Monday, October 12, 2009

Watercolor surface experimentation

As I work more with a medium, I find I tend to get particular about my tools, surfaces, and pigments. With watercolor, my constant struggle has been with what surface to paint on. I started, back in 2005, with cold-press Strathmore watercolor blocks.

This is what I consider to be my 'first' watercolor paining, titled "Angel of the Oak Forests." I had of course dabbled with watercolor in high school, but walked away from that thinking I 'hated' the medium, and instead turned to colored pencils, acrylic, and markers.

After using the blocks and loose watercolor sheets, I discovered the work of artist Stephanie Pui-Mun Law. She put up some excellent tutorials on her method of watercolor, and I discovered she used a very different surface - Strathmore illustration board. I decided to experiment with the surface, and fell in love with the way the board allowed easy lifting.

It was at this time I wanted to try a series, and I painted my first Birdflower - Daffodil or March, on a piece of Strathmore illustration board. I found it much more forgiving than traditional watercolor paper, which held onto pigment much stronger than illustration board. I wanted to do a lot of lifting, and so this board seemed the time.

As my watercolor skills developed, I found myself more and more frustrated with the illustration board I had sworn by. I remember contacting Strathmore telling them how several sheets I'd bought had invisible 'scratches' that only appeared once I put a watercolor wash down. A Strathmore representative replied, informing me that the illustration board was not sized for wet media, and that I could use it for such, but he warned that it may act strangely. In addition to the 'scratch' problem, I started to want richer and deeper colors, and the board seemed to 'deaden' the pigment. I was a bit discouraged.

During the beginning of my second year at SCAD-Atlanta, I wanted to try watercolor paper again after some recent dabbling with a few sheets for minipaintings and liking the vibrancy of the color I got with watercolor paper. This time, I bought one of the best brands - Arches. I bought a sheet each of cold-press and hot-press, stretched them, and fell in love all over again.

I couldn't believe what I'd been missing all this time with illustration board! The vibrancy of color, the texture...I thought for certain I'd found my 'perfect' surface. And indeed, I worked with the cold-press 140 lb surface exclusively. Though in the back of my mind, I still missed the ability to lift. That was one 'drawback' of cold-press Arches - it tends to hold onto pigment and lifting is difficult.

This was on my mind a bit for the past week, and I dug out a sample piece of wet-media Strathmore illustration board. Unlike the board I used before, this was specifically sized for, as it says on the packaging, "light washes up to wet on wet applications." This, so far, is a work in progress of a simple painting for a friend of one of her characters from her stories:

This painting, as should be obvious, isn't done yet, but in my time working with this surface I've felt an indecision I've never experienced with a painting surface before. I don't know if I love or hate this board. Part of me dislikes it since it has that same 'dry on the surface' nature watercolor has on illustration board, but then the crisp lines and incredible opportunity for lifting draws me to it. I suppose I will have to do more work on this surface and come to a conclusion eventually.

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