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This Crappy Paper

“I cannot do anything…with this crappy watercolor paper!”

Beginning artists say the darndest things… During one of my workshops – the budding Picasso blurted this out…with a look of profound frustration on her face. She was working over a piece of 140 lb cold press like she was kneading bread…and to say the watercolor painting looked overworked and washed up – well ~ you had to be there.

As you read on – you may smile as you hear your inner voice say … I remember those times.

However – let me cut to the chase.

Today … in my workshops I have my watercolor students use Strathmore Acrylic paper.

    1- it does not peak and valley like paper paper.
    2- it does not separate into wads of paper balls when overly wet.
    3- it does not soak up the color – in short the color you put down – is what you get when the paint dries.
    4- Even the most heavy handed painter cannot dig a hole in this paper … because it is not paper.

    5- And – when a budding artist utters a discouraging word because they believe they have painted too dark or by accident put a color in the wrong place in their image … not to fear. Because this paper is really a plastic … a wet brush or damp paper towel just wipes out the mistake.

    6- Best of all … those artists who swear by Yuppo no longer have that edge -“I can do anything better than you” … in a general workshop. That keeps everyone happy … and painting.
    8- Only after beginners have gained the feel of the brush and a sense of how much color and water to apply – do we then move on to paper paper.

Some beginning artists want their total skill set – yesterday. Watercolor by it’s very nature simply won’t be rushed. Mother nature will have her day… such as drying time (of course a hair dryer will speed up the process). I have found the best way to use a hair dryer is to blow from beneath the work…to avoid unintended splatter.

“I think 300 lb. archival paper is what I need.” You know when a beginner is just learning their way around color, line, form… the last thing I want to suggest is to empty their wallet buying archival paper. Of course some students have money to burn… and they will not be denied. So I just smile.

“You know … I take oil painting lessons too.” Whenever this comes up… I know what I’m dealing with. Budding oil painters get so locked into oil painting technique they just do not grasp that watercolor is a totally different animal. I always suggest to beginning watercolor painters… stroke 2-3 times and then rest… let your painting breathe and do it’s own thing. Of course the hands-on types always seem to plow ahead like ice-breaker ships in the Arctic. They really believe the harder they paint… somehow a miracle on paper … will happen.

“You make it look so easy.” I always look directly at the speaker when I hear this… but only for a moment. Usually I see frustration and sometimes I see appreciation. And frustration is usually followed by …”I cannot do anything with this crappy paper.” Another technique I suggest is to hold one’s brush at a 90-degree angle to the paper…thus allowing the full intensity of the color to be drawn from the tip of the brush onto the paper.

Watercolor painting is like driving a fast car. The artist is constantly shifting from dry brush, wet-n-wet, hard edge, soft edge, blend color, let the color alone, palette knife and more … all within seconds. Yes – it is more than a little taxing for those who want a paint by the numbers routine. Watercolor painting is like traveling down-hill – full throttle in a Ferrari GTO – it is a beast.

The more you paint with watercolor… the louder that little voice inside your head becomes… until you can hear it plainly talking to you about your approach. And when it tells you to stop and take a rest rather than ‘bum-rush’ a painting to completion on the first go round… you are then on your way to mastering watercolor painting. In short… it is not the paper… sometimes… it’s just part of the learning curve.

Mars Burnell