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!

Related articles:  

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".