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Choosing and Using Watercolors

Watercolors are a very versatile medium. They can make light washes or vivid coloration depending on how much or how little water used with them. For those seeking creative inspiration, watercolors can provide just the type of momentum needed to bring on a burst of creativity.

There are several considerations when painting with watercolors. First, the quality of the paper is key. One hundred forty pound weight cold press watercolor paper is durable enough not to warp terribly badly when wet and holds pigment well, excellent characteristics for the beginner.

Watercolors can be used as washes over prior painting, creating a feeling of chiaroscuro; adding shadowy or misty looks to paintings and backgrounds. They can also create backgrounds and foreground details depending on the depth of color used.

Regular pan watercolors are better for washes and semi-vivid coloration. They are easy to work with and clean up well. Most are portable and make excellent additions to a traveling au plein air painting kit.

Watercolor pencils are another format for those who like to sketch out the drawing first and then color it in using a wet brush while still maintaining a definitive outline.

Watercolors in a tube aka gouache provide a matte finish, can be a great choice for illustrating, and are the most vivid of the above-mentioned types. Be sure to read the health warnings on all art supplies, as they may contain staining pigments and some may have health risks if used in an under-ventilated space or could require gloves.

If you are just beginning, start from the easiest aka pan watercolors and work up to the gouache. This will enable you to obtain a feel for those paints that work best with your particular style of work.

In addition to paints, not all are created equal. Synthetic brushes will work differently than real hair brushes. Watercolors need a brush that will hold water, synthetics are often too plastic to do that effectively. In addition, they tend to leave streaks and scratches through a wash. A real hair mop brush and a small liner brush work well as a starter set. Brushes sold singly will likely be a better buy than a cheap set. Nothing can ruin a project faster than a cheap brush that sheds hairs across a painting.

Take time to experiment and learn about the different tools. Have fun with it, after all that's what it's all about!

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