Tech Tuesday: White in Watercolor, part 3: Manipulation

Thanks for joining us for part 3 of our 3 part series on using White in Watercolor! Now, on to the good stuff…

White in Watercolor, part 3: Manipulation

-Manipulating the Paper-

In the process of researching all of the ways to manipulating a painting to recover the paper surface, I realized that this broke down into two states of paint (wet or dry watercolor) and affecting the paper itself.

Wet Paint

To scrape or squeegee damp watercolor paint and recover the white of the paper underneath, you can try using the edge of your brush, or a harder edge, like a palette knife, razor blade or X-acto, or even an old credit or gift card to push the damp paint off an area of your paper. Other options for a nice firm edge could include trimming down some matboard, or using your fingernails. If you try to scrape while the paint is too wet, you’ll fight an uphill battle as the paint will simply run back into the scraped area, so avoid doing this while the paint is very fluid and glossy. At the same time, beware that if the paint is too dry, it’s not going to move much, if at all.

One of my favorite ways to introduce texture and highlights to a painting is by blotting away the moist paint off the paper. Generally, the longer you let paint dry on the page before blotting, the darker the blotted area will be. If your paint contains a very staining pigment, it may also be hard to blot back to paper white. You can blot by lightly touching the material to the paint, by pressing it firmly against the paper, or by wiping (even scrubbing). Pretty much any absorbent material can be used to blot or soak up wet paint. I’ve mostly stuck with paper towels or cheap tissue, including tissue paper. If you’re using facial tissue, avoid ones with additives like lotion in them, they may make your work unsuitable to last. Paper towels are really versatile since you can use them flattened, crumpled or even twisted. Laying the spiral side onto the page is a neat effect! If you work on medium or large scale watercolor sheets, you can even roll out a roll of paper towels over a large area. If your goal is for more paper to shine through, with less paint on the surface, you’ll want to turn your towel or tissue frequently, or you’ll just transfer the wet paint from it back to the page. (Which can be fun too, but isn’t always desired!)

You don’t need to stop at towels and tissue, there’s plenty of other absorbent materials you can try with the blotting technique, such as; blotter paper, sponge (natural or artificial), towel, soft cloth, cotton swab, cheesecloth, burlap, or textured fabric. You can also leave some of these materials on the paper until the paint has dried for different effects, like causing pools of rich pigment to create some hard edged lines around the fabric.

*A quick note about fabric (like towels or burlap) and sponges: many can contain a size which keeps a nice shape or reduces wrinkles when the product is on display at the store. Be sure to thoroughly rinse or wash before use so you don’t add that to your painting!

Lastly, for the wet paint section, you can use a very lightly dampened brush (like a wash brush) to lift paint. This is very much like using the blotting technique, but with a more precision and control. Beautiful soft edges result in using this technique, so you can get a natural looking highlight on leather or indirect lighting for portraits and even water. For a hard-edged pop, check out the post on mediums or preservation for inspiration.

Yikes! This post is getting to be a bit longer than I thought! I’m going to wrap up this series in next week’s post where I’ll cover the manipulation techniques for dry watercolor.

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