Watercolor is like a comfortable friend.
It’s a friend who doesn’t require a great deal from you. The kind of friend you don’t need to dress up for, and when money’s short it’s okay to just hang out and relax.
Watercolor is just that sort of medium. All you really need is a piece of paper, a couple of brushes, a flat surface on which to mix your paint and another flat surface for the paper.
The final ingredient is your imagination.
Adding Accessories To Your Studio
Whether you have an expansive, light-filled studio or the improvised corner of the kitchen table from which to work, there are unlimited products to tempt an artist. Look at any catalog or commercial website and you will be inundated with promises of expanded productivity, increased skill and boosts in sales by the mere addition of these wondrous and useful inventions.
Many of these tools and gizmos are helpful and may actually be practical. As you develop your skills and become comfortable with the entire creative process, you will see what types of products are actually meant for using and what items are really only meant to add to the coffers of the manufacturer.
Since there are approximately a zillion different items an artist can buy, this little review is only a sampling of the numerous types of accessories one can add to his tabouret or studio. Some products are used for increased productivity, while other items are just for fun.
Supports For Your Support
What you use to hold your paper depends on your style of painting. If you love to get in there with a juicy brush-full of paint, expect your watercolor to run and drip down the page if it is not lying flat. Many artists choose to work with their paper flat on a table. However, if you want your paper raised at an angle, you need something to support it.
You can use a piece of Masonite, cut slightly larger than your paper, to secure your sheet for painting. Taping it is preliminary to stretching your paper. Artists who use heavy paper and a drybrush technique can simply fasten it to a board with office clips.
If you are not making big puddles of paint, or if you enjoy the spontaneity that runs and drip provide, you may want to use an easel. Oil painters and acrylic painters who don’t have to contend with the drip factor use easels for their supports, and many watercolorists enjoy the physicality that standing in front of an easel provides. When you stand at an easel, you tend to use your whole body to paint. It’s a very different experience than hunching over a table.
If you have visions of that massive, goalpost-shaped hardwood easel that takes up the entire corner of your someday-studio, you’ve chosen the wrong medium. These are strictly for oil and acrylic artists who work with heroic size canvases and require large, substantial equipment to hold them.
An easel for a watercolorist can be on the low end of the price scale and perfectly suitable for almost all an artist’s work. Easels cost anywhere from $20.00 to $2000.00. The least expensive models fold up and are not sturdy enough for heavy canvases. However, they may be just right for a watercolorist. You can either use a watercolor block or paper taped or clipped to a board on an easel. Models that are more expensive may have some tilting features, and they are vertically adjustable if you wish to paint from a seated position.
There are also tabletop models that are great for small paintings and artists with limited space or an inability to stand before an easel. They are also handy for classroom work, demonstrations and plein air painting.
Another good option is a drafting table. These tables have many features, depending on which model is selected, and they can tilt from vertical to flat, raise or lower the table surface and may even have a draftsman’s straight edge attachment available. They also have a tray at the bottom lip to hold pencils, brushes and other ephemera that collects around your work area.
Since most drafting done today is with a CAD program, the old-fashioned drafting table has been put out to pasture just like the pencil-pushing draftsman. This is great news for a watercolorist looking for a quality table at a good price. Check with used office equipment stores for a drafting table. It’s a great workspace for an artist and a good investment that will last a lifetime.
Painters of all mediums tend to become addicted to collecting paintbrushes. We’ve already discussed the basics of paintbrushes, but there are also a number of funny brushes and oddball products that may interest an artist who is growing bored with the same old #7 sable round.
A number of manufacturers produce brushes with bristles made of plastic or rubber. Use these to create grass, fur, hair, leafy tree effects and any other type of random paint marks. Of course, you can create your own texture brush by mutilating an old bristle brush.
Along with brush washers and cleaners, there are many styles of brush holders and organizers available. These gadgets are little niceties to own, but they certainly are not necessary.
Paint palettes can be pretty much any flat, non-porous surface. Stroll through the art section of your local craft shop or scan the pages of an art supply website. You’ll be amazed and confused by all the variations that manufacturers have come up with to hold your paint.
Plastic Watercolor Palettes incorporate small cups or depressions around the perimeter of the tray. An artist lays out his paints in the cups and uses the central flat space for mixing and adding water. These palettes are available in many sizes, and the types of projects you do will determine what palette you need. Small trays that hold a few colors are good for limited palette paintings, small paintings or touch-up work. Large trays that will hold your entire collection of paints are appropriate if you tend to work on multiple paintings concurrently. These are generally studio palettes and are always ready to go to work.
Some of these trays include both large and small cups, divided mixing surfaces, extra cup trays and a sponge to hold water to keep paint moist between painting sessions. You’ll also find them round, rectangular and lidded. Every manufacturer has their own idea of the perfect palette. Opt for simplicity, and as you develop a painting style think about the kind of palette that might work best for you.
Some artists prefer a flat, rimmed tray. One places the paints around the edges and moves paints toward the center, or each other, to blend with water. Art supply stores carry these, but you can also use things like Styrofoam meat trays, dinner plates, serving platters, plastic kitchen trays or an enamel butcher tray. Browse around the kitchen and you’ll probably come up with other kitchenware that will work just as well.
Don’t think that you are limited to only one palette. You may be a change-up hitter and need a variety of palettes for different purposes. Palettes aren’t too expensive, so you probably won’t blow your budget if you decide to buy yet another.
Paint additives are products that slow down the drying process, make the water wetter or add special effects. Many artists paint their whole career without ever using any of these products. However, since this is an overview of painting, it would be remiss to avoid the topic.
Understand that these products will not help you in any significant way as a beginning painter. You have far too much to learn about the basics of getting paint on the paper before considering what you do with gum Arabic or watercolor gel thickener.
Gel medium can be added to your watercolor to give it a thicker body similar to acrylic paint. Washes made with this product do not flow into each other. The gel also makes it easier to create stronger washes of colors for large areas.
Wetting agents contain gum Arabic, which increases the flow, glossiness and transparency of your paint. Gum Arabic is also the binding agent used to produce watercolor paint.
Iridescent medium adds iridescence to your paint. Unless your goal is to be known as the Painter Of Shiny Kitsch Art, this is an item that really needs to be used with a light hand. A touch here and there, preferably on a greeting card or child’s room decoration, is a wise way to use this product.
Around The Studio
Everyone wants to have a great studio. Within the limitations of space and budget, we all try to have as much great stuff as we can. It makes us feel like real, professional artists.
Unless you have a generous patron or a federal grant, you probably don’t have a great deal of money for extras. However, that doesn’t mean you need to paint in an unheated garret with horsehair glued to a stick. As you get comfortable with painting, you will find plenty of things for your studio wish list.
Good lighting is imperative. Barring remodeling to include north-facing windows and skylights, you may opt for adding portable task lighting. Spend time researching natural and full-spectrum lighting for options that will work well in your space.
Efficient and easily accessible storage is important. A tabouret is a wonderful convenience. A great tabouret is a mechanic’s rolling tool chest. They have shallow drawers to hold the myriad tiny tools and tubes of paint an artist uses. The wheels provide ease of movement and the flat top is an excellent surface to hold brushes, palette and the other necessities of a painter’s life. If you can’t afford a new model, check garage sales or estate sales for a used piece.
Taking It On The Road
Painting en plein air can be both a joy and a real pain. Going afield to paint does take some planning. Fortunately, for the watercolorist, the necessary equipment is minimal.
Unnecessary but nice, there are traveling paint sets that combine paint, short-handled brushes and palette all in one small parcel. If your budget allows it, or a generous relative gives it to you as a gift, you’re set to go. However, a paper block or sketchpad, a handful of brushes, a few tubes of paint, a Styrofoam tray and a bottle of water are all the ingredients you’ll need for an afternoon of batting bugs and flinging paint.
All this equipment should fit nicely in a tote bag or backpack. Much of what you will be doing is sketching your impressions. Few artists create completed works in the field. They pay close attention to the light and temperature of their surroundings, do value sketches for color and composition and generally enjoy the change of pace.
This chapter could go on and on with descriptions of fun, useful or odd products you might want for your studio. Some items are for using, and some items are for selling. You’ll want to stick with the useful ones for the present.
Those costly items you know will be wondrous additions to your studio should go on your Christmas or Hanukah gift list. Prioritize what is really necessary, like a proper full-spectrum lamp, and which items are merely flights of fancy. Money saved on gewgaws can be much better spent on quality paints and brushes, some heavyweight watercolor paper or framing your next masterpiece.
Your needs will change and develop as you continue on your painting career. What seemed like a great idea today may later seem worthless in retrospect. Conversely, as you become more experienced, you may find that some things you once discounted have far greater importance than you previously thought.
FREE Online Art Paint Course
There are 27 Chapters in this Free Online Painting Course:
Let Us Begin…
Watercolor – Where to Start
Watercolor Paint Brands
Watercolor Paint Brushes
Watercolor Basic Painting Techniques
Advanced Watercolor Painting Techniques
Watercolor Painting Accessories (This Article)
Watercolor Painting Tips and Tricks
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Paint on! :)