A Caracal in watercolour

Whilst preparing some Facebook posts I came across some work in progress (WIP) shots of the caracal kitten painting that I completed several years ago. Since working on this painting I have really refined how I achieve realistic hair and fine detail on animals. Some of my techniques and materials have changed, but looking at these old photos they still give a good overview on how to tackle a project like this.
Initially I start from a really good reference photo, this one was taken by our friend Emma Rose Buck and my grateful thanks to her for allowing me to work from it. 
The first stage is to get the image transferred to my watercolour paper, I use Bockingford and for the kitten I would have used the old fashioned method of covering the back of my printed image with pencil and tracing over the top. I’ve now discovered graphite paper which really speeds up this process!

For anyone who follows my work you will know that I love working on animal eyes, a cat’s in particular are full of depth and interest so once I had applied a loose background wash the eyes were the next stage to this painting. It is important to retain the vibrancy of colour within the eye, but at the same time there needs to be highlights and hints of glassiness to make them look real.

As long as I am happy with the eyes I will move on to applying some foundation washes to the rest of the cat. These give a basis to work off for the fur and can be varied and darkened with additional layers to really develop the form and shape. In the photo below you can see that I have added some white highlights. Unlike many watercolourists I tend not to reserve the white of the paper, preferring to add the highlights as my last layer with white paint. These days I almost always use SAA opaque white watercolour, but in the days of painting the caracal I would have probably been using white acrylic or even gouache. They all work, the watercolour white is more difficult to get right, so you may want to use one of the other options, but it is all a matter of personal preference.

I tend to work in sections on any painting, usually starting with the head and moving across and down my subject. It ensures you are not always fighting drying times and allows you to really concentrate on an area and fine tune it. However, it is really important to keep stepping back and viewing your work as a whole project – making sure that all the different sections work together and are in proportion and the right colour. In the photo below, I am gradually building the layers of detail on the head, working from light to dark and finishing off with the white. Again it is personal preference how many layers you add, there are no hard and fast rules.

Below you can see the next stage of the painting where I have added the white to the forehead area – it really does start to bring it to life. Should the white seem too intense try watering it down a little more so it dries duller or alternatively in one pass of your brush, introduce a weak wash of colour over the top to tint it.

The second ear is worked in exactly the same way and blended in to match the areas that have already been completed. When working on a reasonable size project like this, where the colour is quite uniform over large areas, always make sure that you mix up enough paint. Nothing worse than running out and having to try and remember what you did to create a particular tone!

Applying layer upon layer of fur can be a very time consuming process, often with the under layer I will use a home made replicator brush. This is similar to, but not as uniform as, a rake brush. It allows me to paint several small lines at once and cover a large area much more quickly. However, the result can look too even, as if it has been combed, so it is a technique that I only use on layers that are underneath and forming the depth rather than the visible detail.

When you are near to completing a painting it is often a good idea to take a complete break away from your work. Take yourself off for a cuppa and come back with fresh eyes, you are likely to spot areas that you need to work on or adjust. This could well be sections that you were previously unable to see whilst you were so involved in the painting process.
Hope you enjoyed this overview of my caracal painting, until the next time – keep those brushes wet! Paul 😉

Understanding Watercolour – Part 2

For Part 2 we will touch upon three more terms many manufacturers use for their paints; lightfastness, hue and granulation.  I will try to explain in my non-jargon way what they are all about, hope you are sitting comfortably, my rambling is about to begin!

Lightfastness or Permanence
This refers to the likelihood of a colour fading or maybe discolouring when exposed to sunlight – as simple as that!  The manufacturers notes on this are just guidelines but worth thinking about if you intend on displaying a painting in direct sunlight.  Protecting your precious work behind glass and ensuring everything used in the mounting and framing process is acid free will certainly prolong your painting’s life.  Whilst there will inevitably be some changes to the colours eventually, don’t hide your work away in a dark corner of a room simply to preserve them, put it out on display it and enjoy it.  
It is worth noting that all manufacturers have their own way of describing the lightfastness or permanency of their colours. The two examples below give you some idea on what to look for on your tube. It could be a star, dot, letter etc.

Hue
The word hue has many different meanings within the art world.  The most obvious use of the word would be to describe all the paints you have in one particular colour range – all your greens have a green hue, all your yellows have a yellow hue etc.  

Yellow Hues

Secondly, on a paint tube or pan it can refer to a man-made colour which can give you a constant consistency of exactly the same colour over all the batches that are made.  Hues are generally mixed from different pigments to replicate old historical and well known colours.  Maybe the pigments for the original colours are now known to be toxic (cadmiums, ceruleans) or perhaps they are no longer readily available.  To keep artists happy they remain within the manufactured ranges but have the word hue on the label.   By manufacturing the colours, the lightfastness of them can sometimes be improved and the pigments are very likely to be of, shall we say, more of an affordable price! 

Thirdly the word hue is used to describe the grade of paint.  This links with last week’s blog when I talked about how much pigment was used within a paint.  In some of the cheaper brands there is more binder used, so whilst the colour stays the same it will take more working up in the palette and will be less intense on the paper.  Often these lower grade paints are not as lightfast and do not do so well over time.  I would recommend that once you can afford to move from the student / budget paints to the more professional grade ones that you do so.  I think you will notice a difference in your work and your paintings will be more likely to stand the test of time.

Have you ever noticed that some colours do have slight variations of a name, such a Gamboge and gamboges hue, now you know why.

Granulation
I’m sure you have noticed over time that some paints can leave quite a grainy texture when they dry. This is referred to as granulation or a granulating colour. French ultramarine is a classic for this and can give you some lovely effects, especially for skies!  I find other colours such as burnt sienna and burnt umber will often do the same.
So what creates this nice surprise?  It is all to do with the pigment particles – in some colours the pigments tend to cling together, this in turn creates an uneven wash.  When you have finer ground pigments the granulation will be much less obvious and you can create those smooth washes you might be after.
Over time you will get to know your paints, and you will know the ones that are going to granulate.  Should you be using some extremely expensive hot pressed paper and you would really prefer to know in advance what is going to happen, it’s worth checking out your manufacturer’s web site for the particular colours. They all make their paints in different ways, and mix their pigments to their own ‘recipe’, so the ‘same’ colour from two different makers will not necessarily react the same on your paper…..beware!

Have a play with your colours on a piece of medium textured watercolour paper and see which granulate.
I would love to hear how you get on with your paint testing, what makes and colours in your collection granulate?

Until our next blog remember to keep those brushes wet and bye for now,
Paul 🙂

Understanding Watercolour

We know that watercolour is a very popular medium from its simple concept, painting with coloured water; to the intensity of colour that can be achieved, to its amazing transparencies that can give your paintings that sparkle of life and clarity.

However there are quite a few terms which are used by manufacturers regarding the properties of their paints which can be confusing and maybe even off-putting.  Do they fade in the sun or are they ‘lightfast’, are they transparent or opaque, what’s all this about pigment and granulation and what on earth is a series?!

I hope my ramblings clear up some of these very arty words and help you to choose the right type of paint for the paintings you wish to create.

Transparency & Opacity
Watercolour is classed as transparent when it allows the white of the paper to show through from underneath. Transparent colours are great for layering over other transparent colours in order to achieve deeper tones.  Layering a transparent colour over itself will work in exactly the same way.  Transparent colours are used quite a lot by botanical artist to create some amazing soft layers in their flower and plant paintings.  
An opaque version of a paint will basically mean that it doesn’t allow much in the way of colour through from underneath.  So if you paint it over another colour, that colour stands very little chance of showing through.
As you know, I use opaque white for many of my paintings, this allows me to paint over some of the darkest areas for fine hairs, eye highlights and so on.
I usually class the transparency levels in three ways, transparent, semi-transparent and opaque.  When you have got a few spare minutes, maybe have a play with your own palette and work out how transparent each of your colours is or take a look at the packaging/tubes and see what they say.  This will really help you when you come to layer them in your work

Pigment
Basically pigment is what gives your paint its colour, it is held together with the use of a binder. The cost of the paint will reflect:
– The amount of pigment used within the binder
– How rare the pigment is and how much it costs to produce and include.  This can vary considerably from pigment to pigment.
– The quality of the binder used

Paints with richer, more concentrated pigments will give you the ability to mix your colours more easily.  As a consequence you will use less paint to obtain the same depth of colour.  You can work up lesser quality paints to achieve the same depth of colour, but you will use more paint and it will take slightly longer to apply all the layers needed.

Paint very often comes in what is called a series, this is because the colours cost different amounts to produce.
When you look on a tube of paint or a pan wrapper there is often a number or a letter displayed. The higher the number/letter the more expensive the paint is to produce as they can, for instance, have rarer pigments inside them.
So for example you may find cadmium yellow from the Winsor & Newton Professional range is Series 4 and burnt sienna is Series 1.  For the manufacturer they do not charge the same for each of their paints when they cost different amounts to produce.  Cadmium yellow is more expensive to produce than burnt sienna and therefore in all the ranges it will likely be more expensive.
So to add to the confusion, when you look at prices based on series number, a cheaper price doesn’t mean that a colour is any poorer in quality, it just means that it is less expensive to produce……now if you understand all that you are doing better than me!  

Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolours

Buy some paints, try them out, swap them with a friend and try theirs out,  Find the ones that suit you and your style of painting.  I very often say ‘buy the best you can afford’ and this is the reason why.
So there you go a little about transparencies, opacity, pigments and series.
Which paints do you use and how are they marked up for transparency and series? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you.
Till the next time, keep them brushes wet!  Paul

Watercolour Basics – Paints & Brushes

A back to basics look at paints and brushes, an ideal overview for anyone new to the wonderful medium of watercolour and an insight into my favourite paints and brushes.

Watercolour Paints
There are a wide range of choices out there and in my personal experience a box of 12 – 18 half pans will be enough to get you up and running quickly and inexpensively.  I personally use Winsor & Newton, other brands are obviously out there, but it is tricky once you start with a brand to suddenly switch from something you know to something unknown!

Half pans 
These are solid blocks of concentrated paint.  You tend to get what you pay for; I liken it to orange squash in the sense of the more concentrate you add the stronger the drink. Think about the half pans the same way, the more expensive versions usually have a higher pigment content and ultimately a greater depth of colour richness.
Half pans are my choice due to the fact that you don’t waste as much paint as you would using tubes.  This is particularly true when all you need is a little colour for one small area.  

Tube paint
I do have some tube watercolours, mainly for using with large backgrounds where I need to mix up a much larger wash.  I would recommend having a few of your frequently used background wash colours in tube format should you be able to.

Brushes
Now I know another minefield and all I can do is let you know my preference in brushes. The brushes you buy will depend on the type of painting you wish to do and the budget at your disposal. Bristle types tend to fall into a few basic categories. 
Sable – expensive but lovely to use and has a natural taper giving it a good point to work with, the most coveted being kolinsky sable – the ultimate purchase for any artist!! 
Other natural fibres – each with their own unique properties in their favour.  For instance a hog brush is very stiff and generally used for oil and acrylics, whereas squirrel brushes are soft and often used in watercolours instead of sable as they are cheaper!
Mixed blends – as their name suggests a mixture of blends which brings out the most useful properties from both fibres to give the artist a much more versatile brush.
Synthetic – man made fibres, often more durable and usually a little kinder on the wallet!

Brush Sizes
As for the size of brush, it will depend on your subject.  Should you wish to paint large wash and in a loose style then obviously a large brush from say a size 18 down to a size 2 rigger (long and thin) may be your preference.
However, for the finer style of painting, as in the way I paint, then a size 8 down to a 00 (very small) would be ideal.
There are many different manufactures out there and I can only recommend the brushes I use – they are a bit like paints, once you get used to a particular make and style of brush it is difficult to break away from the comfort of familiarity.  Occasionally I will test out some different brushes and ultimately this may lead to a change in my favourite, but it doesn’t happen very often!

My Favourites
Everyone has their favourites, but here are some of mine.  I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you from the links below.  I hope you find them helpful.
Winsor and Newton Professional Pans
Winsor and Newton Student Cotman Pans
Cotman Watercolour Tubes
Winsor and Newton 00 Brush
Winsor and Newton Size 5 Brush
Mop Brush
Rosemary and Co – Spotter Series Brushes Size 1 & 5
Finally, thank you for following my blog, do leave a comment if there are any other subjects you would like me to ramble on about!   
Until the next time, keep those brushes (sable, animal hair, synthetic, blended, large, medium or small), wet!
Paul 😉

Back to Watercolour Basics

Starting with watercolour can sometimes be a little confusing; I certainly found it this way when I started all those years ago…..OK around 40 or so years to date….but don’t tell anybody! So let me give you a head start so you can avoid some of that confusion about which paints, brushes and paper to buy and that is just to begin with!

The thing with watercolour is that there are so many different methods out there that people use, from a very loose, fresh and expressive way, to a tight, detailed and realistic method. The choice is entirely yours and the only way you are going to find out which you prefer is to simply have a play!

I firmly believe there is NO set way to paint using watercolours, the right way is ‘your way’, so the method you end up feeling most comfortable using.

You will, with time, adopt your own style that defines ‘you’ as the individual, just be patient and above all enjoy the learning process. My method is just the way that I personally paint and the method and style that I teach, but I will never say it’s the right way. 😉
What style do you prefer and why?
Next week we will move on to the plethora of materials out there…..see you then. 
However you choose to paint, remember, keep those brushes wet!  Paul. 🤓