TOOLBOX: Water Color Masking Fluid

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I love playing with watercolors, I’m going to admit that right now. I love the way the colors run together, the little blotches of pigment, and basically everything else about it. I’m not a watercolor expert, which means that whenever the paint does something unexpected I have the giddy feeling that I just discovered something amazing. (What did I tell you? I love the process.)

My philosophy teacher in high school used to amazing things with watercolor, and I would always try to sneak a look at his paintings before and after class. One day I noticed him using something to cover up portions of the paper while he was working– cut to 15 years later and I finally decide to buy myself a little bottle of masking fluid to play around with. (I bought Winsor & Newton Colorless Art Masking Fluid.)

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Still a little overwhelmed to jump in, I watched this introductory video, decided on a test project; and gathered my brushes, paints, and spirit of exploration.

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A note: the first time I used the fluid, I ruined my brush. It was a cheap brush, granted, but after that I sharpened up and coated the next brush in dish soap before dipping it in the masking fluid. I coated the whole thing in the dish soap, then squeezed the excess out. (This video shows you how.) Trust me. It’s better that way.

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I drew a basic outline of the words I wanted to mask out with pencil. After coating the brush in soap, and gently rolling the bottle of masking fluid to mix it up, I dipped my brush in and saturated it.

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Bit by bit, I covered the words with the masking fluid.

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All the lines are covered in the fluid now. I’ll be able to erase the pencil lines once everything is done.

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I let the masking fluid dry COMPLETELY before I began to paint with my watercolor. (The dry masking compound feels like rubber cement. You’ll know it’s dry when it is only slightly shiny, and your finger does not stick to it.) The watercolor will not stick to the mask, so you will be able to see what you’re working with.

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When I had finished my first layer of paint, I let it dry COMPLETELY, then added a little more masking to what would be the little abstract windows in the buildings.

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Then I let those dry COMPLETELY (do you see a theme here?) before I went in and darkened all the fields of color.

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When I was done working around my masked areas, and everything was dry, I lightly rubbed the masking agent off with the tips of my fingers. (This alone is worth the trouble. I love pulling glue off of things.)

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Once the mask was off, and I did a little erasing, I had crisp white lines to work with.

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The masked areas were pale enough to let me add a little light yellow watercolor. I love the way the white letters stand out.

Tips to remember

• Test out the water color paper you’re going to be using before you start your artwork. Some of the papers I tried stuck to the masking fluid terribly, and I had to tear the paper to get the dried mask off.
• Coat your brush in soap, or you will ruin a brush, and most likely the piece of paper you’re working on. The first brush started to pull the drying mask fluid back off the paper, and it totally ruined one of my projects.
• Let everything dry COMPLETELY before moving from fluid to paint, or paint to fluid. The fluid will cling to wet paper, or your wet paint and make a wet mess.
• Remember to have fun! Let that childish sense of wonder take over for an afternoon… and when you’re done experimenting, send us the outcome! April’s DIY Challenge is Watercolor, after all.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basic Supplies & Techniques

Watercolor is one of my favorite mediums and since we are exploring this theme all month with our DIY Challenge, I thought I’d put together an introductory post for anyone interested in trying watercolor for the first time.

Paper

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics
There are three different types of watercolor paper available: hot press, cold press and rough. Cold press paper is what I use most often as it has a beautiful texture to it (whereas hot press paper is smooth). Watercolor paper is much thicker than ordinary paper which is very important to prevent buckling while painting. 140 lb is the typical weight of most watercolor paper. There are thicker options out there if you are planning to use heavy washes, but 140 lb paper works just fine for me.

Watercolor paper comes in single sheets, spiral pads and blocks. I use a Strathmore spiral pad for experimenting and practicing. Then when I’m ready, I’ll switch to my Arches block to create my final painting. I do this because Arches is quite expensive. Plus I like to carry my Strathmore pad with me if I’m painting on the go.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

Block paper is just what it sounds like. An Arches block comes with 20 sheets of paper that are sealed together into one big block. Use an x-acto knife to carefully slice a single piece of paper off the block. Usually, I’ll paint directly on the block and slice it off when I’m finished. But you can also cut it off beforehand. To prevent buckling while painting I recommend using artist’s masking tape to tape down your paper onto a hard surface while painting.

Paper Brands We Recommend:

Strathmore
Arches

Brushes, Etc.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

There are three different types of watercolor brushes: rounds, flats and mops. All are made in a variety of sizes. The best brushes are made of natural fiber, most commonly sable. Kolinsky sable pointed rounds are prized for their ability to keep a fine point, which is very useful for detail work, but they are also very expensive. I’ll admit I tend to stick with synthetic brushes and usually will stock up on cheap student brushes rather than investing in the professional quality options. Maybe some day soon I’ll treat myself to a fancy new brush but for now these cheap brushes suite me just fine.

I use round brushes in a variety of sizes 90% of the time. If I’m doing a big wash, I’ll switch to a flat brush, but otherwise I use round brushes for all my painting.

Tip #1: You will ruin your brushes if you leave the brush end sitting in a glass of water. I’d recommend storing them in a jar brush side up. If you want to store them in a closed container make sure they are dry to avoid molding.

Tip #2: Rinse your brushes under running water after each painting session. If you find any traces of dried paint near the metal band, use a little soap to rinse them clean. Dry gently on a paper towel or cloth and reshape with your fingers.

Tip #3: Sponges, cotton balls and cotton swaps are extremely helpful tools in watercolor. They can be used to apply color or I like to use them to correct mistakes and clean up any extra watery areas. Cotton swaps are especially helpful if you want to create small highlights.

Paint

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

There are two different types of watercolor: liquid tubes and solid pans. One is not better than the other, so it really comes down to your personal preference. I like to use a pan set as my base color palette and then I buy tubes whenever I want to try out new colors. Winser & Newton is an excellent brand that I use often (I love the Artist’s Watercolor Compact Set perfect for traveling). The paints shown in the image above are Schmincke brand which are very pricey but worth it for their amazing quality. Schmincke is my personal favorite because the pigment of their paints is so saturated and vibrant. I was lucky enough to receive this set at a birthday gift. Professional quality watercolors (like Winser & Newton and Schmincke) are expensive but think of it as a one-time investment. A basic pan set will last you a lifetime!

Professional Brands we recommend:

Winser & Newton
Schmincke
Holbein

If investing in a professional watercolor set is not an option for you never fear! Feel free to try out a student brand. I recommend starting with Winser & Newton Cotman. Student brands differ from professional brands in that they can have a lower concentration of pigment, have less expensive formulas and smaller range of colors available. That said, they are still a great option for anyone just starting out with watercolor.

Palettes

Palettes are great for mixing colors. If you have a paintbox set, then you can use the palette included with the box. But if you are using tubes, you’ll need a separate palette or pan. Palettes come in all shapes and sizes. I use a small plastic palette in addition to my paintbox.

Colors

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

You can use as few or as many colors as you like. Some artists use only a handful of colors and mix whatever shades they like. My Schmincke paintbox comes with 24 colors so that’s what I use as my base palette. I also have a few additional tubes I love and use in addition to my paintbox.

Techniques

So you’ve gathered your supplies and are ready to paint. Great! Here are some basic painting techniques to try out.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

Blending

Blending is my favorite part of watercolor. I’d suggest experimenting with blending different colors together. To do this, first paint a shape or squiggle line with plain water only. Then dip your brush into the paint and add it to the watered area. Watch it spread, then clean your brush and choose a second color. Apply this to the opposite end of your watered area and watch the colors blend together. You can move your paper side to side to help the watercolor run together.

Marks

Next I would try out all your different brushes. Experiment with different mark-making and see what you come up with. Draw circles, dashes, lines, and dots. Try mixing lots of water with your paint and then try the opposite by applying paint with a dry brush. Play with different textures, shades and colors.

Layering

My favorite part of watercolor is the process of creating different layers. I’ve painted a simple flower to give you a taste of what layering is like. First use a pencil to lightly draw a flower. I found a photo of a flower for reference. Once your pencil drawing is finished, carefully cover the entire thing in water and then apply a ‘base’ layer. This will be the bottom layer that we will then build from. I blended two different colors to create my base layer.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

It’s very important that you let each layer dry completely before moving onto the next. I use a hair dryer to speed the drying process along.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

Once your base layer is completely dry you can begin adding in more detail. Start with one petal at a time, using your photo as reference for shading and color.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

I hope this post demystifies watercolor for any beginners out there and gives you a place to start. Don’t be afraid to experiment and play! I also recommend checking out a great watercolor series by The Alison Show.

Be sure to share any painting experiments with us by entering our April DIY Challenge!

Update 4/16/15

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to check out: 8 Watercolor Techniques For Beginners

Toolbox: Drawing with Gouache and a Nib

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A while back I took a calligraphy class from Tara Bliven, and it opened up a whole new world of drawing tools. Not only did I get to try out new tools and techniques, it was the first time a pen and nib really worked for me. (Sometime I’ll give my whole “It’s tough being a lefty” rant.) As a lefty I need to use a special Oblique Pen Point Holder to write left to right– but with a little practice I learned to use a plain pen and nib to draw with gouache.

All the dark blue lines on this piece were done with a pointed pen, the rest is watercolor.

What’s so great about drawing with gouache?

• You can draw any color you can mix, for cheap. Instead of buying half a million different markers, buy a primary set of gouache and mix the colors you love.
• Gouache colors are opaque, which means you can do light lines on a dark background.
• Skinny paintbrushes are a pain. Although some people *ahem, Rachel* seem to be able to make magic with a brush, I have no luck doing fine lines with a paintbrush. A pen works much better.
• Gouache mixes wonderfully with your watercolor projects (#diycraftchallenge)
• The quality of line you get with a pointed pen is awesome.
• You look like a total bada** when you’re using a pointed pen. Trust me.

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For this piece, I put down a dark blue background in watercolor, then used gouache to add the white words and flourishes.

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There is a little learning curve when you’re working with a pen and ink, and practice makes perfect. I like to do little doodles on scrap paper to practice my lines, play with color, and generally mess around.

Supplies

• Gouache– like this Winsor & Newton set.
• A pen holder– like this one from Speedball
• A pointed pen nib– I used a Nikko G pen for this project, but Tara also recommends the Brause EF 66 which is better if you’re not as heavy handed as I am.
• A dropper of distilled water.
• A couple of ratty paintbrushes for “ink” application, mixing, and cleaning.
• The rest of your usual painting tools– a paint tray or plate, a jar of water, paper towels, paper, pencil, etc.

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To start, I put a drop little bit of gouache into my paint tray…

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and add a couple of drops of distilled water. I add just a little bit of water to start, because it’s easier to add more water to make the consistency I want.

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I mix my water with my paint until it’s consistent (using a cheap kids paintbrush). I like to play with different degrees of “wateriness,” more water means that the “ink” will be thinner and less opaque. Typically I used a mixture that’s about 3 parts paint, 1 part water.

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To apply the paint/ink to the pen, I saturate a paintbrush, and slowly slide it against the backside (concave side) of the nib. The ink will cling to the nib and seem to fill it partially. When it seems full (this part takes some practice) I will gently point and shake the pen downward towards the tray to get any extra blobs of ink out before I start drawing. In some cases (like today), I will actually drop the extra bits of paint onto my paper, for fun.

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Then it’s time to draw. I place the nib gently again the paper, concave side down, at an angle. Then I slowly pull the nib along, rather than pushing like a lefty with a ballpoint. (If you’re having trouble, check out one of the amazing tutorial videos on youtube- like this one.)

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Unlike a normal pen or marker, a nib like this will need to be refilled rather frequently (using the brush method above.) I try to keep an eye on how much ink/paint I have in my nib so that I don’t run out in the middle of a line. When you’re using the nib, you’ll notice that the tip is made up of two pointed pieces. When there is enough ink, it looks like one point on the end, but when they start separating, I probably need more ink.

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Periodically, I stop to rinse and scrub my pen. I dip it in my jar of water, and use a clean brush to scrub any dried bits of ink/paint off of it. Then I dry it gently with a rag or paper towel, reink, and go back to work.

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For this doodle, I had both white gouache and blue gouache in my paint tray, and I went between the two when I was reinking.

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Can you see why I like drawing with gouache? The possibilities!

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I was inspired to pull out my gouache today by the April DIY Challenge: Watercolor. We’d love to see what the theme inspires in you, so pull out your favorite medium and tools and share with us!