Calico Art - Carol Vaage

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Know Your Paints

As a beginning watercolourist, it can be daunting to go into an art store and be faced with an entire aisle or at least several sections of watercolour tubes to choose from. How do you begin? Which ones are the basics?

Every artist has their favorite colours and their favorite brands. I've listened to YouTube artists declare you must have "these" colours in your palette. Or, you register for a class, and are required to bring "these" tubes of paint by this supplier brand. Even comparing art stores, you'll find different brands are featured and recommended. The art store staff will have their favorites to recommend. How will you know what to get?

I started my journey of art in a Daniel Smith store, and so selected my paints from their line. Each tube has a colour band on it to give you an indication of the colour family it belongs to. More details are given on the backs of the tubes. Most stores have samples of what that pigment looks like when activated with water.

So, as you are probably thinking, from reading the above, I believe there are NO ABSOLUTES when choosing your first tubes of paint. My recommendation, though, is that you always choose an artist grade tube of paint. You will see less expensive student grade options, but using these will soon frustrate you. Quality versus quantity. If you start with the 3 primary colours of yellow, blue and red, you'll get hours of play and experimentation. But choose the colours that appeal to you!

I bought a coil bound watercolour book to document my paint colours so that I would have a visual reference to go by.


As you can see, I made a good, intense colour swatch (small circles on the left). I then made a water puddle line to the right of the circle, and then made the smallest touch of a bridge with my brush, and watched to see if the pigment would travel over the water. After things dried, it enabled me to see which colours had the most dramatic impact, for example the very bottom left orange sample. The edges were strong, and had small frills, so it might be used for flowers or dramatic clouds, etc. Some of the samples granulated, as you can see on the third bottom on the right side. That Bloodstone colour left small pockets of texture. Some pigments did not travel over the water, some flooded and then backwashed, like the bottom right blue sample.

My next step was to create a page for each hue, so it would be easy to compare the shades later on, to find the just right pigment for my paintings.

Document the name of each pigment, make your own codes and shortcuts. You can see I added T for transparency, a Y or N for granulation, and wrote whether it was opaque or staining. You have to find a system that works for you. You can find ideas on the web, see charts, etc. but those will come later. First get to know your own paints. 


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