Are you new to watercolor painting? Perhaps you are looking to start watercolors, but are not sure how to go about it. In this lesson I am going to discuss what brushes I prefer. We will look at a great set of brushes you should consider. Then watch a brief video demonstration where I will show you my process from start to finish. This is not difficult and beginners can try this out too. Let's take a look.
The Painting Demonstration and Brushes Review
Great Brushes Make a Difference
If you enjoy watercolor painting, you've probably heard of mop brushes. Traditionally they are made from squirrel hair.
Mop brushes quite versatile, because they hold a lot of water, can cover large areas quickly and also form a nice point when they are wet if you need a little more precision. I have use a number 6 Raphael mop brush for years. These are pretty much the watercolor brushes that I use all the time.
What is you want a synthetic hair mop brush? I was interested in a set of watercolor brushes that I obtained from a company called Zen Art Supplies based in England. They produce attractive looking brushes called the Black Tulip Range of Brushes. The big difference with these is that they are made from synthetic squirrel hair. So the brushes are designed to mimic the functionality of genuine squirrel hair brushes, but are animal product free.
Do the Synthetic Hair Brushes Work? What you're looking for in mop brushes is a lot of water retention and good ease of movement, good shape and the brushes must return to their original form. This set has a wide range of watercolor brushes. Two flats, two rounds, a rigger and a cat tongue brush. The cat tongue brush is more like a mop with a distinctive broad shape coming to a fine point.
The synthetic hairs are quite soft and there's good body to these brushes. I'm expecting them to hold a lot of water and have nice spring so that the brushes return to shape. The hairs do feel different to the fine sable or genuine squirrel hair, but that does not mean they will hold less water.
Well Made Brushes
Before I started painting I had a good look at the brushes themselves. The Black Tulip brushes look attractive and well made. The handles are chunky and good to hold. The ferrule looks high end and the hairs do not look like they will be falling out. Overall a very attractive looking set of brushes.
The Watercolor Painting Experience
As you will see from the video the brushes hold plenty of water, make great shapes and spring back to shape. You can easily paint any watercolor with this one set of brushes. What ate the most useful brushes beginners need?
- a large flat brush
- a medium mop brush
- a medium round brush
- a rigger brush
The Black Tulip set covers all of these bases.
Basic Watercolor Painting Technique
Sketch out your scene lightly and loosely with a pencil. Use a good quality 300gsm/140lbs cold press paper. I prefer Fabriano paper, but you do not need the most expensive paper. Any student 300gsm cold press paper will be fine. Why 300gsm? It reduces buckling when wet, holds water well and is easier to work with.
I prefer cold press because there is some tooth to the paper, but it is not too rough. You want to avoid hot press as it too smooth. You will be chasing water runs all day. Especially if you paint in a loose style. The "tooth" refers to the roughness of the paper.
Light and Color First
An important issue to remember is that in watercolor you paint from light to dark. So I start with a light warm wash of deep yellow and let that dry. Then I go back in with washes of color. Oranges, reds, greens and so on. Where I want to reserve the lightest lights I will leave those areas alone.
The wet areas needs to firm up a bit, but not become dry. If you add washes wet into wet no color will hold fast. If you let each layer dry completely you will not get a magical mixing of color either. Plus hard edges will result and they are impossible to get rid of.
Needless to say this balancing act is the hardest part of watercolor to master.
Dark Values Last
Once I have a good few layers of rich color I can start adding the dark shadow colors. Ultramarine blue, cobalt, viridian, violet and purple hue make rich darks. Now the colors and lights really pop.
Yes I do still add more color to beef up richness, but that is not always necessary. I tend to overdo this part a little as I think like an oil painter. Thick and juicy paint is my oil painter's mantra, but in watercolors that can result in an overworked painting.
The Final Details
The Black Tulip rigger brush is amazing for lines and details. Also the long flat creates crisp lines like fence posts with ease. Not too many details are required. I also drop in a wash of cerulean blue in the shadows. This dries down to a smoky, sweet blue that is the final touch to the shadows.
Watercolor works best when you jump in and paint with big movements. Then let the painting dry and see the magic happen. Some of the best results happen during the drying process. As long as you have reserved the lights the rest takes care of itself. If you lose the lights then it is best to start a new painting as you cannot get them back. This one issue must be planned out from the start. Where are the light mass shapes going to be? Make sure you leave those areas alone. Now try this painting for yourself.
Find out more about Black Tulip brushes and other art supplies at Zen Art Supplies
Watercolor and Pastel: