Watercolor Tutorials

Progress on Painting

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Painting Stage with Golden’s Absorbent Ground on Ampersand’s Gessobord

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Here is a portion of a dancer painted with several layers or glazes that had previously been masked during the background painting.  I put several layers of paint onto the substrate, one at a time.  This technique is otherwise known as glazing.  The left arm has only one layer while the sleeve has multiple layers.  The neck has two layers but will have many more by the final version.  


An overall look at the process of painting one layer at a time over the dancers.

Masking Fluid for Watercolor Tutorial

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I learned how to use masking fluid from a great teacher, Harold Petersen.  He had a brilliant method that preserves the brushes you use in the masking fluid: coat the brush with dish soap prior to using the masking fluid! 

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The tools you need are a container with dish soap, a brush, a rag to wipe the brush, rinse water and the masking fluid.  Even though the soap helps prevent the brush from being ruined, I don’t use my best or favorite brush.  I use a brush that is a little worn but still has a good enough tip to get detail with the masking fluid.  

The first step is to wet the brush and dry excess water with a rag.  Then coat the brush with dish soap.  

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Wipe the excess soap off the brush.  

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Dip the brush into the masking fluid and carefully begin outlining the areas you want to mask out.

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There are a couple of types of masking fluid.  Some have color and some are white.  The colored masking fluids are helpful when you want to know that you have complete coverage of the area you are masking.  But, the color of the mask, which ranges from yellow to florescent orange, can throw off your sense of color when painting around the mask.  The colorless masking fluid eliminates the color balance problem as it maintains the integrity of a white area but it can be difficult to be sure that every part has been completely covered by the fluid.  I find I often have pin prick size areas that missed being covered by the fluid or some even larger uncovered areas.  As you can see from the picture above, I use a generously thick layer of fluid to maximize fluid coverage.  Two other things I try to avoid are allowing layers of dark paint to dry onto the mask and extremely thin layers of masking fluid.  When removing the mask from the painting, especially if using a masking fluid eraser, if I have let a lot of paint dry on the mask, it can rub into the white area under the mask.  I have found that very thin layers of fluid can also let small amounts of paint through to the white areas of the mask.  If excess paint has dried onto the mask, it is easy to use water, a brush and a rag to wash the paint off the mask before removing the it from the painting.  A dry thin layer of masking fluid can be covered by additional layers.  If the mask is not completely dry before recovering, the underlying layer can be picked up and moved around preventing even coverage.

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After coating the entire area to be masked, tilting the painting can give you a reflection of the area covered by the fluid and you may be able to spot even small missed areas.  After the mask has dried completely, the background is ready to be painted! 

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When the painting background has been completed, the mask is ready to be removed.  Some masking fluids are easier to remove than others.  Some can be peeled off, and the thicker the layer the easier to peel, but others are easier removed with a special masking fluid eraser.  As more brands get easier to peel, it gets more difficult to find these special rubber-like erasers.  I don’t know what exactly the erasers are called but it is pictured in the first and third pictures of this tutorial.  

See my next tutorial page "Painting Stage” for the next steps in painting on Gessobord with Absorbent Ground.

Watercolor Painting with Golden’s Absorbent Ground on Ampersand Gessobord

I’ve been painting watercolors using Ampersand panels and Golden’s Absorbent Ground since about 2012.  I decided I’d like to create a photo tutorial about the process I use to create these paintings as I really like the results I get.  

Before I start the actual tutorial I’d like to talk about what I like about painting on absorbent ground and panels and ways it is a little different than painting on regular watercolor paper.  I like the look of the unframed, simple lines of paintings on panel.  I like that the resulting painting does not have to be framed with mats and glass.  While it remains to be seen exactly how archival a watercolor sealed with the acrylic sealants I use over the absorbent ground, I don’t think it is all that different than the fragility of watercolor on paper when done correctly.  

Things that are different about painting on absorbent ground include the way the surface accepts medium.  

    -Pencil lines drawn directly onto the ground do not readily erase.  So, I always draw onto tracing paper and transfer the finished drawing to the surface with graphite paper so that I know I do not want to change any of the lines once they are there.  

    -The surface accepts paint with edges similar to hot pressed paper which is to say that hard edges are created almost immediately.  Therefore, it is essential to soften desired soft edges almost immediately after laying in a stroke.  

    -In addition, after laying down a stroke it should not be reworked too much as moving around the color too much will lift the color or create washes that are not smooth.  

    -The paint dries fairly quickly on the surface and can make it difficult to achieve smooth washes without a fairly quick pace.  In order to have the speed necessary for the smooth washes and dark colors in the backgrounds of many of my paintings I always mask around shapes that I would otherwise paint the wash around.  

Now for the fun part, and the pictures!

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I mount my board, cradeled or 1/8 inch, to a piece of foam core in order to avoid touching the surface with my finger tips.  If I’m using a gessobord, I use a Martha Stewart sponge roller to roll three smooth coats of absorbent ground onto the panel.  (The Martha Stewart roller is available at some craft stores including some Michaels Arts and Crafts.  It has a better quality sponge and size than many other rollers I have tried.)  If I’m using Aquabord (as there are a couple sizes available in aquabord not available in gessobord), I roll an isolation coat of gesso onto the panel before rolling on the three absorbent ground layers.  I usually use the absorbent ground straight from the jar without diluting it with water.  Diluting it with water can make it slightly easier to get a smooth surface or can make peaks in the layer, depending on your rolling technique.  If you’re finding it difficult to create smooth layers with undiluted ground try diluting but I want maximum coverage therefore I don’t use a diluted solution.  I allow at least 24 hours for the layers to dry and most often 6-12 hours between layers.  This is my preference, not an absolute.

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The next step is to transfer the completed drawing to the surface.  As you can see, I trace the panel size onto the tracing paper to get proper placement.  For this particular drawing, I adjusted the final size after drawing, moving the right edge into the drawing and creating more negative space on the left side.  This planning is crucial as any marks made on the absorbent ground surface are permanent.

The transfer itself can be tricky as mistakes are costly in time so I offer the following technique:

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I use artist’s tape (low tack tape available at most art supply stores) to tape down one side, or two areas, of the graphite paper.  This will allow me to lift the transfer paper to check progess without misplacing the drawing I am transferring.

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Next, I use artist’s tape to secure the tranfer paper directly to the graphite paper, making sure to line up the pencil lines of the panel size with the edges of the panel. Again, this allows for checking progress of the tracing without misplacing and shifting the source drawing.  

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The next step may or may not involve moving the cat out of your light source! For me, this can happen quite frequently! :)

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Here you can see how I am able to lift the edge and check my progress.  Sometimes I lose track of whether I have traced an entire area, such as the missing dancers leg as you can see!  I try not to press very hard when tracing so as to minimize the darkness of the resulting line, as it is permanent; and I use a very sharp pencil tip to create a narrow traced line on the panel.  

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A close up of my line drawing as I trace it.  

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This is the final result of my transfer onto the panel.  After I finish the transfer, I go over the drawing to refine the lines as the tracing process does not produce a perfect drawing.  

The next step is to mask the areas that I will avoid when I do the background washes.  I will continue to post and update as I work through this painting! Hoping this is helpful. XOXO