Saturday, February 14, 2015

DIY Styro Fruit Box Watercolor Paper Stretcher

I have a lot of styrofoam fruit boxes lying around from my hydroponic lettuce project.  These are the containers most grapes come packaged in.  Most fruit stands will be happy to sell them to you for Php 20.  I did a bit of research a while back on whether styro is safe for use in hydroponics and from what I had read realized that I may have a use for it even in watercolor painting.  Learned styro does not have acid or base properties.  It is also basically inert or stable.  Perfect material for making watercolor paper stretcher support.  

You will need a sharp cutter and a metal ruler to cut out the rectangular panel on the bottom and top of the box.

I was on a roll and finished cutting this many boxes.  You can see where to cut the styro box to get the biggest possible panel.  

Kuya Ric asked for the castoffs when he saw it.  He said he was going to melt them and use to patch up their tin roofing.  

You will need to wash the styro panels thoroughly with water and detergent.  I used a soft scrub brush to clean the surfaces of dirt and any fungicide that might have gotten to it when the grapes were sprayed with the chemical to make it last longer.  (I saw a sticker warning on the box about the fungicide spraying.)  Dry the panels thoroughly.  Place them on a table under the sun.  

You will need to glue two pieces of panels together.  One panel would easily give way to the forces exerted by the shrinking paper but two would be sturdy enough to withstand the pull forces.  You can use Elmer's glue or if you can find styro glue like the one shown on the right, that is even better.

Weigh the panels down with books on top to get a better bond between the panels.  Set aside and come back to it the next day.

With sandpaper I wrapped around a box of soap, I smoothed the surfaces and sides of the stretcher.  Even did a bit of beveling and rounding of sharp corners.  Wear a face mask when you do the sanding.  You would not want to get styro dust into your respiratory system.

I coated the surface with gesso.  You can skip this part.  Not really necessary except that I had some leftover gesso lying around.  Much later though, I noticed the gesso somehow helped protect the panel by making it easier to lift the gummed paper tape off the surface with little or no damage left behind.  Run water over the surface and get rid of any gunk left behind.  I dried the board under the sun.   Looks good as new and ready for stretching again.

Not bad, eh?  It took in staples well.  Does not hurt the wrist as much as when stapling on wood board.  Gummed paper tape also adhered to the styro well.  Stretched papers were very flat.

Thank you for checking in to read this article.  As always, feedback or modification ideas welcome.

Friday, February 13, 2015

DIY Archival Storage for Unframed Watercolor Paintings

I sometimes get asked how I store unframed finished paintings.  The usual problems that come up when storing watercolors are insect damage, yellowing, spotting and fading.  I had the same problems before but through trial and error, I seem to have stumbled upon a possible solution.

Materials needed:
cardboard sheet
clear tape
clear plastic (medium thickness book cover, or thicker)
ribbons (optional)

To make an archival envelope for the painting, I first made the envelope using a cardboard sheet folded and cut to make an envelope with unglued sides.  Put a layer of gesso on the parts that will touch the painting.  Take away the painting first of course.  Make sure the painting is placed in a safe place where it will not accidentally get gesso splatter when you prepare the envelop.  You need this gesso buffer between the cardboard and watercolor paper to prevent the paper from yellowing or spotting in the future because of contact with non acid free cardboard.  Putting the painting in the envelope will protect it from light which causes fading.

I would then wrap the envelope with two sheets of Manila paper.  This extra layer would act as added protection for the painting against moisture and heat that may get through the plastic casing.  Yes, hard to believe, moisture can get through the plastic but somehow it happens.  Learned in science class of how plastic despite seeming to be waterproof is not completely impermeable (plastic, starch and iodine science experiment).  This may be one reason why during the rainy season when the air can get very damp, watercolor paintings stored in plastic casings still may develop mildew/mold despite being completely encased.  The additional Manila paper buffer seems to do a great job keeping any moisture getting in from reaching the gessoed envelop and painting so I continue the practice to this day.  

Above pic shows the plastic casing I made for the pack.  I use plastic sheets (book cover plastic bought by the yard) found in school supplies store locally.  Try to get the thicker kind, they are less prone to becoming brittle.  I would then tape all openings with clear tape except for one side for which I would leave enough plastic that I can fold several times over (for locking).   I then would create a ribbon fastener.  Just tape an end of each ribbon fastener onto the plastic with clear tape.

The plastic casing is a good barrier against insects, moisture, and dirt.  When termites got to my stuff (was storing my supplies and old paintings in a cabinet), it was this plastic casing that saved my old practice paintings (late 1990s).  See pic to the right and bottom.  I like thinking it broke some termite teeth.  They were not able to get in.  The casings were dirty but it took only some wiping to get off the sticky gunk and I was happy to learn the paintings were okay.    


Now, seeing as how the paintings fared well over the years with just the plastic casing, why bother with the Manila paper and the gessoed envelop?  Brace yourself, another nerdy moment.  Ahaha.  I learned in a food packaging seminar (Seminar was free and I love free learning experiences) that not all plastics are the same.  Some are food grade, some not.  It is safe to assume some are archival and some also are not. (I was able to buy some archival portfolio plastic sleeves online before so I know the plastic used for artworks is different (label said so)).  While the book cover plastic available locally seems not to yellow, some plastic packaging do.  Some friends have told me they found stored unused paper yellowing despite leaving them in plastic packages.  They noticed only the paper surfaces directly in contact with the plastic had yellowed.  Since we do not know if the book cover plastics are really of archival quality, I make sure the paintings I store now do not get directly in contact with the plastic.

I have been checking the paintings I stored using the new process every few months.  Some I get to check after a year.  Seems to be doing great.  This also lets me air out the paintings every now and then.

For those who will try this DIY, feedback is always appreciated.  This is also a learning experience for me.

As always, thank you very much to readers and supporters for looking in.    

Friday, February 21, 2014

Young Artists International Watercolor Society Contest 2014

What a great turnout for the 2014 IWS Contest.  Around 600 artists from 69 different countries participated in the contest.  Congratulations to the winners and to all who participated.




All entries are available for viewing at the 2014 IWS Contest Page



IWS cordially invites all to join the International Watercolor Painting Biennial to be held on May 5-8, 2014 in Cappadocia, Turkey.  For more details, click on the picture link below.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sunset Demo

A bit of a break from my flower paintings.

Sun / sky paintings are great for demonstrating traditional watercolor techniques.  That is when you use the white of the paper to lighten your colors instead of adding white pigment.  Transparent watercolors are used and the color white is created by leaving the paper unpainted.

The reference photo for this demo was provided by my friend Rhona Limcangco.  

I drew my guides lightly with a pencil.  I placed the horizon line lower, the sun moved to the left (off center) and marked where the reflection of the sun hits the water.  The blocked area of the sun will remain unpainted throughout the demo.

I am using a limited palette for this demo:  French ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, raw sienna, burnt sienna, Winsor yellow and towards the last part, some ivory black.

I started by painting around the sun outline with a very pale wash of raw sienna and Winsor yellow.  My initial washes are usually very, very light and just enough to define the guides.  I intend to erase all the pencil lines as soon as possible.  Graphite can dirty your colors.  Specially when using yellows, I find that pencil marks can become almost impossible to erase if glazed over with yellow paint.  The success of the illusion of a blindingly bright sun depends a lot on you being able to erase the pencil mark around the sun.  I got this idea while we were travelling one afternoon.  I often use the time when I am not the one driving to look for possible subjects for paintings.  I try to puzzle out how I can paint the objects and scenery that catches my fancy.  Always with a camera ready on hand, I was trying to take a picture of the sky with the sun peeking through the clouds at about 2 or 3 p.m.  Directly pointing the camera at the sun scene though only registered a big blob of light, no details.  Probably something you can shoot better if you have the more sophisticated cameras and the time to tinker with the controls.  But as I was using a point and shoot camera in a moving vehicle, the result was a light blinded picture.  So I did the next best thing.  Back to good old reliable observation with the naked eye.  Squinting, I could see the sun as a white hot disc with its shape defined by a still bright but less so sky.  And as I moved my attention farther from the source of light, the sky color gradually transitioned to its normal color.  Er, of course, I paid for this constant staring afterwards spending the next twenty minutes seeing violet afterimages wherever I look and had difficulty seeing when we finally got to our destination and gone indoors.  Staring directly at the sun is something I would not recommend to others as you can really damage your eyes but the lesson of the story is firsthand observation is still the best.  The knowledge gained from that experience I can now use when painting a better sun and sky for this demo.

Pencil marks removed.

Using the same colors I used for the sky but in a slightly darker shade, I placed a wash of color to define the water and beach areas.  Soften some of the edges by blending the colors in the areas together.  Take note of the beach area and water line specially on the left side.

To further enhance the brightness of the sun's reflection on the water, lighten the part of the horizon line directly below the sun.

For the clouds, I used a mixture of french ultramarine blue and burnt sienna to create the cloud shapes.  Nearer the sun, I made the clouds lighter in color.  Go darker as you move away from the sun.  The "silver lining" or halo around the clouds you can create the illusion of by painting an outline with a thin margin of space around the clouds using the base color of the sky in that area.  Above the clouds, I used cerulean blue, darkening around the cloud outline and blending with clear water towards the sun to create a subtle transition.  Below the clouds and near the horizon line, I darkened using Winsor Yellow to warm the area nearer the sun.

I dry completely between applications to keep my wash passages from disturbing the earlier paint layers.

Two methods for darkening the sky:  One is applying french ultramarine to the top and sides and then blending it with clear water to lighten it as you go towards the sun area.  The other method is what I used.  I applied clear water on the sky area, making sure to work around the sun spot and the clouds' silver linings, and then dropped darker colors at the outer corners.  This takes timing.  I usually wait for the water to be absorbed to the point where only a very thin film of water remains on the surface of the paper.  This sheen is more apparent when you look at the paper's surface from a certain angle.  You can see this "sheen" in the picture on the right.  Instead of using the brush to guide the colors, I use gravity to direct where I want the colors to go to.  Yes, you can paint by tilting and moving your paper about.  It will even give you a softer gradation of colors than if you were to use a brush.

Added more yellow to the water and darkened the water areas using more french ultramarine and ivory black.  Used the reference photo as a guide when placing the wave lines.  Beach area also darkened with more burnt sienna grayed with french ultramarine and ivory black.

Defined the clouds some more by darkening outer clouds.

Horizon line was softened by darkening the sky above the horizon and graying the leftmost and rightmost areas with ivory black.

Finally, people and boat silhouettes were added using ivory black.  I decided to do away with the viewing hut as it will surely compete for attention with the sun if left in place.

Does looking at the sun in the painting make you want to squint?  It still is just the white of the paper.  :D

Thank you for looking and reading.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

International Watercolor Society

What a treat I got in the mail.  A packet from Turkey arrived and it contained my copy of the IWS Catalog and a certificate of appreciation too.

Thank you very much IWS.  What a great honor for me.  Thank you not just for the experience but also because I met and gained new friends who share the passion for the medium.

About IWS - International Watercolor Society

The catalog is not yet available for ordering but is available for viewing online.  Catalog cover pic will take you to the fb album.  A bit of correction.  The 2013 is not yet out.  This is the 2012 IWS catalog.

IWS Catalog

My painting that got included.
Before I go, let me share with you this video collection compiled by IWS from participating artists all over the world.  Watercolor is really a very expressive medium able to accommodate a multitude of styles.

2012 IWS Jury Committee

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Red Hibiscus… With Girl

12.5 x 15 inches
watercolor on paper

Kidding!  Haven’t decided on the painting’s title yet.  Was just playing around with the article title and thought I probably should acknowledge that I am aware some of you may be thinking that I am stuck on hibiscuses with them being mostly my output lately.  Partly true.  Could not help myself.  I had not realized there were so many color varieties for this flower that it makes me want to experiment with the color mixes whenever I get my hands on a new variety.  The second reason is because I get requests for hibiscus paintings.  Win/win for me.  I get to paint what I like often.


Let me introduce you to Morgana, my niece.  She was accompanying me around their garden as I scouted for flowers  when the reference photo for this painting was taken.  Not many are probably aware but perfect reference photos do not usually just happen by chance.  Most blooms have a mind of their own and usually pose themselves so that they stand out like divas from their peers.  Perhaps a quirk of evolution... survival of the prettiest.  More often than not, as I like painting flowers in their natural setting, I would find myself fixing and posing the flower/s on the spot.  I was doing exactly that with the red hibiscus here.  The flower was quite large and looked velvety red.  it was also the sole bloom at that time from that particular plant.  So when my niece suddenly placed herself in front of the camera and pulled on this bloom, my first reaction was to panic.  I have just spent several minutes tucking this branch here, this leaf there, and I thought she was going to snap the flower off thinking to help me by just handing the thing to me.  So I was saying…no…no…no… and then realized she was carefully posing with it.  Feeling relieved, I took her picture.  When I looked at the camera display, I realized, wow... she’s quite a photogenic kid.  The lighting seemed perfect too.  Sunlight was coming from behind the foliage highlighting her hair in places and there was a lot of reflected colors.  It is a good thing she’s not shy around the camera and was game when I gave her instructions… look this way, hold, now smile when I tell you to… the kid is a natural model.  I exercised artistic license though and later changed her ornate headband to a plain white one when I painted it.  She was also wearing a black top with a checkered green and peach pattern which I changed to plain unadorned white for two reasons:  To make sure the outfit would not pull attention from her face and also because the lighter color would suit a child better.  Originally, I was planning to use a very simple background for this painting.  So it would be just Morgana and the red flower.  But as I started to put the initial washes for the arm that she was holding the bloom with, I realized her body position and gesture would look unnatural and strained if I did not include into the painting a hint of why she is posed like that.  So I included the leaves and the upper part of the plant that the flower is attached to.  At the same time, I was aware that if I made the plant too detailed, it may compete for the viewer’s attention.  I used more definition for the leaves specially the one on top that was pushing against her hair.  I just hinted at a branch and some leaves on the lower right side just to suggest an anchor for the rest of the plant.  Subtle enough not to lead the viewer’s eye out of the painting.


I finished the sketch for this portrait and had the drawing already transferred to the paper months ago.  But I only put paint to paper two weeks ago.  It was because I was at a loss as to how to paint our skin color.  Most instructional books have color suggestions for fair and dark skin but not our race's usual color which is "morena" - a sort of golden brown.  I have just finished another painting, Red Hibiscus, when I noticed I still had a lot of clean colors left over.  It made me remember a conversation I had with my friend Erika who is also an artist.  She shared her morena color with me.  While what I had on the palette was not exactly the colors she shared with me, I got the concept from it.  I remembered Morgana's drawing and decided if I was to swim in cold water (having painted my last portrait so long I feel like I've forgotten everything), better to get over the initial shock by jumping right in.

The idea is a basic brown mix to which you add blue, red, or yellow depending on whether you will use it to highlight, darken or just to add a glow.  This method may also remind you of Jan Kunz's method and you are right.  She is one of my earliest influences.  I received my knowledge about crevice darks, reflected colors, highlights and general watercolor knowledge from her books and videos.  I highly recommend her instructional books and videos.  Back to my color mixing.  I made my basic brown mix from cadmium orange, french ultramarine blue and permanent alizarin crimson.  I used for my yellow, red and blue mixing colors cadmium yellow, permanent alizarin crimson, french ultramarine blue.  But have fun experimenting with different colors.  I am reserving Erika's exact trio for my next portrait painting.  Thank you Erika!


Red Hibiscus
8 x 8 inches
watercolor on paper

This red hibiscus will be auctioned off this September for a cause my high school batch is supporting.  Batch 88, Assumption College.

Colors used for Morgana's portrait and for the Red Hibiscus are:  Cadmium yellow, cadmium orange, permanent alizarin crimson, French ultramarine blue, permanent sap green, ivory black, winsor violet, and winsor green.

My colors were a combination of transparent and semi-opaque colors.  The trick for  not producing “mud” is patience.  I dry completely between layers.

Another thing I noticed is that some of the colors look different on the photograph.  When viewed in real life, the flesh tones in the painting look very soft and well blended.  However, in the photograph, I can see color patches with distinct edges overlapping.  I am already aware that some colors like Cobalt blue behave this way in front of the cam.  This probably is related to some colors being transparent and some opaque.

Well that is it for now.  Til next.

Erika Nelson’s blog