how to

Better Landscape Greens

Better Landscape Greens

The weather is beautiful here. It’s the time of year when a lot of us are feeling that pull to take our paints and sketchbooks outside. It’s also the time of year that a lot of people struggle with GREEN!

Do the greens in your landscapes look flat and unnatural? The likely culprit is a powerful pigment that has sneaked onto your palette and taken over the green range: phthalocyanine green (just say “thalo” green).

You might be thinking, nope, no such color on my palette. But unless you check labels carefully, it might be there without your knowing.  Many manufacturers name it as their own green in its single-pigment form (or give it some fanciful name, like “Brilliant Emerald”). For example, “Winsor Green” and Cheap Joe’s “Joe’s Green” are both phthalocyanine green.

HINT: Get out your magnifying glass and look at those teeny little pigment codes on the label. If it says PG7 or PG36, it’s phthalocyanine green (PG7 is the cooler “blue shade” and PG36 is the slightly warmer “yellow shade”.)

This strong cold green is also a component of many manufacturers’ pre-mixed greens, so you might have it in “sap green”, “permanent green”, “emerald green” “leaf green”, “Hooker’s green”, “viridian hue”, etc.

So, what’s wrong with phthalo green?

Phthalo green is a very strong, pure, somewhat cool green. Take a look at the left side of the swatches below. That’s phthalo green. Not a color you see in many real leaves, is it?

Swatches showing mixtures of phthalo green and reds, oranges or warm yellows

Modifying phthalo green to get more natural foliage colors.

 

Think of all the brialliant reds, golds and oranges in fall leaves, or the lovely magenta in the stems and leaves of many plants. Although many plants make more of these pigments in the fall, they are there all year long. It’s just that most mature leaves have a lot of the green of chlorophyll mixed in, too. But the warmer colors ARE there. This means you need a little bit of red, orange, or magenta in the mix for your landscape greens to look natural.The presence of a bit of red (the complement of green) slightly grays or neutralizes the greens in foliage.

As you can see in the swatches above, mixing phthalo green with other colors does help to make it look more natural. This is what is done in many of the pre-mixed greens. Some of them have enough other things mixed in to look natural; others don’t. You have to experiment to find out which ones are natural-looking. You can’t go by the printed label, and also ,one manufacturer’s “sap green” may be nothing like another’s.

So, let’s suppose you manage to find a premixed green that does look natural. You’re all set now, right?

Unfortunately, no.

Real foliage—aven within a single plant—is not usually a single uniform green. So if you are going to use premixed greens, you need to either have a bunch of them.

Now, at this point, there are some of you thinking, I have three different natural-looking greens on my palette, and my foliage still looks unnatural. Why?

Because each of those mixtures has phthalo green as the base. In each individual mixture, it might be modified enough to look pretty good, but when you look at the whole painting, the common phthalo green is in everything, and it’s so powerful, it just takes over and dominates the overall look.

To get natural-looking, varied, lively greens, the solution is to simply mix your own! Most people buy premixed greens because they fear they will not be able to keep their own mixes of blue and yellow consistent. But actually, you want variety in the mixture, because that’s what happens in real foliage.

On the sample sheet below, I’ve put various premixed, purchased greens on the left, and greens I mixed myself from a blue and a yellow on the right. The first and last of the tube greens (Holbein’s leaf green and QoR sap green) actually look pretty natural, so it IS possible to find premixed greens that are natural-looking, but you wouldn’t want to use either as the only green in a landscape.

Tube greens (left) vs. mixed greens (right).

Tube greeens (on the left) often contain a lot of phthalo green. Greens you mix yourself (right) often look more natural.

Look at the variety of natural greens on the right. All of these were mixed using two yellows (azo yellow and hansa yellow) and two blues (ultramarine blue and anthroquinone blue, a.k.a. indanthrone or indanthrene blue). (All the samples were mixed with M. Graham brand watercolors; you might get somewhat different results with different brands.)

Check out the mixtures you can make with the blues and yellows you already have. If you’re having trouble getting an olive-green, try mixing a pure blue, like ultramarine blue or cobalt blue, with a somewhat orange-y yellow (e.g. “indian yellow” or “new gamboge”). Or try a pure yellow, like azo yellow, with a slightly purplish blue, like ultramarine violet. This gets a teeny bit of red into the mix in a controllable way.

If you’re having trouble getting a cool green for something like a fir tree, try mixing a warmer green and then adding  a touch of burnt sienna to it. Burnt sienna is a neutralized red-orange, so that also adds a teeny bit of red.

If you’re putting together a field palette, you don’t want to add a ton of colors. Certainly not four or five pre-mixed greens. For most of us, we either have all we need already, or the addition of a carefully chosen yellow or blue will round things out. Your landscapes and florals will look more natural and you’ll have less to cart around.

 

 

Posted by lbaur in Behind the Scenes
Line-and-Wash—Watercolor Painting Anyone Can Do

Line-and-Wash—Watercolor Painting Anyone Can Do

A lot of people are still digging out of the most recent swath of snowstorms, but here in Hudson, it’s in the upper 20s, with a forecast of temperatures in the 40s in the coming week. Time to get outside to paint or sketch!

If the idea of painting outside or while traveling is appealing . . . but intimidating . . . a great way to start is to try line-and-wash. Even if you think you are “not an artist” and have no experience drawing or painting, you can still use line-and-wash to enhance your enjoyment of the outdoors, travel, gardening, cooking or other favorite activities.

If you “can’t draw”, I encourage you to jump in and try this anyway. The combination of line and wash seems to give even rather crude, out-of-proportion drawings a sense of charm. Instead of trying to replicate a photo or an architect’s rendering, go for the expressiveness and playfulness of children’s book illustrations.  You don’t have to show your drawings to anyone.

If you keep drawing, your drawings will get better with practice, but that’s not why I urge you to do it.

The real benefit is that you will SEE and appreciate more deeply. You will be amazed how little you’ve actually seen of some very familiar scenes and objects, once you start drawing them.

Don’t be discouraged that your drawings don’t “look right”. In attempting to draw something, you actually see more and learn more about how it looks, so the drawing itself is always behind your perception of the scene. If you draw it again, the drawing will improve, but so will your ability to see.

You’ll learn more as you do the second drawing about how the thing really looks, so your new drawing will still be trying to catch up to your perception. Experienced artists know that the goal is not to make a perfect replica (not even possible, since your drawing is 2D and the world is 3D, plus time!).

The goal is to make a drawing “good enough” for whatever your purpose might be. If your purpose is simply to use the act of drawing to enhance your perception, it doesn’t matter at all what winds up on the paper.  “Seeing more deeply and fully” and “accurately rendering a scene” are two different purposes.

Nothing wrong with working on your rendering skills, but I urge you to do that in some other context. When you’re traveling, or sketching something from your garden, tell your inner critic to go have a cup of tea and leave you in peace.

If you want to keep a travel journal, but you feel self-conscious about “not drawing well”, it may help to make it for a young child instead of for the adults in your life. That can help you let go of how the drawing looks and focus on seeing with the eyes and sense of wonder of a small child.

 

A small sketchbook, my favorite Cross fountain pen and a waterbrush are all I need.

A small sketchbook, my favorite Cross fountain pen and a waterbrush are all I need.

 

Start simple. All you need is a pen with watersoluble ink (a Flair felt-tip works well), an inexpensive brush, and a sketchbook or some paper that will hold up to getting a bit wet. This is a great way to use up that student-grade watercolor paper, because you won’t be getting it very wet.

I like to use my favorite Cross fountain pen, and a “waterbrush”—a small brush with its own refillable water reservoir.

As the name implies, line-and-wash consists of a line drawing together with a wash of color (or greys).

If you are working with a watersoluble pen, marker or watercolor pencil, you simply make your drawing, and then use the waterbrush to “drag out” some color from the lines here and there to suggest shadows or darker objects.

Running a wet brush along one side of the line will drag out some of the color, creating a shadow effect.

Running a wet brush along one side of the line will drag out some of the color, creating a shadow effect.

Running the brush over a scribble dissolves some of the color to add shading to a drawing.

Running the brush over a scribble dissolves some of the color to add shading to a drawing.

Line and wash sketches of cowboys and rail station.

You can see both of these techniques in these sketches.

If you like, you can add additional lines on top of the washes once they dry.

 

Line-and-wash sketch of an interesting window.

Line-and-wash sketch of an interesting window.

When you are ready to add color, you can use a small watercolor travel palette, watersoluble markers (such as Tombow markers) or watercolor pencils.

If you don’t want your black lines to mingle with your colors (most people don’t), you’ll need to use a waterproof pen for this type of work. An ultrafine Sharpie works, or you can use a waterproof art pen, such as a Pigma Micron.

If you don’t have a travel palette, I suggest buying a Crayola brand kids’ watercolor set. The kids’ Crayola set actually has fairly vibrant colors.

They will get used up quickly, and they do fade over time, but for about $2-3, it’s a great way to try line-and-wash painting for cheap. You can refill it with tube watercolors later.

When you start adding color, here’s a guideline: line-and-wash seems to be most successful when it’s either mostly a line drawing with some splashes of color, or mostly a painting with a little line work to give it some definition.

Avoid the temptation to make a tight, detailed drawing and then “color it in”. Not only is that usually less appealing, but it takes the focus away from looking at the scene.  Stay loose with the brush, keep your eyes on the subject more than your page, and have fun!

I’ll leave you with some examples to give you the idea, but the best way to understand this is to do it!

Happy painting!

A line drawing of a fish.

A line drawing of a fish.

A line drawing of a fish. with a few splashes of color.

. . . with a few splashes of color.

A line-and-wash painting of a sailboat.

A line-and-wash painting of a sailboat.

A line and wash painting of two scenes in Shasta National Forest.

This one is mostly wash, with just a little bit of line work added later to sharpen up some details.

line and wash painting of a campsite with tent and chair

Another one that is mostly a painting, with some line for definition.

 

 

Posted by lbaur in Creative Play, How-to
Go (a Little) Wild!—How to Loosen Up (Just a Bit) in Watercolor

Go (a Little) Wild!—How to Loosen Up (Just a Bit) in Watercolor

Are you a control freak when you make art? Or does your inner child go wild? Most of us want to make art that combines structure and spontenaity, but that’s not easy!

In workshops and classes at all levels, when we go around the room and talk about what we want to get out of the workshop, “I want to learn to loosen up” is probably the goal I hear expressed most often.

But how?

Have ever tried to “loosen up” by just going crazy with the brush, or by pouring and spattering and splashing?

Sometimes you get a wild intuitive painting that’s just great, but you’ve probably also had the experience of winding up with just a big, muddy mess!

Especially if you are doing a representational painting, there’s usually a point where you wonder how you can paint loose and still have it look like something . . . and, preferably not like something painted by a three-year-old having a tantrum.

Like you, I sometimes aspire to be more spontaneous in my art, but I don’t want it to look completely chaotic. My solution is to give my inner child a few boundaries and a “safe” place to play.

This week, I want to share seven strategies you can use to loosen up a little in watercolor, without feeling like things are completely out of control.

I suggest you try these with a simple subject on about an eighth- to a quarter-sheet of watercolor paper. That way, there will be enough room for the paint and water to move, but you won’t have to invest a lot of time, paint or paper in any single attempt. (Do lots!)

1. Choose 3 colors at random and do the entire painting with only those colors.

Warning: You’re going to want to cheat!

I sure did when I drew the three colors I used for the example painting! Stephen Quiller’s turquoise green (a very opaque and chalky cool blue-green), cobalt violet deep (another heavy pigment), and aureolin (a cool, somewhat greyed yellow). Eeeeeuuuw!

But, over the years, I have also discovered some fantastic color mixes I would never have tried otherwise. (Did you know that ultramarine violet plus Schminke’s very greyish chrome oxide green make a fabulous range of violet-greys to green-greys for storm clouds?)

2. Start with a wild underpainting.

I slop my brush and spatter clear water around and wet the paper randomly. A little spraying here and there with a spray bottle is fun, too.

Wet the paper here and there. Spraying and spattering is fun, too.

Wet the paper here and there. Spraying and spattering is fun, too.

I mix a light value puddle of each of my colors and then use my brush like an eyedropper to drop colors all over the paper, letting it run where the paper is wet, and puddle on the dry areas. I spatter color as well, and tip the paper to encourage the color to run.

Drop in color and let it run.

Drop in color and let it run.

Let this layer dry before proceeding. Then paint as though it’s not even there. Just ignore it and let it show through here and there.

It’s amazing how much interest it can add to your light areas to have these mingled colors showing through.

As you get some practice with this, you’ll be able to use it to give a subtle effect of dappled shadows or interesting texture to an otherwise simple design.

3. Work wet-in-wet within shapes.

I've wet the entire area of the bowl, the lemons and their shadows.

I’ve wet the entire area of the bowl, the lemons and their shadows.

Sometimes it’s easier to get yourself to let colors mingle and flow if the color can’t go all over the entire paper. Try wetting a specific area and then drop in color and let it mingle.

Drop in color and let it mingle within the entire area. Don't worry about the boundaries between "things".

Drop in color and let it mingle within the entire area. Don’t worry about the boundaries between “things”.

If you’re clever about how and when you do this, you can also start to suggest form by dropping in some darker colors in the shadow areas.

4. Connect as many shapes as possible into one big wet area, and “separate” them by lifting and glazing small areas later.

In the example above, I wet the bowl, the lemons and their shadows all at once and then let the colors bleed across the “edges” between objects.

Even if you want to paint “realistic” color, this is a good idea. Often, beginners want to keep colors contained and not let the yellow lemons bleed into the blue bowl. But, in fact, the yellow of the lemons will be reflected into the blue of the bowl and vice versa.

Letting the colors bleed by not making a dividing edge between them in the first wash will give the effect of reflected light, and make the objects appear to “live” in the same space in the finished painting.

Notice how adding the shadow on the right lemon separates it from the lemon in the middle. This is nothing more than so-called "negative painting", but I find many people find that term confusing, so I don't often use it.

Notice how adding the shadow on the right lemon separates it from the lemon in the middle. This is nothing more than so-called “negative painting”, but I find many people find that term confusing, so I don’t often use it.

Later, we can come back and “separate” the right lemon from the one in the middle of the painting by painting the shadow on the left side of the lemon on the right.

This is nothing more than so-called “negative painting”. I tend not to use that term, because I feel that the term itself sometimes makes it hard for people to learn the technique. It’s easier to just think that you can define an edge, or part of the edge, of something by painting inside the edge or outside the edge. Here, we do both (inside the edge of the right lemon, and outside the edge of the middle lemon).

5. Whenever possible, draw with the brush.

As I put in the shadow shapes on the lemons and the bowl, I challenged myself to use a single brushstroke (or maybe two, if the area was large), instead of drawing and “coloring in” the shadow.

I tried to use a brushstroke (or two) to make the shadow shapes on the bowl and lemons. For the soft shadows on the lemons, I wet the paper first and then made my brushstrokes. In the foreground shadow, you can see where I swept a brush with clear water over the foreground and let it touch the edge of the shadow to soften it.

I tried to use a brushstroke (or two) to make the shadow shapes on the bowl and lemons. For the soft shadows on the lemons, I wet the paper first and then made my brushstrokes. In the foreground shadow, you can see where I swept a brush with clear water over the foreground and let it touch the edge of the shadow to soften it.

Where the shadow shapes had soft edges, such as on the lemons, I wet the area first and then placed a brushstroke on the damp paper, letting the edges soften on their own. Much easier, and more natural-looking, than painting “a shadow” shape and trying to quickly soften the edges.

To keep my stress level down, I always have a scrap piece of paper on my work table for practicing brushstrokes and testing colors BEFORE I try them out on the actual painting!

6. Touch a wet edge in a few places as you lay in an adjacent wash and let the color run.

For the cast shadows on the table, I ran a brush with clear water over the light area of the table top, and let the wet brush touch the shadow shapes in a few places to give the effect of the shadow softening as it moved away from the object casting it.

As I laid in the color on the wall behind the bowl and lemons, I let my brush wander over the edge of the still-damp bowl and lemons here and there.

By the way, I wish I hadn’t added any color to the wall behind the bowl and lemons—I much preferred the splashy underpainting! I let myself be persuaded by feeling I should stick closer to the value plan I started with.

This is a perfect example of a time when I wish I had abandoned my original plan when the watercolor gave me something better.

This is why I try to pause frequently to reassess and ask myself if I want to change my plan now that I see what’s happened. I let myself get rushed here and didn’t take that time.

Ah well, this is why I often find myself doing multiple drafts. But, I probably wouldn’t have bumbled blindly forward if I hadn’t been rushing! (Maybe you’ll learn from my mistake. )

7. Use a spray bottle to soften and make color run, especially around the edges.

I laid in darker color than I liked on the right side in the background, so I held the paper up sideways and sprayed the lemon and background on the right, letting the excess color run off the page.

I like how that brings the viewer’s attention more to the bowl on the left side, which I think is a more interesting area (in this draft, anyway).

I used a spray bottle to soften and allow the color to run on the right side of the "background". I like how the yellow color of the lemon ran and softened, giving it some atmosphere and bringing the viewer's attention more to the crisper edges in the bowl.

I used a spray bottle to soften and allow the color to run on the right side of the “background”. I like how the yellow color of the lemon ran and softened, giving it some atmosphere and bringing the viewer’s attention more to the crisper edges in the bowl.

Posted by lbaur in How-to
Explore Your Pigments with a Color Wheel—Primaries, Secondaries, Tertiaries

Explore Your Pigments with a Color Wheel—Primaries, Secondaries, Tertiaries

Watercolor color wheel exercise.

A complete color wheel exercise.

When I’m laying a wash, I want to focus my attention on creating color mingles, wet-in-wet effects and edges that are just the right degree of softness. So many things that will only happen if the timing is just right!

I want design and drawing and color all worked out ahead of time, so I don’t miss the magic, fleeting moment when my desired effect can be coaxed into appearing.

When I started painting in watercolor, I used just 3 colors—quinacridone rose, cobalt blue and azo yellow. I learned them inside out and sideways, so I never had to think about color-mixing. Now, in my beginner classes, I’ve added burnt sienna and ultramarine blue to make mixing darks and neutrals faster and more convenient, but I still have students begin with those three primaries and learn them thoroughly.

The main exercise we use to learn about mixing color is a color wheel. Over time, I’ve modified the usual color wheel format to allow us to work wet-in-wet within each section, letting the water blend the paint, without having to wait forever for each section to dry before proceeding to the next.

In the video below, I demonstrate the first half of the color mixing exercise I use in my beginner classes. (I’ll post another video showing the second half of the exercise, in which we explore semi-neutral and neutral mixtures, in a few days.)

I also use this exercise myself when I add a new color to my palette, or to explore possible palettes of 3-5 colors for a particular project. (I am just as susceptible to a yummy new color as any artist, but I almost never use more than 5 colors in any given painting (typically, only 3).

You can use this exercise with a primary triad that you hope will allow you to mix a wide range of pure colors (e.g. hansa yellow, quinacridone rose and phthalo blue), or a “sort-of” primary triad that will automatically give you lovely neutralized colors on part or all of the color wheel (e.g. raw sienna, naphthol red and ultramarine blue), a triad including one or more secondary colors (e.g. cobalt turquoise, cadmium orange and gamboge). You can also use more than three colors, if you like.

I am not using this exercise to teach color theory in the abstract. I use it to explore not just what colors I can mix, but how the pigments interact with one another.  As an added bonus, the wet-in-wet technique produces a lovely “stained-glass” effect, so these studies are lovely little paintings in their own right.

You can download the template for this exercise here: Download Template. If you need a refresher on how to transfer a drawing to watercolor paper, check out video 6a on the Watercolor Jumpstart page.)

Posted by lbaur in How-to
What’s a Cradled Board?

What’s a Cradled Board?

This must be one of the questions I get asked the most often!

I used to mat and frame my watercolors. From time to time someone would ask if I could frame them without glass. I knew of some watercolorists who were painting on canvas or boards that were specially prepared to be absorbent enough for watercolor. I tried a number of these surfaces, and none of them gave me the look I wanted.

I rely too much on allowing, or coaxing, the paint and water and paper to create their own magic. Many of the effects I use and love are a result of capillary action, and I needed paper for that (or silk, but that’s another article).

One of the special surfaces I’d tried and decided against is a product called Aquabord, made by Ampersand. Aquabord has a thin coating of clay is applied to a sheet of hardboard (you may know it by one of it’s better known brand names—Masonite). 

IMPORTANT!—If you are planning to try mounting your paintings the way I do, please note: I DO NOT USE Aquabord!! I use a related product called Gessobord. This article is for interested collectors who just want to know more about how the finished work looks and why I present my work this way. If you want to learn to do this with your own paintings, I’ve written a separate article explaining all the technical stuff.

Ampersand Aquabord

Ampersand Aquabord

Ampersand’s boards can be purchased as flat boards (which one would then frame) or with a sort of “frame” on the back for rigidity. This is called a cradle. Boards supported with a cradle are cradled boards. 

Cradled boards.

Cradled boards.

This is often done to large canvases, as well, but usually on the inside of the stretchers, so the cradle is not visible when the work is displayed. It’s just there for support and rigidity.

In the boards I use, the cradles are made in various depths, anywhere from 3/4″ to 2″. I use boards with 1 1/2 – 2″ cradles. This brings larger works out away from the wall (similar to a gallery-wrapped canvas), and allows smaller pieces to be displayed on a mantle, shelf or end-table.

Two small paintings from the 30-in-30 challenge sitting on my studio table.

Two small paintings from the 30-in-30 challenge sitting on my studio table.

I sometimes refer to these as little “color shots”—they make a nice way to add a little pop of color or interest anywhere in a room. Placement isn’t limited to a wall.

Whether the work is hung on a wall, or displayed on a table, the cradle gives the work a finished presentation, without overshadowing it in any way. It’s a clean, contemporary look that I think suits my work well.

Since there is no glass to protect the surface, I give it a couple of coats of acrylic medium (the isolation layer) and then a couple of coats of acrylic varnish.

The varnish is removable with ammonia (which does not harm the isolation layer) if there is ever a need to re-varnish (for example, if the varnish were smoke-damaged in a house fire). The finished piece can be cleaned by wiping with a soft damp cloth. You can even use a mild detergent. (No alcohol or ammonia-based cleansers, though!)

What if you DO want a frame?

If you are buying a piece that hasn’t yet been mounted, or commissioning a work, I can mount the piece on either an uncradled board, or a board with just a shallow cradle (if the piece is large enough to need the support). In this case, the work can be framed as you would a work on canvas. (Of course, if you wish to have a traditional mat and glass, I can also leave work unmounted.)

Unfortunately, there is not really a good way to safely remove the artwork from the board once it’s been mounted and varnished, but there are few frames made for deep canvases that can still be used if you wish to frame the work. (I suspect someone familiar with joinery could remove the cradle from the back of mounting board, too, although I’ve never tried it. If own one of these works and are considering this, please contact me. Let’s experiment on a board that has no artwork on it yet!)

Posted by lbaur in Behind the Scenes, How-to, News, Watermedia on Silk
Painting Tips—Easy Acrylic Clean-up (plus some tips for watercolorists, too!)

Painting Tips—Easy Acrylic Clean-up (plus some tips for watercolorists, too!)

One of the joys of watercolor is the ease of cleanup. In fact, you don’t really have to clean up at all, if you don’t feel like it. Nothing terrible happens if you just wipe off your brush, put it down and walk away.

Well, mostly—do you know the right way to put down a watercolor brush to keep it in good condition for as long as possible? If not, keep reading. This article is about acrylic cleanup, but I will also share something you might not know about preserving your watercolor brushes, plus a couple of other tips and products watercolorists might also find useful.

To be honest, for a long time, the hassle of cleanup often discouraged me from using acrylics. Have you ever been there? It’s so much fun, but . . . the mess! What do you do about stains and spills on your table? Your clothes? Your floor? Your palette? Your hands? Maybe all that stuff doesn’t bother you, but what about your good brushes?

Would it surprise you to know that I now use my best watercolor brushes to paint in acrylic with no worries at all?

For those of you who paint in acrylic already, and those who would like to, here are my favorite acrylic cleanup products and tips:

My acrylic cleanup arsenal: barrier cream, baby wipes, rubbing alcohol, castile soap and Ivory bar soap.

My acrylic cleanup arsenal: barrier cream, baby wipes, rubbing alcohol, castile soap and Ivory bar soap.

1. Daniel Smith’s Cactus Brand Protective Cream

If I am planning to really get my hands in the paint, I wear nitrile gloves (pretty cheap if you buy them in boxes of 100 in the paint department of home improvement stores.  But I really don’t like to wear them, and I’m also really good at tearing holes in them without noticing, so I prefer to use a barrier cream.

Barrier creams, sold in art supply stores and paint stores, are designed to protect you from absorbing harmful stuff through your skin. I have no information about how accurate that claim is, but I can tell you that using a barrier cream will make it a lot easier to remove dried paint (of all sorts) from your hands.  This one is completely non-greasy, absorbs quickly and has a pleasant smell. So nice I use it as my general-purpose hand lotion all winter.

2. Baby wipes.

Best thing ever for taking acrylic paint off your hands (and your table, too, if you like).  Unlike rubbing alcohol, or scrubbing with pumice cleansers, baby wipes won’t dry out your skin. Added bonus: the pop-up containers make it easy to grab one without getting paint all over everything else. My favorite is Huggies Cucumber and Green Tea for the mild, unobtrusive scent.

3. Rubbing alcohol.

This is too harsh for me to want to use it on my hands, but it works well for removing dried acrylic from hard surfaces like your painting table, your plastic palette or vinyl or wood floors. Acrylic paint cures and hardens over time, so you’ll have an easier time removing it in the first day or two.

It’s always smart to wear an apron or painting shirt when working with acrylics. But I have been known to go into my studio for “just a minute” to get a pencil or something and not emerge for several hours. I’m not sure how it happens, but it does not generally include putting on an apron. This is why all my favorite white shirts eventually wind up with paint on the cuffs. As soon as you notice, soak the spot with rubbing alcohol, let it sit for a bit and then scrub the spot with a toothbrush. This will usually remove most of the acrylic medium, but not necessarily all the color. For that, turn to . . .

4. Ivory bar soap.

This also works on staining watercolors, like phthalo green and blue, and the quinacridone colors.  I use it to pre-treat stains on clothing before washing, and to remove stains from plastic palettes.

We watercolorists generally have Ivory bar soap around the studio already.  If you use liquid frisket (masking gum/masking fluid), you probably already know that if you wet your brush and scrub in on a bar of Ivory soap before dipping it in the masking fluid, it will help keep the masking fluid from drying in the brush and ruining it. (And no, I don’t use my good brushes for masking fluid!)

5. Castile soap.

This is what I use to clean my brushes, including brushes with dried-on acrylic paint. One of the annoying things about acrylic is how a brush that looks and feels clean can actually still have enough acrylic medium in it that you come back the next day and find it hard and crusty.

Castile soap to the rescue! (You can buy this at Target, by the way, plus many natural food stores.) Work some castile soap into the brush, as best you can, and leave it overnight. Unless it was totally encrusted, you will usually be able to remove the dried-in acrylic the next morning. If there was a lot of paint still in the brush (say, if you forgot to wash it at all), you might have to repeat this process several times to dissolve all the layers of gunk, but eventually, you’ll get it all out of the brush.

Needless to say, the more gunk you close to or inside the ferrule (the metal “collar” at the top of the bristles), the longer it will take to clean the brush, simply because it’s harder to work the soap into the bristles there. Don’t struggle with it. Just remove as much as will rinse out fairly easily and work in some fresh soap and let it sit overnight again.

And, for the last tip . . .

6. The right way to dry and store your watercolor (and acrylic) brushes.

Do you store your watercolor brushes standing upright in a jar?

It looks so pretty, and it’s so handy—you can easily grab the brush you need. And that’s what you see in all the pictures, right?

There’s something they don’t often tell you, though—you only want to store a brush like that after it’s totally dry!

Otherwise, whatever is in the brush seeps down into the ferrule. Even a thin layer of gunk in the ferrule gradually prevents the brush hairs from laying as tightly against each other and the brush will no longer form a nice sharp point.

Worse, for some brushes, water in the ferrule can gradually loosen the glue that holds the brush together, as well as damage the wood inside the handle. The brush may begin to shed hairs, or the lacquer may crack and chip off the handle. For some brushes, the entire head of the brush can loosen and fall off the handle as a result of this water damage. (Ask me how I know!)

So, do your brushes a favor and store them tip down until they are completely dry (including time for any moisture to move out of the ferrule). You can buy or make a brush washer that has clips to hold the brushes tip down, but it works just as well to simply place them on a towel on a slanted surface. I have a scrap of plexiglas propped up with a block of wood with a shop towel on top of it. It’s that simple!

Watercolor brushes drying on a towel on a slanted board.

Lay your brushes on a towel on a slanted board until they are dry.

Not only will you preserve your brushes, but if there is anything that crept up inside the ferrule while you worked, it will have a chance to work its way back out.

Of course, you don’t want to ever leave a watercolor brush standing in water!

Brush left resting in water.

Please don’t do this to your brushes!

If you’re working in fast-drying acrylic, and feel you really need to leave your brushes in water so the paint doesn’t dry in the bristles, put just a small amount of water in your water container so that just the bristles of the brush are in the water.

If you must leave a brush in water to prevent acrylic paint from drying in it while you work with another brush, leave it in water that just covers the bristles and NOT the ferrule.

If you must leave a brush in water to prevent acrylic paint from drying in it while you work with another brush, leave it in water that just covers the bristles and NOT the ferrule.

Better yet, simply rinse the brush, don’t shake or wipe it dry, and leave it resting tip down. Unless you leave it for hours, this will be enough to keep the paint from drying in the brush until you can pause to wash it.

Wet the brush and leave it resting tip down. I know most people use a brush rest to keep the tip of the brush up, but this way is much better for the brush.  I use a towel or piece of freezer paper to protect my table.

Wet the brush and leave it resting tip down. I know most people use a brush rest to keep the tip of the brush up, but this way is much better for the brush. I use a towel or piece of freezer paper to protect my table.

If you know you won’t be able to get around to washing the brush before the paint dries in it, no problem! Simply saturate the bristles with castile soap and leave it resting flat or tip down until you do have time to wash it.

 

So, there you have it. Now you, too, can fearlessly explore the fun of acrylic, with no worries about cleanup or ruining brushes!

Happy painting!

 

Posted by lbaur in How-to