Core Skills: Water­colour

Come on in, the wa­ter’s fine! Join artist and teacher Kelly McKer­nan in dis­cov­er­ing how to work with, not against, this won­der­fully sur­pris­ing medium

ImagineFX - - Contents - Kelly is an in­de­pen­dent artist who cre­ates orig­i­nal paint­ings for gal­leries, trav­els for con­ven­tions, and men­tors stu­dents via her Pa­treon. You can see more of her art at www.kel­lym­ck­er­

Join artist and tu­tor Kelly McKer­nan in dis­cov­er­ing how to work with, not against, this won­der­fully sur­pris­ing medium.

When some­one finds out that I work in water­colour, their im­me­di­ate re­sponse is often “But water­colour is so hard!” An un­sur­pris­ing re­ac­tion, per­haps…

I dis­cov­ered water­colour as a teenager, and in­stead of be­ing in­tim­i­dated by its un­pre­dictable na­ture, I saw end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties. I grad­u­ally re­alised that water­colour of­fers a unique, col­lab­o­ra­tive re­la­tion­ship with the artist – one that isn’t so straight­for­ward and re­quires ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, open­ness and most im­por­tantly, patience.

By its very na­ture, water­colour ap­pears to be a dif­fi­cult beast to tame. Af­ter all, its pri­mary ve­hi­cle is wa­ter! It’s key to bear in mind that there’ll al­ways be an el­e­ment of sur­prise when work­ing with water­colour. Over time and with lots of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and im­ple­men­ta­tion of tried-and-true tech­niques, I’ve learned first to con­trol what I can, and as for the rest, work in­tu­itively and al­low water­colour to be water­colour. At times it will take the wheel whether you like it or not, but you’ll live for those mo­ments when it pleas­antly sur­prises you!

As well as hav­ing an open mind and end­less patience, work­ing with water­colour re­quires a par­tic­u­lar setup, proper ma­te­ri­als, a lit­tle tech­nique and a lot of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. In this series, I’m go­ing to share with you how I work with this in­cred­i­bly ver­sa­tile and ex­cit­ing medium and make the best of water­colour’s de­light­fully pro­tean na­ture.

1 What dif­fer­ent water­colour pa­pers are avail­able?

Water­colour pa­per comes in three tex­tures: hot, cold and rough. Both cold and rough water­colour pa­per have a bumpy tex­ture, and will give you more vi­brant colours. How­ever, I en­joy work­ing with hot press be­cause the smooth tex­ture en­ables me to achieve sharper de­tails. Water­colour pa­per also comes in var­i­ous weights. I rec­om­mend start­ing with 140lb. The heav­ier it is, the less likely it is to buckle un­der a lot of wa­ter. Aim to use top-brand pa­pers such as Arches or Strath­more, be­cause the qual­ity of your pa­per is very im­por­tant.

2 Choos­ing your brushes

Water­colour brushes can vary widely and it can be tough mak­ing a de­ci­sion on which ones to buy. There are both synthetic and nat­u­ral hair brushes avail­able for water­colour use, and each have their own strengths. I pre­fer to work with Kolin­sky red sable brushes, be­cause the nat­u­ral fi­bres hold liq­uid bet­ter than syn­thet­ics can, although they are more ex­pen­sive. Brushes come in many shapes as well, though I most com­monly use Rounds rang­ing from size 0 up to 6.

3 Se­lect a water­colour pal­ette that suits your way of work­ing

Re­spon­si­ble water­colour artists typ­i­cally use a large pal­ette di­vided into wells for their colours. My par­tic­u­lar method of work­ing with lim­ited colour pal­ettes has landed me on a small, cheap eight-well pal­ette with two mix­ing ar­eas. I keep sev­eral around, in­clud­ing larger cir­cu­lar pal­ettes in ro­ta­tion, so that I can ded­i­cate one per painting. This is use­ful when I’m work­ing on more than one piece at a time.

4 Pick your paints

Water­colour paints most com­monly come in tubes or pans. I pre­fer to use water­colour tubes be­cause I can achieve bet­ter in­ten­sity right off the bat. I work with sev­eral brands, but my favourites are Grum­bacher and Win­sor & New­ton for ba­sic colours, and Daniel Smith for spe­cial­ity colours and those that gran­u­late nicely. My tech­niques for cre­at­ing tex­ture take ad­van­tage of the pig­ment sep­a­ra­tion that comes with these spe­cial­ity colours. Stu­den­tqual­ity wa­ter­colours won’t get you very far, so I’d rec­om­mend spend­ing a lit­tle ex­tra on the good stuff, since you’ll have it for some time any­way. Some of my cur­rent ro­ta­tion of wa­ter­colours are over five years old!

4 Ad­di­tional tools

My favourite part of work­ing with water­colour in­volves the tools that push the medium even fur­ther. I most com­monly use kosher salt and ice cream salt for tex­ture ef­fects (the lat­ter cre­ates larger tex­ture). I’ll also oc­ca­sion­ally mask to pre­serve an area of pa­per with the aid of mask­ing fluid or tape. These tech­nique will be cov­ered in fu­ture in­stal­ments of this series. Stay tuned!

Hot press water­colour pa­per.

Cold press water­colour pa­per.

A nice perk to work­ing with water­colour is that it can al­ways be re-wet­ted when dried, so an old pal­ette can be brought back to life in a snap.

Here are some of my most fre­quently used wa­ter­colours, along with spe­cial­ity Finetec gold and sil­ver pans.

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