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Frequent questions...

We all know just how difficult it is to get the right information about paints, materials and paper… I am lucky enough to be in contact with most of the manufacturers which means that I can get more precise information. In this column, I’m going to share some of what I’ve learned with you.

“Can I make my own watercolours?“
A watercolour is made up of the following ingredients: pigments, a binder (generally gum arabic), a plasticizing agent (which can be either honey or sugar) and water (in varying proportions, depending on whether your watercolour comes in a tube or a pan). As all these elements are easy to come by, why not try to make your own colours? Start by adding gum arabic to your pigments, in equal proportions.Make sure your pigments are ground into a fine powder. Add to this mixture the same amount of honey (or sugared water in the following proportion: one part water, one half part sugar). Mix everything until you get a smooth and homogeneous paste, then leave it to dry in a pan for several hours.
“How can the same pigment yield different colours?“
The answer is in fact very simple. All watercolours are made with pigments, but these pigments are not the only ingredients that determine their characteristics and behaviour. The pigments are ground and mixed with other ingredients which, together with the way the colour is manufactured, also have an infl uence on the colour. So in other words, the same pigment can react very differently, as you witnessed yourself with PR101 (Red Pigment 101).
the same is true for instance with Phtalo Blue PB15, which even though may come from the same supplier will yield two different colours from two different manufacturers.
“what is the difference between glazes and washes?“


The words “glaze” and “wash” are indeed often used in painting and are used to describe two similar things. The word “glaze” is often used in the world of oil painting to describe a way of mixing colours by superimposing one very diluted layer of paint on top of the previous dry layer and by adding more and more oil in order to prevent cracks in the paint. This is done in order to change the colour, the value or the saturation of the paint on the canvas. The light crosses through the transparent layers of paint creating a luminous effect. Literally dozens of glazes can be superimposed to increase the effect in any designated area or the whole of the painting. Because of the transparency of the layers, the viewer can see the luminous and rich colour mixes. For technical reasons, this cannot be done in watercolour because adding an extra layer of colour will always alter the surface of the paint, as the surface can never be stable the way it is with oil paints. This is one of the reasons why it isn’t a good idea to varnish a watercolour. A wash on the other hand is a layer of transparent colour with water and very little pigment. It is applied evenly or in a gradation and it covers large areas of the painting, sometimes the whole painting. Much like glazes, washes are applied in a very fluid manner so that there are no apparent brushstrokes. A wash may be applied to pristine paper as well as on a previous layer of paint. But in order not to lose the edges in the painting, washes are usually applied to large areas, such as the sky or the sea, or at the end of the painting process in order to enhance it or give it a duller look. Beware that too many washes may ruin the painting. Glazes and washes are practically used for the same reasons, however they are applied differently. Glazes are more efficient with many layers and are best used for smaller areas that need enhancing. A wash, however, is applied once – twice at the most – while avoiding the more detailed areas in order not to ruin them.

How do I know if I have a weakness when it comes to using tonal values?

The best way to know if you have a weakness using tonal values is to look at a number of your paintings and ask yourself the following questions:

◆ Is the light and shadow within the paintings convincing?

◆ Is the feeling of depth and volume convincing or do the shapes and distance appear flat?

◆ Do the subjects within the paintings appear to be real? Do they put across some sort of atmosphere or emotion?

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