Friday, December 9, 2011

My apologies for the long interval between my last post.  It took some time for me to recover from the loss of my faithful sidekick, muse and studio companion - Doodle, my pitbull daughter.  She died last July.  She lived to be more than twelve years old, around 62 in dog years.  A very old age for a pitbull, I was told, but little consolation to me as I was hoping she would live to be a hundred.  To say that I was devastated by her passing is an understatement.  I started and threw away many paintings in the weeks and months that passed.  Somehow, my paintings were ending up either too dark or too sombre, and it was adding to my depression.   But weird how sometimes it takes a tragedy to bring some focus.  I have been putting off writing my artist statement not because I do not know it but because I could not put into words what I was feeling and thinking.  The alone time forced me to do a lot of introspection.  I can work on the statement now.

To combat grief, I busied myself scouting and sketching possible subjects.  I made studies for portraits and landscapes.  I also got busy experimenting and thinking up tools to help me with painting and framing.  I had to make myself go out into the garden because for the first weeks, I could not.  My dog was always accompanying me whenever I am out taking pics and so it was hard remembering.  Later, I entertained invites to visit relative's gardens.   It was partly to remind myself that life is still beautiful.  It was also in acknowledgement that while I could not paint then, I knew I would get back to it eventually.  The love for painting is always there and so I continued collecting references and continued to be on the lookout for unusual plants.  I also learned a new skill with my sister, medical transcription.  A backup in case I don't ever get my painting mojo back.  Met a lot of good people and made new friends  :D

I am back to painting again.  Almost finished with two new ones.   Anyway, just wanted to say hello and to give a little explanation for the absence.

A preview of what's to come.  An improved DIY watercolor paper stretcher using locally available materials (Philippines).  How to "wick" your frames to improve protection against damp.  As well as the usual painting projects.

Again, my heartfelt appreciation.  Thank you very much for sticking around.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Troubleshooting Paper Problems: When The Sizing Goes Bad.

Was rummaging through my old stuff and saw this discarded painting.  Perfect illustration for explaining stale sizing.

I have this habit of setting aside half-finished paintings when I get that feeling that something about it is off.  "Aha!" moments sometimes come when you've stopped obsessing over something.  Sometimes it would take me days or weeks before I would get back to a particular painting.  This one somehow worked its way to the bottom of my pile and I forgot all about it.  Almost a year has passed since I last touched it.  When I tried working on it again to finish it, spots started appearing wherever I wet the paper.

Reminded me of salt effects.  This one however, is caused by sizing gone bad.  We have touched a bit on sizing in a previous post.  (Watercolor Papers and Sizing).  But basically, the idea behind sizing or the addition of gelatin to watercolor paper during its production is to make the paper more workable with watercolor.  Sizing allows you better control over your watercolor as it decreases the tendency of the paper to absorb liquids and paints like tissue paper.  Between the paper pulp and the gelatin, the gelatin would be the first to go stale with old stock paper.  Signs of this would be the appearance of spots that don't go away after a wash or after an application dries.  Another would be when you discover areas that resist any application of paint you put down on it. 

There are several ways to hasten the deterioration of the sizing.  As demonstrated in this ruined painting, one way is by wetting a painted watercolor that has lain undisturbed for months.  You can also hasten the deterioration of new paper using the same principle.  The moment you wet a watercolor paper, its sizing gets disturbed. Maybe water acts as a catalyst.  This is the reason why you are advised not to stretch paper in big batches.  Stretch only what you think you will be able to use within 2 or 3 months.  That's just my estimate.  In our weather where heat can be more than the usual, it is always more prudent to stretch only what you think you will use.  The window of usability may be different in your environment and you should let experience guide you.  

A sign that this was not bad paper to begin with is how the undisturbed, previously painted part is free of spots.  Check the picture.  You wouldn't know that the paper's sizing has gone bad if you do not re-wet the paper.  When you find yourself itching to touch up a painting years after it is finished, remember what happened here.  
Not all old stock paper go bad.  I use Arches cold pressed watercolor paper in rolls.  One of the most economical way of buying paper is by buying it in rolls.  Because you cut to size, you minimize wastage of excess paper.  As long as you do not get the roll wet and observe proper storage, the paper stays usable for years.  Proper storage includes storing it in its original wrapping and in the box it came in and with the crumpled paper fillers still inside.  Do not put this container/box in an area prone to dampness such as near windows, bathrooms, basements. Also keep it away from direct heat or sun exposure so the paper inside does not get heat-baked.

You do need to recognize what stale sizing on paper looks like, specially when you like to take advantage of art supplies on sale.  Some stores put their older stocks on sale just to move the items and to make way for newer supplies. Some of these discounted paper will still be good for use but many might have sustained handling or storing damage.  For this reason I prefer to spend on paper and get new stocks.  You're not really saving on money if you get bad paper.  But sometimes good bargains are hard to resist so if you must, at least learn to discern the appearance of stale sizing to help you shop wiser.

I wonder if you can see the very pale yellow spots.  That is how spoiled sizing looks on paper that has never gotten wet.  Just turned bad over time.  (I keep samples of everything.)  But don't go hunting for spots where there are none. Even new paper looks a bit uneven because of how the lighting plays off against the hills and valleys of the paper.  The surest way to check is to wet the paper.

This is the same paper, now wet.  Some new paper may have this tendency but on a very mild scale and if the paper dries without any marks, your paper is still good.  For tips on how to minimize this tendency, check out my previous article Watercolor Papers and Sizing

There are times when you would come upon a defective batch of paper.  The best way is to contact the seller and if no action there, the manufacturer to see if you can get a replacement.  Might be wise for you to do a little sleuthing online to see if other buyers have been complaining about certain batches.  You will have a stronger claim if your paper is from the same batch.  But do not be too quick to blame the suppliers.  Sometimes we may be unaware that we are doing something that harms the paper.

You can artificially ruin the sizing of the paper by soaking it too long under water.  Prolonged immersion may be the culprit why some sizing coagulate in spots.  This used to happen to me when I was a beginner.  Thinking more is always better, I would leave watercolor paper soaking for as long as 20 or 30 minutes before stretching it.  The suggested submerging time is only a few minutes.  Only long enough for the paper fibers to get wet.  If you soak it too long, even before you staple it down, you can tell you've ruined the sizing by the appearance of slightly darker spots on your paper like in the sample above.

Also, not all paper that develop slight spotting when wet are damaged paper.  Even new and undamaged paper may develop these slightly darker spot discoloration when wet.  But these would tend to disappear as the paper dries.  If you can't tell any spotting on the dried, stretched paper, your paper is good to paint on.

That's it.  Thank you for reading. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

How To Paint Bougainvilleas, Part 1

Bougainvilleas are a favorite subject of mine.  I'm attracted to the color possibilities and the detailing one can go crazy with.  I would admit that part of the reason I started painting it was because of the challenge.  It looked so intimidating to paint that I felt compelled to unravel the mystery.

Whenever I find myself facing an insurmountable task or project, my first course of action is to chop things up into manageable pieces.  If something looks complicated, I try to simplify.  It also has to do with a learning limitation I have.  I have difficulty with memorization.  But I'm good with concepts and once I get the rationale behind something, my recall is good.  That's part of the reason why I take so long to do things the first time.  For plants and flowers, I go nerdy and do surgery.  I like to see how things work or how things are put together.  Seems excessive just to draw a flower.  Time consuming, yes. But I think of it as time well spent because it helps make successive paintings using the same subject easier.  If you've heard of the story of how an old master taught his students to paint by making them traverse five flights of stairs between their easels and their subject matter, then you might realize it is not really about memorizing the details but getting the concepts that should help them recreate something.  If you do the stair challenge yourself, you'll find that any detail you've tried committing to memory will have evaporated by the time you reach second floor.  Trying to catch your breath and keeping an image is a hard feat.  The objective is not to develop a photographic memory but to exercise the ability to synthesize the essence of something.  So for the bougainvillea lessons, I'll be familiarizing you with how the flower is put together in nature and at the same time will be posting the step by step of the painting process.  Hopefully, I succeed in imparting the essence of it. Mine is just one way to tackle the bougainvillea, I hope it helps make it easier and fun for you too.

Here is the drawing outline for this bougainvillea demo.

This is the basic unit of a bougainvillea cluster.  You have three modified leaves (often mistaken as bougainvillea petals because they are colored brightly like a flower's) that have mini flowers on elongated thingies.  One mini flower per colored leaf.  When formed well, the flowers' bases are erect and plumped up with a slightly cinched middle and hard ridged edges.  The ones that look like spent matchsticks are flower bases that have sustained damage and twisted as they developed.  The three leaves are joined at the base by their attachment to a single stem.  That will be shown on the next demo.

My first objective is to define the areas using very light washes of local color.  I do this because I intend to erase the pencil guides as soon as I can.  I do not like pencil marks on my watercolors (not because I'm mean and like making my viewers guess how it was put together (grin!)) but because I find my colors are brighter and clearer when they are free of graphite residue.  Remember to use a soft white eraser to minimize damage to the paper's surface.

If you're interested in the colors I used for this demo, they are rose madder genuine, permanent sap green, winsor lemon, cerulean blue, permanent rose and permanent alizarin crimson.  (Winsor and Newton).  You may use other color substitutes.  I only picked them because I happen to have small leftovers of the colors from past paintings.  For serious paintings, I always use a clean palette and fresh colors but I save leftovers from finished paintings for practicing with.

The ridges of the leaves are yellow in color but because yellow and pencil marks are a no-no, I left the areas where I picture the ridges to be blank.  Any yellow over pencil marks would make the pencil mark almost impossible to erase.  A phenomena observed by most artist.  So as a rule, using yellow for mapping is to be avoided if you intend to erase your guides later on.

I applied the rose madder genuine to the pink areas using mostly the tip of a no.6 round brush.  As if I'm dabbing spots on and leaving spaces in between.  The pink defines the areas but because they were applied unevenly and spottily, it will help with the illusion of convex textures on the modified leaves' surfaces.

When you apply the second wash over the entire leaf's surface, this will soften any hard edges you may have had in the first step with the spotty paint application. When this layer dries, because we used transparent watercolor, the texture underneath would show but would look more natural.  I also use this second wash to enhance the leaf's bending or foldings.  While the layer is in that state between wet and almost dry (when you tilt it, it still has that sheen or film of water), I drop in warm and cool versions of the local color to enhance the bending effect.  When it is almost drying, (state when you know your next paint application will have a limited spread but will still soften, I would add the yellow ridge lines.  That's because I imagined the central and radiating lines (the leaf's skeleton) to be yellow for this painting.  But if you want it to be another color, use your preferred color to define the leaf's framework.  In the picture, I used a liner brush.  You can see how I am able to add the line but at the same time it is soft enough in some places.  The lost and found lines make for a natural looking painting more than the severely defined lines you see most beginner's tend to make.

When you've finished putting the second layer on, your three leaves should more or less look like this.  Notice specially how on the leftmost leaf, the convex textures are almost forming itself.

After the previous layer has dried completely, I would now work on enhancing some of the shapes that emerged.  For the leftmost leaf, I applied just a slightly darker version of the pink to some of the edges on the "found" textures.  Check out specially the part nearest the flower.  It looked as if a lot of work went into creating the creases but that was just a few additions of defining paint.  Again, try not to use single hard lines but use the broken or "lost and found" line defining technique.  At this point, I've only used the colors rose madder genuine, winsor yellow and cerulean blue.  RMG for the local color.  The WY for the leaf framework (mixed in with a bit of RMG to warm it), CB dropped in on the wet RMG to simulate areas reflecting the sky.  Also a bit of the permanent sap green earlier for the flower stalks.  I started coloring thh right-most flower with a mixture of RMG and WY.

Now we start using Permanent Rose and Permanent Alizarin Crimson.  I start defining the flower stalks using PR mixed in with RMG.  I also used PR to add some defining lines to the leaf skeletons.  Again, use the broken line technique.  And if you're enhancing a previous broken line application, you enhance only 3/4 of that one's length.  The missing parts are supplied automatically by the viewers' brain as it tries to digest what it is seeing.  That's what we're stimulating by the way.  The human brain is a remarkable organ, it is always trying to be efficient.  We are able to process a lot of information because for some tasks, the brain has devised a way to process things faster.  For vision, it stores a lot of information.  We can take advantage of it in painting.  It creates solid lines out of broken lines.  Complete textures on areas.  Even mix colors - something the impressionists realized and took advantage of.   Etc.  Our aim is to stimulate the brain enough so that by the time you finished painting, the subliminal part of your viewer's brain is on hyper mode and it will be hypnotized into thinking this is a busy and stimulating painting... it is beautiful.  I like it.... I want to buy it.  Ok... ok... I haven't figured out how to compel your viewer into buying yet but someday, we'll get there.  (evil laugh!)  :D

As you near completion, you would notice, you're tweaking the painting less and less.  My last touches were made with permanent rose and alizarin crimson. Just minute enhancing on the leaf's skeleton and more definition for the flower stalks.

If this is a painting with a background, my next step would be on how to integrate the bougainvillea into the background.  We'll get to that in future demos.

I hope you enjoyed this one.  Thank you for looking.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


It has been awhile since my last post.  I have been busy the past weeks taking advantage of the last days of the summer.  Very hot days with temperatures reaching as high as 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 F) in the shade.  Despite the heat, many trees and plants are in bloom.  Bougainvilleas are aplenty.  They seem to thrive in the heat.

Fuschia Bougainvillea
KS00081, 8 x 8 inches, watercolor on paper

Common colors of bougainvilleas are white, red, pink, fuschia, lilac, and orange.  The colored parts of the plant are not actually big petals but are specially adapted leaves.  People often mistake these colorful leaves to be the flower.  Not exactly, but close.  The bougainvillea flower can be found at the end of the colored stalk that protrudes from the colored leaf.   Yes, the very small white bloom.   

While the bougainvillea plant looks very chaotic and busy, there is actually an order to things.  People sometimes tell me I'm crazy to want to paint bougainvilleas.  They require so much detailing.  But you know, once you see the logic of its construction, it becomes do-able.  And it does not require as much detailing as you think.  Will do a step-by-step project of it one of these days.

This fuschia bougainvillea is from our backyard.  I hope the orange and the very dark fuschia bougainvilleas my father got for me take root.  We are well into the rainy season now.  I'm seeing more green leaves than colored ones last I checked.  Maybe that is their way of coping with rainy weather.

This painting has been sold.  
Affordable prints of it may be had at FineArtAmerica

To see more of my completed works:

Back to painting now.  Thank you for visiting.    

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Right Side Of A Watercolor Paper Roll

"Right Side" is probably the wrong term but that is what many of us use when we search online for instructions on which side of a watercolor paper roll is intended to be painted on.  There is actually no right or wrong side to paint on.  Today's watercolor paper is designed so that both the front and the back surfaces may be used for painting.  One side usually comes smoother or rougher than the other. There is only the matter of preference.  My paper of choice is Arches 140lb cold pressed and I usually pick the side that looks rougher (the side facing inwards) because it has mild properties of a rough paper but still maintains the subtlety of the cold pressed paper.  Never had a problem with it until I opened a new paper roll. 

I was painting plumerias when I noticed something was odd about how my paint applications were behaving.  When I do a more watery wash, the boundaries of it started running in a linear pattern.  I was having a bit of trouble keeping my edges defined and my background was also getting this linear pattern to it no matter how carefully I lay down my washes.  I thought I may have received a defective paper.  I continued the rest of the painting using dry brush just to see if that could be a possible solution for salvaging the rest of the new paper roll.  At the same time, I was searching online if others were having the same problem with new paper rolls.  If it proves to be a batch problem, then there might be hope for a product recall and replacement.  I learned a lot by just reading through the complaints and how the paper maker's company addressed them.  Turns out, sometimes when the felt for the roll presses for the machines are new, they may leave behind a more rougher surface.  This is the reason why some cold pressed watercolor paper may appear rougher than normal.  I wish I took note of all the sites I have been directed to.  But two sites stood out that I found most helpful in making me realize what the real problem was.  I will provide the links at the end of this article under recommended readings.

It was seeing the screen pictures at BruceMacEvoy's site that was my first Aha! moment.  The linear marks on my painting could be explained by it.  After I read the article, I felt very very enlightened.
Everything made sense after that.  Second Aha! moment came after reading through Char's article, a compilation about watercolor paper.  Every other article that came up on google would explain the wire and the felt side but never which side of the paper roll the wire or felt side is, only Char's did.

Now I get why the paint was behaving that way.  I have been painting on the wire side all along.  Not only am  I getting the impressions from the felt, but also the linear impressions from the wire.  I don't have a defective paper after all.  But I'm probably being incoherent jumping to the conclusion like that when I'm supposed to be making the explanation easier to follow.  Let me walk you through my epiphanies, thanks to all the online help:

Your basic ingredient when making watercolor paper is plant cellulose.  It undergoes mechanical and chemical treatment that results into it being made into pulp.  Paper pulp, which comes suspended in water, is shaped into sheets by the use of molds (whether the process is handmade or machine-made).  Paper molds are like flat rectangular strainers that drain the water that come with the pulp mixture.  The cellulose fibers left behind are allowed to settle and adhere to each other. That is how you get the shape of the sheet.  There is still water within this cellulose fibers and so either they are allowed to dry by themselves or rollers are used to squeeze the water out and hasten the drying process.  The surface that is facing the mold is called the wire side.  The surface settling against this side will acquire the texture of the wire.    Which is why if air-drying is used, the side facing the wire is still the rougher of the two surfaces.  The settling of the fibers into the mold impresses the texture of the wire or screen into that surface of the paper.  When the roller method is used, the mold with the pulp is sandwiched between two felt sheets before it gets pressed by the rollers.  The wire side now gets its texture not only from the wire but also from the felt sheet it comes in contact with.  The opposite surface, the side that gets in contact with only the felt acquires the descriptive name the felt side.  The newer the felt, the more pronounced the texture it impresses on contact.  Because the felt side receives texture only from the felt, it would appear textured but will appear to be much smoother compared to the wire side.  The side facing inwards of a watercolor paper roll is the wire side.  The side facing outward is the felt side.  If you've pre-cut the paper and are now confused as to which side is facing inwards or outwards, Char's advice would come in very handy.  To determine if the felt side is the side that is up, check the corners.  If they are angling down, you have the felt side up.

Instead of using "right" side as our search word, we should have been using the terms, felt side or wire side.  As both side is usable, you cannot go wrong.   As for me and the linear spread, after a little water loading adjustment, I got my control back.  I like how the finished painting turned out.

Pink Plumerias, Blue Background
10 x 13.5 inches
Collection of Maureen Pascual, U.S.A.

Thank you Char for the big help and also for the tip about terra skin.  I'm looking forward to getting my hands on this new material.  forum thread featuring Charlene McGill's compilation.

Thank you also to Mr. Bruce MacEvoy for creating and for sharing what he knows.  Very nice fellow and he does answer his own emails as said in the main page of  Thank you, sir.  Highly recommended readings for those who wish to understand watercolor and the other materials you will be handling when you work with the medium.
Bruce MacEvoy's site

Also got a tip from one of the coolest artists that I am following, Mr. Nicholas Simmons:  "I've been buying rolls for years, no problem with either side.  Work larger and small defects won't matter." *  
A very wise observation.  Probably, the clue to very passionate paintings.  You can concentrate more on expression if you do not get too caught up with particulars.  Thank you, sir.
The links to his latest art and book projects can be found in his blog.
* Reposted from his comment to me on facebook.
Also, don't miss out on his video,  Innovative Watermedia.  Out now.

Related articles
How to transfer your drawings to watercolor paper

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pencil To Paper

Drawing directly onto your watercolor paper can be tricky.  While it makes for a faster start (as you wouldn’t have to transfer the drawing onto the watercolor paper after drawing it on another surface), using pencil directly onto your watercolor paper requires developing some skill.  It requires a soft touch and confidence in your drawing skills.  A light hand is needed to avoid gauging or damaging the delicate paper fibers.  The lead of the pencil may seem soft but it can be hard enough to damage paper fibers especially if has a sharpened edge.  Pressing the pencil too hard on the paper can also cause permanent depressions.   Deep depressions can affect how your paint would behave on your paper.  Your paint passages will have a tendency to go towards the deeper indentations on the paper and you might find marks appearing where there should be none. Erasures should also be avoided or minimized because the abrasion caused by the eraser may be enough to disturb paper fibers which can also affect its ability to take in paint.  If you cannot help the erasing, use the very soft white erasers.  I favor Staedtler’s because it is the softest I have tried so far among what is available locally but there are a lot of soft erasers out there you might want to try.   White eraser is preferred because some colored erasers leave stains behind.  I also would advice getting kneaded erasers.  These pliable gray erasers are perfect for picking up loose graphite.  Don’t rub it on (it can be abrasive to the paper this way) but just sort of roll it like a log on the paper’s surface.   Knead the eraser when its surface gets dirty.
Some artists opt to leave the pencil marks on the paper instead of erasing.  Most often seen on architectural and landscape watercolor paintings, pencil lines can add to the illusion of solidity and stability to structures.  It also can add definition to florals, portraits and still life.  There are also some, like me, who prefer to erase all traces of pencil from the paper.  Because I desire brighter colors, I try to minimize anything that would lessen the brilliance of my colors.  Leftover particles of graphite on the paper can dirty watercolors when it gets disturbed by passages of the brush.  Whether you leave the pencil marks on or off, is a matter of personal choice. 

While drawing on a separate piece of paper and later transferring this to the watercolor paper may seem time consuming, it does have certain advantages.  For somebody like me who likes to think with the pencil in hand, not worrying over erasures allows me to really explore all my ideas and see the physical outcome.  If I draw with the same abandon on the watercolor paper, you can imagine how abused the paper’s surface would be.  Part of the reason I’m very meticulous with the drawing or painting preparation is because artist grade materials are twice as expensive when I get them.  If I rush into a painting and later realize something about it is putting me off, most probably that attempt will end up in the trash and I would have wasted not only materials but also time already spent on the painting part.  Much preferable to make the mistake while still drawing on cheaper paper. 

Picture above shows my drawing template for the blue water hyacinths.  Days after I thought I am finished already with the drawing, I had second thoughts about some areas and I reworked it and defined the changes with a black marker.

How to transfer your drawing
There are several ways you can transfer your drawing onto the watercolor paper.  Among some of these are the use of graphite or transfer paper, use of projector, and light box.  

The projector works by throwing an image of your drawing onto the watercolor paper.  You then trace the projected lines with pencil or paint.  You can also use the original reference photos on the projector but sometimes, too many details can be distracting.  

The light box allows you to trace the drawing on the paper through back-lighting. Works by sandwiching the paper with the drawing on it (outlines preferably darkened with marker) between the light box and the watercolor paper.  Even though watercolor paper is thicker than normal paper, the light from the box is enough to make the drawing discernible on the watercolor paper on top of it.  You then trace the lines that you see. You can also improvise and use a glass table and a portable lamp instead.  With both methods, you have to anchor the papers securely to keep them from moving around.  On sunny days, you can use your windows for tracing.  Pick a window that is getting a direct light hit and a room that has a dark interior.  Clean the window first. :D  

As for transferring using graphite paper or equivalent.  You can either use a commercially prepared one or you can make your own reusable graphite transfer sheet.  Mine is over a decade old and still functioning well.

To make the graphite paper, you will need tracing paper, clear tape, number 2 pencil, lighter fluid, cotton ball and tissue paper.
1.  Put clear tape on the border of the tracing paper.  The clear tape would prevent tearing of your tracing paper which can happen from much use.  Place the tape only on one surface and try to position it flush to the four edges of the paper.  I try not to let the tape wrap over to the other side because tapes can sometimes leave sticky residue behind and I do not want these on my watercolor paper.  
2.  Turn the tracing paper over and then cover the whole area with pencil marks.  Try to be cover all spaces.  
3.  Moisten (not soak) a cotton ball with lighter fluid (be careful) and use this to blend the pencil marks together. The lighter fluid evaporates fast and will not have enough time to buckle your tracing paper much.  
4.  Then use the tissue paper to lightly wipe this graphite side.  This will pick up excess graphite particles.  You now have your own home made graphite transfer sheet.  

Graphite transfer sheet works just like carbon paper.  

Position the drawing on your watercolor paper, tape it, and then place the transfer sheet in between.  Make sure the side with the graphite is facing the watercolor paper or else you would find you have managed to transfer your drawing on the back of the same paper.   Over the drawing, I would put tracing paper (not shown here) This is optional, by the way.  Even without this top paper, you can already transfer the drawing by tracing on the drawing itself.  I do the tracing with a ballpoint pen.  I like to put an additional tracing paper on top so even if I forget to be gentle with the tracing, the multiple layers of paper cushions against too heavy pressure.  

Another method that is similar is directly putting the pencil layer on the back of the drawing paper.  No need for lighter fluids and clear taping.  Just shade the back of the paper.  When you place your drawing on top of the watercolor paper, it would function like a carbon paper too.  Use less pressure when you trace this way because you only have one layer as a buffer between you and the watercolor paper.  

To erase and retain the guidelines
I would paint a very light wash of watercolor like Rose Madder Genuine over the pencil lines using a liner brush.  RMG is perfect for the purpose because it lifts easily and is non-staining.  It disappears by the time I have worked on the painting enough and have established my bearings.  Let this dry completely before erasing the pencil marks.  

You can use any color for making the watercolor guidelines but watch out for colors that stain. There are also colors like some (most) yellows that when painted over pencil marks, may make the pencil almost impossible to erase.

Thank you for dropping by.  Enjoy painting!

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An Afternoon With A Master Artist

I was privileged to have been invited to another artist's home this summer.  Melencio Sapnu, Jr, veteran painter and friend was taking a breather from his hectic schedule in Manila and was in the area.  He was working to finish a collection for an upcoming exhibit and because of a timely chance meeting in facebook that day, me and my sister were lucky to have been invited in his studio.

I first met Mang Melencio through my cousin Rochelle who is classmates with one of his children.  At the time, I was just beginning to immerse myself in watercolors and really had no idea about the other side of painting - the career side.  When I learned that we had an artist living in our subdivision, I was ecstatic and also afraid.  At the time, my idea of what artists are run more on the eccentric and moody types and I was sure he would be intolerant of beginners like me.  Well, blame it on the movies.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I was surprised at how genial and humble the man is.  He was working on a painting by the side of their house when Ate Leng, his wife, let us in.  Instead of getting distracted by the intrusion, after the introductions, he went back to painting and filled us in on what he was doing.  A natural teacher, he was in his elements.  From him, I learned how important drawing is and how even when he was little, he knew his life would revolve around art. He used everything he could get his hands on to practice rendering and would even draw with a stick on sand or soil if he didn't have any implements with him at the time and he was seized by an idea.  No wonder he's very proficient in all of the mediums.  I have seen one of his watercolors hanging in the municipal hall.  His numerous pastels and oils grace many buildings both here and abroad.  Beautiful works, one and all.  When he showed me and my sister what he was currently working on, I couldn't speak because even though I had an idea of his later works through the pictures I see in his facebook albums, I really wasn't prepared for the actual beauty of the pieces.  The camera could not capture the colors and do justice to the textures.  Perhaps because I'm very partial to the Impressionists, I was captivated by his use of pure colors.

Just to show you some of what I'm talking about.  These are just small portions of his latest oil paintings.  Masterful brushworks.  I will not spoil the surprise of the future exhibit by showing the paintings in entirety (except for the one the artist posed with).  But for those interested in his works, he has some of his paintings hanging at Galerie Y at the Megamall.  Galerie Y also has a website.  Interested collectors may inquire directly.  Link to the site provided at the end of this article.  

Some of his works were featured in a compilation book of notable Filipino artists.  I should have remembered to ask him how interested collectors may get a hold of it.  I promise to get back to you on this one.

I am also going to ask our post office if they could still get hold of some of the Philippine stamps featuring his work.

I think it funny that despite being encouraged by Ate Leng to call him Kuya, we still refer to him as Mang Melencio.  For non-Tagalog speakers, "Mang" when attached to the first name of a person is form of addressing somebody with respect, an honorific.  I guess it is in deference to the man and the artist.

Plans for the future include another trip abroad for an international exhibit.  He has recently taken part in an international exhibit in China.  And if his schedule permits, free oil painting lessons for the children in our Barrio.  He's always keen to share his blessings and delights when he sees artistic potential in people.  I asked if "older" children are allowed.  I'm hoping me and my sister could sign up for the lessons.  He thought I was kidding until I said it is not always that we get a chance to learn from a master.  Good thing I kept all my oil painting supplies.

Click link below to see available paintings of the artist.
Melencio Sapnu Jr at Galerie Y

Thank you sir, for letting us visit in your studio.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Watercolor: The Right And The Wrong Way Of Painting With It.

Of all the mediums, watercolor generates the hottest debates on how it should be used.  In all of the painting community sites I have joined or visited online, the topic inevitably comes up.  On one side, you have the realists and detailist who are after the most accurate renderings and gaining the most control over the medium.  On the opposite side are the impressionists and the artists who are advocating the paint fast and loose method.  To a beginning watercolor painter, choosing the right style can be very confusing and very stressful too.  To learn a skill is both an investment in time and money (two resources one can not afford to squander so easily in these trying times). Which style to choose to ensure that you are painting in watercolor the right way?

It is very interesting to read and consider all the points that come up in such an argument.  You can learn a lot if you would just try to keep a level head and not get too emotionally involved, specially for artists who are already favoring a certain method when they work with watercolors.  I've often wondered how it all started. Over the years, I've read a lot, asked a lot and have somehow come up with this attempt at explaining it. Please bear in mind though that the following are just my musings and that I am sharing in the hope of encouraging tolerance for each school of thought.

Before the advent of photography, the only way you can immortalize a scene or event with pictures is by painting it.  Artists paint either on site (plein air) or in their studios using their memories or perhaps aided by references that they drew on the scene.  For on-the-site drawing or sketching, the tools of the trade were paper, pencil and ink.  Later, when the very portable and easy to use watercolors were made available, they also became regular materials for the on-the-go painter and as study tools for the studio painter.  Watercolor paintings back then were still not considered proper paintings but were just temporary things.  Good only for the purpose of aiding the artist as he or she strives to come up with a more acceptable rendering in oil paints.  Part of the reason it also was not taken seriously was the short life span of watercolor renderings.  The early watercolors were not as lightfast and the papers were not as durable and as readily available hence its lesser popularity than oils.  Watercolor was also considered a hard medium to master then .  Oil painters who were used to working with opaque oil paint probably found the transparency of the medium to be unforgiving.  You can cover mistakes made in oil by dabbing them off with a rag and painting on top of it but not so with watercolor.  The transparency of watercolor and some pigments' tendency to stain paper made mistakes obvious and permanent.  The fluidity and solubility of the dissolved watercolor in water may also have been difficult to manage.  Hence, to be able to paint as realistically as in oil paintings, one had to master the control of watercolors.  I'm surmising that this is the same difficulties that today's painter of realism in watercolor finds so challenging.  We all  have different drives for painting and maybe being challenged by something is one of them. It took a long time, a lot of improvements material-wise and several great artists to demonstrate how paintings in watercolor can be beautiful and complete in their own right.  The issue of whether watercolors can be as good as oil has been resolved and at the same time it may have left behind the thinking that control of the medium is the thing to strive for.

If there is anything constant in this earth, it is change.  Traditional painting has lain unchallenged until the advent of the Impressionists.  At the time, the proponents of Impressionism were laughed at but history would show they emerged triumphant in the end with Impressionistic paintings not only influencing the changes and opening the gate for the other styles to emerge but also because later on they were among the most sought after by collectors and thus ensured that they would be fashionable for all time.  Perhaps we owe it to watercolor’s versatility as a medium that it also was perfect for painting in the manner of the Impressionists.  While realism can be achieved by total control, the medium also has qualities that make them perfect for the fast and loose style.  Depending on how much you dilute it, you can control how fast or how slow it would dry.  Instead of avoiding "accidents", the practitioners realized the quality of the paint itself lends a certain beauty and produces beautiful surprises and they saw the vast potential in it.  Watercolor became less rigid and freer.  It was a perfect tool for catching impressions.  When photography also entered the picture, many said the days of painting in realism was over, a belief still held by many today.  Well, that's just one reason of many why some think watercolors should be used with less abandon.  It is about using watercolor to its full potential and about capturing something other than just the exact likeness of the subject which the camera can do better.

So which is the right or the wrong way?  The best answer is probably NA.  The parameters are Not Applicable as you cannot say one is right or better over the other.  Choosing a style is a matter of personal choice.  Finding the right style requires a lot of introspection.  You have to know yourself, know what you want, and have your own vision.  Once you have considered all these, choose the method of painting that would help you show others what you see... your version of the world.  Choose your teachers and acquire the learning materials guided by the same considerations. Let your own judgement dictate your choice. There is no one "in" style.  If history has taught us anything, it is that styles evolve constantly and that fashion comes in cycles.  What may be fashionable now may not be the in thing later and what may be considered passé may become a favorite once again.  There is also no rule that states you can not combine both styles nor is there one that says you can only paint in the style you started out with.  You are the only one who can limit yourself.  I think it also fortunate that artists in our lifetime enjoy the most freedom. Perhaps we also owe it to the sophistication of today's collectors.  Most rely on their own judgement and collect art that reflect their own sense of aesthetic values. They do not let a single entity or art authority dictate what they should collect or not collect so why should you.  Paint your bliss.

And oh yeah, there is a wrong way to use watercolor.  That is, if you mix it with oil.  

Thursday, April 7, 2011

unusual plants

I'm still working on the article I'm supposed to post for my March entry.  

In the meantime, here are some unusual plants I've come across that I'm still hunting the names of. 

Quick sketch of a wild vine that can be found on the mountains of Bataan.  It had thick leaves, kidney-shaped pods and red fruits that reminded me of siling-labuyo (chili pepper) in appearance.  The vine is usually found entwined around bamboo poles. I do not know if it is a parasite plant or if it is just using the bamboo as a base.  The main cluster was clinging to a bamboo node that had those dried out stem shoots (probably for a more stable hold).  I was told it may be some kind of orchid.  I asked if the pods open or something but was told, it just stays like that until the whole inside of it decays.  A very unusual plant.  If you decide to hunt for this vine though when you go trekking in the mountains, please be reminded that you are not allowed to bring down plants from the mountain.  Even flower picking is forbidden so if you have to take souvenirs, sketch or take a photo.

Will provide a better illustration when I get around to painting it.

Here is another unusual plant.  This one found in the lowlands.  Used by farmers as a souring agent when they cook sinigang.  I was told it is several times more sour than kalamansi or kamiyas.  Will have to go back for a more detailed interview on how to use it for cooking. This plant first caught my eye because of the beautiful flowers.

The next one (picture below) is known locally as Lobo-lobo.  Found this one on a roadside.  My sister recognized it when I showed her a picture.  She told me they used to play with it when they were little.  If you jump on it, it will make a popping sound.  Used to be a lot in the subdivision, she says (strange I never saw this before), but now harder to find.

Will be hunting for more not so usual plants.
Thank you for looking.

Update: found a very informative site.
The first plant is called Dapo-sa-boho.  Should have known it would have that name.  The english translation of Dapo-sa-boho is "something that landed or attached itself to a bamboo".

Monday, March 28, 2011

Extending The Life Of Your Watercolor Paintings ; The Importance Of Doing Your Own Lightfastness Experiment

It is summer now and as we are nearing the month of April, the sun seems to be blazing hotter than usual.  I'm talking about sunlight that can cook an egg on concrete in minutes.  Hot and painful on the skin and with a brightness that impairs your vision for the first few minutes when you go indoors.  Perfect weather though for testing your paints for lightfastness.  Shown above is my setup. I take out my test frames whenever we get this blazing sun every summer and pack up whenever rainy season starts.  I borrowed my dad's cart/table and placed the framed testing strips on it.  The mobility is perfect for realigning the frames to receive the most direct sun on the strips.
I took the cart aside to take a closer shot and for that few minutes, the sun exposure was really painful on the skin.  Talk about sun-baked.

For those who have already done the test, the setup might be familiar and you would be right if you're thinking I used the procedures as a guide.  One of the most wonderfully extensive and free online resource for a watercolor artist.  The link to, on how to do the setup, will be provided later.  That will take care of the How To.  I used it more as a guide though and made changes because of inavailability of some materials.  Handprint's was more extensive and more thorough.

What we will be discussing instead is Why... why you should perform the test.  True, it is time consuming and will cost you money.  You will also be using up paint for non-rendering purpose.  Artist grade paints and papers are expensive.  But maybe, after considering the factors below, you would come to the same conclusion, all the effort and expense will be actually saving you money later.

One of the most important reasons to do the test is for your ease of mind.  The question you would most often get asked when people realize your painting is in watercolor is about the expected lifespan of your painting.  Because of careless practices in the past and use of student grade paints for "professional" watercolor paintings, collectors were left with the impression that if it is in watercolor, it should be good only for a few years.  Either they pass your painting up to look for more durable art, or they price it way below its value (in consideration for its shorter lifespan).  But if you are confident and know you used lightfast colors on your palette, then you would know and can demand the true worth of your painting.

Another good reason to do the test is because you might find the manufacturer's ratings for permanence and the actual performance of the paint to have a discrepancy.  I'm not saying they are deliberately manipulating the test so the results would be favorable for their product.  Far from it. The companies are subject to the same test standards.  Just that what if your expectancy regarding their rating and the true meaning of their rating do not match in the first place.  It is better when you do the actual test and see the results for yourself.

Also, in the past, I tended to rely on other artists' recommendations, thinking if it is good enough for them, it must be ok to use.  Which is how I ended up with 3 tubes of a yellow that not only tends to gray on its own but also pops (small exploding sound) and tries to escape its tube when the cap is opened... an expensive yellow too.  A red that shows fading within 10 years and a blue that unexpectedly faded even faster than the red.   Relying on other's judgement may cost you not just money for materials you would end up discarding later.  It may also cost you your reputation.  I'm actually relieved that the paintings that had unexpected fading (early paintings 10-15 years ago) were very few. And that when I decided to sell professionally, I have long since changed to a lightfast palette.   Do the test to save and use the money to buy better performing paints.

The knowledge you would gain can also help guide you on how to use the "questionable paints" that you have.  Many of these fugitive paints have colors or characteristic that are distinctive and desirable but cannot be reproduced by their synthetic but more lightfast replacements. You can still use these colors if you take advantage of the technology of prints.  Giclee prints of original paintings can be as marketable as the originals and they have the added advantage of being lightfast for 75 or 100 years.  (Depends on the inks used by the printers, by the way.  Handprint even advises you to test the inks used and that is what I call being thorough).  That way, you need not sell the original if you have fear that it may fade.  The original can be kept under archival storage.  Protected and hidden from light, they will not be subject to the same fading.  By doing the test yourself, you can better advise your clients on how to care for particular paintings.  You will know also when it is reasonable to give a discount on your painting price so your client can better afford the UV filtering glass that would prolong the life of your painting that used not so lightfast colors.  You will be able to suggest appropriate lighting options for the painting considering how UV light affects it, suggest areas in the client's house that would not subject the painting to direct sun exposure, etc. By doing the test, you are actually broadening or adding to your options and lessening your liabilities.

Follow the link below to go to's lightfastness test.'s doing your own lightfastness test

Some changes and observations regarding the lightfastness test I did.
I don't have access to some of the materials like the blue wool scale.  But I did inspect the swatches regularly and made notes and noted the hours.  I was counting only the hours spent under full sun and not the hours the test swatches were out on cloudy skies.  There is no way you can convert the hours to predicted days or years your work would remain lightfast though but you sort of get an idea which colors will have fading and in what sequence. Gives you an idea which colors to avoid or use with caution.  I also prepared double swatches.  One set was subjected to full sun exposure which I posted a picture of earlier.  The other I set up inside the house on a wall where they get part sunlight through the windows for certain hours of the day.  Conditions a painting might get normally subjected to in a client's home.  Started at the same time. So far, there was no fading for the artist grade colors left inside the house even though they were exposed to direct and indirect sunlight that enters through the windows and also exposed to the electrical lights inside our home.  A very promising sign that investing in artist grade watercolors is a good decision.

Just in case you are wondering what kind of results happen in a lightfastness test...

Photo shows the result after four months of exposing one of the framed test sheets to direct sunlight.  Just one brand of artist grade paints I have tried. I will not show the results for the other brands as our aim is not to do comparisons.  I deliberately made the resolution just big enough that you will be able to see the change but not enough to read the brand - to be fair to the companies and also so you would be motivated to do your own testing.  I have pictures of when I opened the frame several additional months later but will have to find the files first.  Laptop's hard disk conked out a year ago and I'm still reinstalling the backups and searching for missing document and picture files.

Can you see the changes in some of the colors?  If you see them, don't panic.  It does not mean that in four months' time, your painting that used the colors will fade.  I think your clients will have sense enough not to leave their paintings to the mercy of the sun as was done in the test.  But the test will sort of give you an idea which colors might fade in 5, 10, 15, 20 or so years later, that is if they were less carefully cared for. Protected paintings might not show any change at all.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gator Boards: The Stretcher Boards That Don't Bite

If you constantly find yourself pressed for time when painting in watercolor, then an upgrade to gator boards may just be what you need to reduce your paper preparation time.

For those still not familiar with gator boards, a Gator Board or equivalent is a lightweight, sturdy foam core board with hard eggshell-like surfaces on either side used for stretching watercolor paper.  The hard eggshell-like description is just my observation.  For the sound it reminds me of when I punch through it with staples. It produces a very soft cracking sound but unlike an eggshell, the surface of the gator board is hardier.  Gator boards come in several sizes (for full sheets, half sheets, and quarter sheets) but may be cut easily to your preferred size with a regular cutter aided by a metal ruler.  It comes in white and also in a light brown color for those who do not like the glare of white seen from the sides when they work on their painting.

gator board with stretched paper in place  

While it does get holey after you have stapled paper on it several times, it can take a lot of abuse.  The holes are self-contained and will not radiate cracks unless you really have a heavy hand.  Best also to get rid of the giant staplers you try to make do with (the office kind where you crack it open 180 degrees) and get yourself a gun tacker (you don't need the industrial kind) to lessen the likelihood of damaging the board.  The surface may also stain with paint but will not pose any problem if you get get most of the loose paint off when next you use the board.  Not advisable to use any chemicals to clean the surface itself as this may get absorbed and affect the next paper you stretch on it.  It it takes in paint stains, it may mean the surface is porous.   You can wash off surface dirt easily by running it under water and using your hands to disturb the particles.  Just take care not to get any oil on it as gator boards do not seem to have any built-in protection against oil.  Oil will not affect the sturdiness of this board but it may transfer to any paper that you stretch on it.

Best thing about foam core boards is that no matter how many times you wet and re-use it, it will not leech acid on your watercolor papers.  The gator board surface also dries with the paper so you will not have the prolonged damp, paper problem.  And because both sides are usable, you can flip over and use the other surface once the other one croaks.

Gator boards, being lightweight and less rigid than wooden ones, have a tendency to bow or distort slightly under the pull of the paper.  Noticeable when you stretch full sheets.  Paper still dries flat and I have not had any problems with framing gator board stretched paper yet.  It might be advisable to use alternate sides to straighten your boards back to flatness again.

I highly recommend gator boards specially if you are a busy person and if you are starting to have wrist pain problems common with aging.  Gator boards will cut down your preparation or stretching time considerably because it is always ready for use, easy to staple and tape papers on.  Because the surface yields easily to staples, your wrists and hands will not be subjected to jarring trauma as happens when you staple on wooden stretcher boards with hard spots on them.

If you have children in the house or family and house guests you think might have failed the marshmallow test in their childhood, it is highly advisable to warn them about the presence of your gator boards.  Failing that, hide your gator boards when expecting company.  The temptation to try Karate chopping it in half may prove too great for some.  I know because I sometimes get the urge to see what would happen.  It is only the knowledge that each of the boards may cost around 17 to 35 dollars that is stopping me.

Gator boards are a good investment that will give you years of excellent service.

And no, I'm not a stockholder in the company.  :D   I just love the product.

One nice thing about using facebook and blogging is you get to meet fellow artists and exchange ideas.  For the same reason, I very much welcome viewer comments and experiences because their advices not only add more knowledge but most often prove very beneficial to our pockets as well.

I'm reposting Judy's comments below:
1.  In the US I can buy 4 x 8 ft sheets (half-inch thick) at a sign company, and cut them to various sizes.  Tricky to cut, use box knife and heavy metal straightedge.  Much cheaper this way than buying from art supply places.
2.  The cut edges can be sharp enough to cut you; best to file the edges so they aren't so sharp.
3.  Rather than stapling, I like to use water-soluble kraft paper tape to stretch the paper.  The adhesive easily washes off the Gatorboard after removing the painting, and leaves the G'board surface undamaged.  (I have never done whole or even half-sheets this way; might not hold as well as staples).

Also a good thing Judy mentioned paper tape as I have forgotten to elaborate on that.  Using paper tape instead of staples would prolong the life of your Gatorboard.  It works very well on the surface of the gatorboard because once you activate the glue and allowed the stretched paper to dry, the paper tape really has a firm hold and will not lift unless you get the paper really really wet.  It holds even for bigger sheets. (Paper tapes do not work as well on plastic covered boards though.)  Care should be taken when removing the watercolor paper once you are finished with the painting.  Once anchored, you either have to rewet the tape to get it to lift off the gatorboard (which can cause warping problem with your watercolor paper) or you can use a cutter to cut it out of its taping.  You have to be very careful though and cut just the paper without damaging the board.  There is also the matter of adhesive residue. I will repost Judy's solution and mine afterwards.

About the paper tape, I just cut my paper off the Gatorboard with a box knife at a very low angle along the edge of the paper underneath, so as not to cut the Gatorboard surface, then trim off the tape and the paper it covers with a rotary paper cutter.  I lose the nice deckled edge of the paper that way, but unless you mount your painting on top of a matboard or something, it doesn't show anyway, and you don't have any of the tape adhesive fouling up your paper. (This also gives me many scrap strips for testing colors/values and practicing signatures, etc.  Also, the strips work nicely for laying over finished painting to visualize various crop options.) Then you can just use a very wet sponge and soak the tape off the Gatorboard. Get the tape really wet and let sit for several minutes; it comes right off, and the adhesive is also easy to wash off after soaking.  

We use the same method.  Cut away from the painted side.  You can usually tell where the watercolor paper is under the tape.  It will have a contour pressed on the tape.  This is where it is most advisable to insert the cutter, working at a very low angle, almost flat.  Just a small slit that would allow you to insert the blade in between the paper and the gatorboard.. Once the blade is in (insert only an inch or less (make sure way beyond the painted surface) and filet the paper off the board.  One danger is, you can cut your painting accidentally.

Once the painting is off the board, be sure to trim away the parts that still has paper tape on it.  I trim an extra centimeter off.  Sometimes, the adhesive of the paper tape can go beyond the taped area.  You can tell if you view your paper at an angle, the glossy film you see on the paper is the adhesive.  It is advisable to cut off the paper tape because although it may be acid-free or are of neutral pH, over time, it may still cause discoloration on your watercolor paper because the paper tape's natural color may leech onto it.

Once the painting is off, you can use a sponge to moisten the tape for lifting off the board.  Just make sure to use a clean sponge.  Another alternative is to use clean tissue instead of a sponge.  You may also just wet the paper under the sink which is what I do because I sometimes I just cannot help but think the sponge may be contaminated with algae.  Whatever your method, make sure to rinse off the adhesive from the board.  You can tell the presence of adhesive because these areas would have a slimy feel to it.  Because I noticed I was spending too much time cleaning after using the paper tape, I switched back to stapling.  But that is only because I am an obsessive compulsive and something like this seems to trigger it.  You might find paper taping a better option though.

The gatorboard from the sign shops may be available locally.  When Judy mentioned that the edges of this gatorboard can be very sharp, that somehow triggered a memory.  I think I may have come across such a board.  But probably, because this board's surfaces was twice as thick, (the outside layer that reminds me of eggshells) I had misgivings whether it would function the same.  But it seems to be doing well as a stretcher board for Judy so I think I'll go and hunt for its like again.  I could use a gatorboard for oversized paintings.

One concern that arises though, is this alternative board also of neutral pH?  We'll see.  Time for a science experimentation again.  At least, once I get a sample of the material.  More feedback on this appreciated specially from local artists who find it.  I'm interested about the size it is available in, the price and your feedback on its performance as a stretcher board because we may get a kind slightly different than what Judy has access to.  If it proves to be very affordable, this sturdy material even has potential as shipping protection for our watercolors.

Many thanks to Judy Waller for her contribution to the discussion.  You may view art works by Judy on her site linked below.
Watercolors by Judy Waller

Gator boards are not yet popular items where I am at (Philippines) and may still not be as readily available locally as elsewhere.  But for those interested in obtaining them, most online art supplies company carry the item.  If you are a bit short on the budget though but need a waterproofed stretcher board badly, you might want to try out my waterproofing solution for wooden boards.  Easy to do and very kind to your wallet.  Follow the link below
Affordable and easy solution for unprotected wooden boards for stretching watercolor paper

Other related articles:
Troubleshooting watercolor paper discoloration
Additional protection you can do yourself for your framed watercolor paintings
Paper stretching guide: understanding watercolor paper weights
Understanding Sizing: guide to wetting your paper

How To Make Your Own Stretcher Boards Without Much Carpentry Knowledge

This is just one way to waterproof your boards.  There are many more suggestions on waterproofing boards online.  I'm hoping to share mine to add to your options.  

Materials you would need are:
  • Marine Ply (plywood) of at least 1/4 inch thickness.  
  • Sandpaper
  • Plastic sheet locally known as mantel.  Available in most market places in the Philippines (dry goods/kitchen ware section.)  This plastic is a popular liner for picnic tables.  It may be possible to look for its equivalent in your area.  Clear plastic book covers are not recommended for this purpose as these do not have the give or stretch possible with the mantel kind.  Available in a wide range of colors and design.  I used green so you can see better.
  • wide clear tape (at least 2 inches)
  • cutter / scissors.
1.  Cut plywood to the desired size.  Use sand paper to smoothen the sides and especially the surface that you plan to use for the stretching.  Marine ply is a better version of plywood less prone to particles sticking out and falling off.  Still, you may have to pick a side with the least depressions and knots on it.  For very imperfect plywoods, you can apply masilya or filler coating and then sandpaper it smooth.  You do not need to apply paint or any other finish on the plywood.  Plywood shown here has been painted.  A previous attempt by me to follow the other suggestions online on how to paint seal your stretcher boards.  The problem there was I was not sure if the paint that I used was the correct one.  I noticed that the painted finish seems to take on surface dirt permanently.  So I went back to my previous method of covering the board with plastic.  Back to the project.  Once you've ascertained that the side you are planning to use is acceptable, proceed to the next step.

2.  Place your plywood on the plastic sheet and cut the plastic, leaving about 2 inches of allowance on all sides.  
Shown in the picture, plywood on top of mantel plastic

You can actually work with less allowance but for your first try, the two inches gives you better leverage to work with.  Check the cut plastic sheet for damages before you proceed to the next step.  Look out for holes and tears.  You can use either side of the plastic sheet.  

3.  Once the plastic sheet passes your inspection, lay it flat on the table and place the good side of your plywood facing the plastic sheet.  Use tape to anchor the four sides at the center of each side.  Imagine an equilateral cross configuration.  

To ensure smoothness on the finished side, when you work on one side, do the side opposite it next.  I colored and numbered the areas where I placed the clear tape.  (Clear tape was invisible on cam).  Do not scrimp on your tape but extend it at least 4 or five inches inward when you place.  The pull exerted back by the plastic may be enough to dislodge 1 or 2 inch tape strips.  

4.  Next, work on stretching the plastic edge adjacent to the already taped areas. In the illustration below, I used color coding and numbering to give you an idea of how to progress.  

You will probably notice that I seem to have gotten confused with my counting by starting at 3 and 4 but as I find it very funny myself, I left it as is.  Tape to the left and to the right (shown in orange) of each central axis point (cross area shown in red-orange).  Again, when you work on one side, work on the areas on the opposite side next.  Then proceed to the yellow areas and so on, until you get to the corner part.  

5.  The whole process really is about patience and controlling your strength.  The work is slow and methodical. When you get to the corner area, first tape one side that will go under.  You may have to tape it diagonally.  Important thing is, this should smoothen the plastic on that side of the board.  

Next, do a fold and then tape this over making sure to take up the slack left in that corner.  

Your finished stretcher board should look like this when you turn it over.

6.  Be sure to wash this new surface before use with soap and water to get rid of any oil that may have gotten on it from the market place or when you were working on it.  

Streching the plastic over the board this well takes a lot of practice.  Over time, you will develop a feel for the right amount of pull to keep the plastic taut but not take it past the breaking point.  So if at first, you find yourself having to redo the application over and over, do not be discouraged.  Balance the pull forces to get it just right.  

The advantage of using plastic sheeting include being able to use a sturdier support for your watercolors because you can use rigid plywood.  The cost is also much cheaper overall.  If I am not mistaken, a yard long length of plastic sheeting costs about 25 pesos.  The width of that is about 4 feet.  This also does not require extensive carpentry knowledge.  It also is easier to check the integrity of this board covering.  Just wet the surface.  Any breaks water can enter through will be marked because the wet spot underneath will be apparent on the plastic.  You can apply first aid to it by placing clear tape over the break. 

There are times when lack of options make using non-biodegradable materials necessary but we should minimize our carbon footrprint as much as possible.  Reduce wastage by re-using or recycling previously used plastic sheets.  After removing the paper and staples, tape over the holes punched by the staples and use the smaller undamaged inside area for another bout of stretching.  It helps also to have several plywood pieces in different sizes.  For new plastic sheets, I start out covering big plywood pieces.  Then as these get used, I would put the undamaged left over plastic on successively smaller boards.   Please re-use what can not be recycled.  

I hope you find this article and project useful.  Thank you for reading.  

This method is very labor intensive though.  If you have the dough, you might want to learn of other ready made alternatives sold commercially.  Read about one option by following the link below.
Gator Boards.

Other related articles in my blog:
Troubleshooting watercolor paper discoloration
Additional protection you can do yourself for your framed watercolor paintings
Understanding sizing: guide to wetting your paper
Paper stretching guide: understanding watercolor paper weights