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.

Watercolour Transparencies

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

Step by step to painting a bird in watercolour

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.

Step by step stages to painting a rabbit in watercolour

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 & Newton Professional Watercolours
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

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