Watercolor is a little more challenging than working with oils or acrylics. If you make an error with either of those mediums, you can simply scrap it away or paint over it.
Unfortunately, watercolor isn’t quite so fancy free, but there are a number of ways to save or alter your work after you’ve realized you’ve made an error in judgment or you’ve had a minor disaster.
Is It Really An Unsuitable Mistake?
First, you need to determine if this is truly something you can’t work around or use to enhance your painting. An errant drip or splash can add a painterly quality to your work and might add to the loose, spontaneous appearance of your painting. Sometimes letting go of preconceived notions is what a painter’s quest is all about.
You Really Need To Remove That Unsightly Blotch
If you’re sure you need to remove paint from and area of your paper, if you can get to it before it dries you’ll have much more success than waiting until the paper has dried.
Quickly and gently daub the wet surface of your paper with tissue or a dry, clean brush or sponge. A light touch is the key here, as pressing with any pressure will just force the paint into the fibers of the paper.
Once you’ve removed all absorbable pigment, you can try to flow a bit of clear water on the area and softly daub it more with a sponge or paper towel. Remember, don’t scrub or press on the paper surface.
If the paper is still too colorful after the paper dries, you can try this procedure again. However, depending on the pigment you’ve used, there’s only so much color you can remove from your paper.
Soaking To Reclaim Your Paper
If you’ve decided the entire piece is a disaster that will mock you for eternity, you can plunge the whole thing in water and let it soak. You’ll remove a good deal of the paint and probably have a nicely mottled-tint underpainting to begin anew.
After sopping up the standing water on your paper, re-stretch it and allow it to dry. Your freshly stretched support will not be the pristine white you once had. Depending on how much color remains on the paper, you’ll probably plan a painting that uses lots of darks or bright colors instead of pale and delicate hues. That’s called the art of camouflage.
Different Types Of Pigments
Some paints are easy to remove from paper and leave only a hint of their presence. Colors like Naples Yellow, Raw Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Cerulean Blue and Viridian are all non-staining colors, you’ll have pretty good luck removing these colors from your support.
Colors like the Cadmium family of yellows, reds and oranges, Phthalo colors, Prussian Blue, the Quinacridone colors and all the blacks are staining colors that are pretty much going to give your paper some everlasting shadows of color.
Knowing a little bit about the properties of your paints is necessary as you learn about painting, and it’s a good thing to know when you’re trying to decide how much scrubbing you’re going to subject your paper to when you try to remove color.
An Exception To The Rule
If you’re using a very heavy paper like a 300 or 350 pound Arches, it can certainly take a little more manhandling than a lighter weight paper. Use a little more force scrubbing out your paint, and you might be able to clean it up without inflicting too much damage on the paper surface. However, it is paper and it does have a delicate surface, so remember, you’ve been warned against extreme paper manhandling.
With this weight of paper, you can even go at it a bit with sandpaper on a perfectly dry surface, or remove small bits of paint with a razor blade or Xacto knife. This is, however, not for the faint of heart, and since it’s a last ditch effort anyway, if you ruin a portion of the paper, you may still be able to use the part you haven’t permanently disfigured.
A Final Alternative
A starving artist never throws away good paper, so another use for your spotted and spoiled support is a base for a multimedia painting. Maybe a little acrylic, some tissue paper, torn magazine pages and a stencil or two will give a new life to your paper.
You can also cut it into smaller sheets, incorporating attractive areas of the lightly-toned paper into a smaller painting. As a last resort, you can cut the paper into strips and the kids can have fun making bookmarks for Christmas gifts with tempera paint, crayons and markers.