Welcome to The Helpful Art Teacher, an interdisciplinary website linking visual arts to math, social studies, science and language arts.

Learning how to draw means learning to see. A good art lesson teaches us not only to create but to look at, think about and understand our world through art.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Learnng how to play with watercolors...


An artist friend of mine recently told me that she didn't feel comfortable using watercolors because they were so hard to control.

The very best way to become comfortable using watercolor paint is to play with it and have fun with it without fear of messing up.  So please take a new piece of watercolor paper for this experiment. Do not use regular paper. Get yourself a pad (not a block!) of inexpensive watercolor paper. Ordinary paper will rip and pill when it is wet. Watercolor paper is more sturdy. Rip out a piece and gather together your brushes.

Mop brush, detail brush, large square shader, toothbrush, small square shader, angled shader, fan brush,
natural sponge (not pictured)
 Your hands and work area are going to get messy. Spread out some newspaper and have some fun. Do not, under any circumstances, crumple up your paper and declare you have messed up. Just continue to experiment and try new things without worrying about the finished product. Let go of your idea of how the picture will turn out and enjoy the process. You may surprise yourself by discovering something unexpected...

Still uncertain?
Here is some information to get you started...

If you use a very dry sponge dipped in paint you can create interesting textures.

 If you paint an area with too much water and do not want it to drip, the twisted point of a paper towel will absorb the excess water without smearing your design.

The torn edge of a piece of paper can mask the white areas when you splatter paint with a toothbrush.

Try experimenting with toothbrush splatter painting and masking off certain areas. Try using various things as masks. Cut stencils from folded pieces of paper.Try leaving an upside down cup on your paper while you splatter paint and lift it up when you are done.

Lifting your brush at the end of your brushstroke makes the brush stroke thinner at the end.

You can control how thick or thin your brush strokes are by pressing down or lifting up as you paint.

Try painting upwards from the bottom of the page and lifting your brush with a slight flick of your wrist. By the end of your brush stroke only the tips of the bristles should touch the paper. That is how I created the grass and flower stems...


An Inventory Of Watercolor Techniques, Demo from Rachel Wintemberg on Vimeo.

Graded wash: Paint an area with water. Paint across the top with a color. It will flow down when your paper is lifted, getting gradually lighter towards the bottom. Add more color to the top and more water to the bottom. Gradually paint upwards with the water until it just touches the edge of the color. 

Color on color: After creating a solid wash, dab a different color on top of the,  still wet, paint. Do not mix these colors, just let the existing water on the paper blur the edges. 

Dry brush: Take a couple of practice swipes with your brush on scrap paper. Your brush and paper both need to be dry. You should see a scratchy texture on the paper.  Lift the brush slightly at the end to enhance thie effect. 

Solid wash: Mix your color ahead of time, add water to the paint, wet your brush and then paint the solid color of wet paint on an area of dry paper. 

Lifting: Wrap a dry paper towel around your finger and tap the wet areas of your painting to lift up the color. Great for clouds. 

Wet on wet: paint water on your paper with a square shader brush. Take another brush and paint on top of the wet area with color. The color will spread to form interesting patterns


Layering: Come back to a painting after it is dry and use a different technique on top of an area you have already painted. For example, use a dry brush over an already dry area where you used the wet on wet technique earlier.

Glazing: Use thin transparent washes repeatedly to build up depth in your painting. Allow the painting to dry in between each layer of glaze. Create a glaze by mixing a color with water and painting it on a scrap paper over a pencil scribble. If you can still see the entire scribble the glaze is transparent. If the scribble is hard to see, add more water to your paint. 

The last two techniques are time consuming but can be very beautiful. Some artists are able to make their watercolors look almost like oil paintings by building up coats of clear glaze and layering a dry bush over a wash.

Young Hare by Albrecht Dürer 1502


Now that you have experimented and had some fun see if you can apply your newfound expressive freedom to your paintings. 

Try this experiment: Look at the picture above and imagine you are painting it with watercolors. Where would you use a dry brush technique? Where would you use a wet on wet technique? How would you paint the grass in the foreground?

How would you use the fun techniques from your experiments to paint these flowers?

How would you hold your brush to create these leaves? What lines would you use to paint the water?

What brushes would you use to paint the petals on these flowers?

These are decisions that artists imagine making every single day as they look at the world. You can be an artist too!

Watch the video below and imagine how you would paint the butterflies and foliage. Where would you dry bush? Where would you splatter paint? Where would you use a fan brush? A thick brush? A flat brush? What technique would you use to create the different flowers and grass? Would you wet parts of the paper or leave them dry? What colors would you mix or put on top of one another? Envision yourself painting the whole time you are watching this video or get out your materials and create your very own imaginary garden while the movie is playing. Don't worry about copying a specific picture. Just relax, listen to the music and let your mind wander among the flowers and butterflies. 

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