Watercolor

Meet Your Friend, Watercolor Part 1 by Uschi Jeffcoat

Watercolor is a good friend. She is quiet and listens well. Because she demands patience and a gentle touch, she tends to quiet the soul. And she doesn't require much. She is quite happy with a glass of water and a little air. Add a sprinkle of salt and watch magic happen.

Some don't understand her. But they just haven't gotten to know her.

So please, let me introduce you to my friend, Watercolor. You should know that, sometimes she spells her name with a "u"... Watercolour. :-)

All personification aside, (and hopefully you haven't hit unsubscribe because of it) - I am currently teaching a small watercolor intensive to a few friends. While I've taught afterschool art to children, I have never taught watercolor to adults. At one point in college my major was art education, but I realized very quickly that it takes a special kind of bird to teach art.

I tend to loose my words while I am painting, so to do a demonstration and explain what I am doing at the same time is really hard for me. It's as if adding the process of painting into this bilingual brain, jumbles all my words and sends them on vacation. And then some things in the creative process are simply hard for me to explain. 

However, I am enjoying finding those words so that I can share something I love so much with others.

While nothing can compare to active learning in a class setting, if the world of watercolor is of interest to you, I'll be typing a few blogs simply for the sake of sharing more about the medium of watercolor. (And to help me find those art instructional words.)

So here's Part 1.

PAPER & MATERIALS

140lb Kilimanjaro Cold Press Full Sheet

140lb Kilimanjaro Cold Press Full Sheet

On Paper.  The kind you get matters. It's like a PB&J versus steak dinner kinda difference. Full sheets typically require stretching, unless the paper is a heavy weight. Stretching is basically, wetting the paper completely, securing it to a surface and then letting it dry.

Watercolor paper typically comes in the following weights. 90lb, 140lb and 300lb. 90lb is student grade. 140lb is probably the most popular due to quality and price. 300lb is thicker and does not require stretching. It's almost like cardboard. I typically paint on 140lb.

What does weight mean? A manufacturer will weigh a ream of 500 sheets of paper in its uncut state and gives it a number to indicate the paper’s weight. Weight indicates the quality (and usually the price) of the paper.

Texture describes the surface finish on paper. Texture can help define the character of the painting.

Hot press: smooth and slick surface. It doesn’t allow for as soft of color transitions. Good choice for detailed and illustrative work.

Cold press:  What I most use. Water absorbs well and allows for many techniques.

Rough: Bumpier surface than cold press. Good choice for textural surfaces like rocks and such.

WATERCOLOR BLOCKS

A watercolor block is a stack of watercolor paper that is attached together. The sheets of the paper are trimmed to size and then stacked upon each other. That stack of art paper is then attached to a backing board with a padding glue. This glue is applied to all four sides of the paper. These don’t require stretching. You will find an opening at the top of the gummed pages. Peel your completed paper off the stack when you are done.

AQUABORD

This is a fairly new and interesting surface to work on. It allows for the lifting of watercolor and for much more room of error than paper. However, it does not absorb the water and pigment in the same way as paper does. Ampersand makes these.

 

PAPER BRANDS

Arches Paper has been around since 1492. It is high quality and has an interesting history.

Fabriano is also high quality and lovely paper.

Kilimanjaro paper is another brand with nice quality. You can find it online at places like Cheap Joes.

 

 

PAINTS

I now LOVE Daniel Smith watercolor paints! But many other manufacturers make high quality lovely paints. Winsor Newton offers high quality paints and also a few tutorial videos on their sight.

Quality will matter, but I do not recommend that a beginner break the bank on paints.

Colors. You will want a blue, red, yellow, green, probably Raw Sienna and Payne's Grey. But honestly, there are SO many colors to choose from! I prefer to let students experiment with various colors to find those that resonate most with them. My most favorite color is Payne's Grey. Greens can be tricky. I like Sap Green best. A Hansa or Cadmium yellow is good. As far as blues, I like a Winsor Blue with Red Shade and a French Ultramarine. And Daniel Smith Pyrol Orange is a new favorite color.

If you are new to watercolor you will want a palette with a cover if you use tube paints. You simply cover what you haven't painted with and reuse. reuse. reuse. reuse. These paints really go a very long way.

If you'd like to know more, here is a great blog entry about watercolor paints, pigments and why the good stuff costs more.

OTHER SUPPLIES / MATERIALS

Masking fluid, brushes (round and flat), paint pallet, sponge, salt, saran wrap, gauze, gator board, staple gun, painter’s tape, pencil, eraser, tracing paper, paper towels. More about them later.

Giving credit, where credit is due.  My watercolor knowledge came later in life for me. From the kind and thorough instruction of Tom Herzog.

In college, I thought I was too cool for watercolor and only hung out with Oil, Acrylic and Screenprint. I now know who the real cool kids are. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to learn about the medium of watercolor.

Window Dressing by Uschi Jeffcoat

Window Dressing 22" x 30" watercolor

Window Dressing
22" x 30"
watercolor

This juvenile European Blackbird was spied outside a Birkenstock outlet store in Germany. My sister and I were on a mission to reclaim for our closets the footwear trend of Birks. I'm old enough now to realize that trends do come and go.

It makes me think of all the labels/trends we spend more money on than we should because of what we feel that thing represents. We believe we are buying quality items that we need. When I was younger,  I needed Guess Jeans, Liz Clairborne bags and Clinique make-up.

And I recognize a pattern. I'm calling it window dressing.

Window dressing obviously refers to the beauty and mindfulness that goes into a window or store front display.

But it can also allude to the misrepresentation of something in order to give a more favorable view.

During a TED talk, cyborg anthropologist, Amber Case, describes that for many of us a second version of ourselves exists in these screens we hold. For example, when we are sleeping, others are interacting with our second "virtual" self such as perhaps our Facebook profiles. Two selves doing opposite things.

And that second self of ours also requires care / time / maintenance.

I'm thankful my adolescent "window dressing" was so much simpler then. There was only one me that needed to appear better than maybe I felt on the inside. 

And so I am asking. How and when does one project an authentic self?

And in another facet, this article from the Wall Street Journal provides a look at the cost of a little physical window dressing in 4 women. (Please note: I am not pointing fingers or judging here . . . I spend my fair share on the lotions and potions.)

But is aging and imperfection considered such a flaw? Or can it be viewed as something unique and individual? How do I as a person define and share beauty?

These are big questions for me. The culture I live in influences me. But so have the women in my life.

The "wall paper" behind this painting is inspired by patterns seen in my German great grandmother's home. It is hand drawn and painted, requiring dedicated time and embracing imperfections. 

Sadly this bird tells a moral of sorts. The young European Blackbird flew into the window of the Birkenstock store. The allure of the false reflection ultimatley harming her.

What Colour's a Blackbird? by Uschi Jeffcoat

“Drawing makes you look at the world more closely. It helps you to see what you're looking at more clearly. Did you know that?"  

I said nothing. 

"What colour's a blackbird?" she said.

"Black" 

"Typical!” 


― David Almond, Skellig
 

This painting process is of a young European Blackbird.

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I've learned that sometimes the pale unseen tender layers beneath the surface are the most beautiful ones. 

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My 41 year old eyes needed to do the hard work to see. See what is truly there, not what my mind wanted to tell me was there. And let me say, this bird is so much much more than simply "black". 

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Later today I will take on painting the background on this 22" x 30" full watercolor sheet. It's daunting at the moment but I know doing the work IS good.

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So wherever your eyes are being challenged to see more clearly today, please do the work. It is good.