Monday, July 30, 2012

Making Changes On Traditional Watercolor Paper

One of the things that make watercolor such a challenging medium is that it is difficult to make corrections. Unlike oils and gouache (opaque watercolors) you can’t change your mind by painting over passages. Watercolor is transparent so you can’t cover up what’s underneath.  It is difficult to make changes but not impossible and not as hard as I was led to believe.

Many watercolorists will talk about how you need to be so decisive that whatever you do has to work the first time you set paint to paper or that a watercolor has to be built up slow using pale washes of watercolor. When you look into the methods of past masters of the medium you get the feeling they were not afraid to make corrections and were a lot more aggressive at painting their images. Sargent used opaque paints so did a number of other artists. A description of Turner painting a watercolor shows how he attacked the paper…“he began by pouring wet paint on the paper till it was saturated, he tore, he scratched, he scrabbled at it in a kind of frenzy and the whole thing was chaos - but gradually and as if by magic the lovely ship, with all its exquisite minutia, came into being and by lunch time the drawing was talked about in triumph.” Turner was also said to have dunked the painting in a bucket of water and grew a long finger nail to scratch out paint.

The first thing about making changes is that it works best on heavy paper- the heavier the better, 140 lb. watercolor paper is good 300 lb. is ideal. Using water you can loosen paint and lift out using a stiff brush, like the bristle brushes used for oil paint, and blotter paper or a paper towel. I learned that from Irwin Greenberg. Watercolorist Mary Whyte uses the same method and I also learned from her to use an old toothbrush to scrub water and wipe out with a paper towel. Some colors stain the paper so that you may not be able to get back to the white of the paper but that never bothered me since light and dark is relative to the values around an area or an object. If you need to get back to the white I read that Stephen Scott Young scrapes out areas with a razor and paints over the area using casein white to get back to the white of the paper. He then lets the area dry completely and then using a light sand paper sands it down a little and paints over the white area.
 At right and left is a detail of the painting above. I scrubbed out parts of the left arm using a toothbrush.I felt that the arm was to big and to low. Latter I decided to scrub out the hand as well (see bellow left). There were other areas I applied this same method too. I made changes in the guitar more than once. 

When scrubbing out areas you still have to be careful about damaging the paper. The paper I used here was Arches  140 lb cold pressed watercolor paper.

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