paper and many things can affect this. The larger and heavier the pigment particle the greater the granulation. Many manufacturers finely grind their pigments to reduce granulation as it has been thought of as fault in the past rather than just being embraced as one of the wonders of watercolour. If you love granulation it is well worth trying different makes of watercolour and reading their information. New synthetic versions of many colour will not granulate. My favourite colours for granulation are French Ultramarine and earth colours, black. Granulation medium or even just lots of water helps the pigments to separate and I think this is why mixes of a granulating pigment and a synthetic dye pigment can create such beautiful mixes that separate on the page. To find out more about granulation see

Finally watercolour is great to add other media to. They can be added to paint when it is wet, damp or dry and the interaction often gives different results each time. I love to float gold powder on top of pools of watercolour or add grated pastel or graphite into wet paint. Watercolour also plays really nicely with acrylic inks. The fact is that anything goes and the choices are endless. That's why painting with watercolours is so much fun.

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