Watercolor Journal: Little Experiments

Playing around with little 3.5″x5″ pages in my Pentalic journal. There’s everything from lifting color to painting from a photo to a few cluttered-but-energetic plein air sketches. While painting an old bluebird house by a pond, a fawn trotted right by me. I was holding so still, it took awhile for the fawn to realize I was a human, not a post or tree. And away it ran!

Casein: Lock and Dam

I painted this little blue lock-and-dam house in casein from a photo I took. I’m finding that painting in lighter washes is helpful when it comes to blending, but my white highlights are very heavy. Also, using a ruler would certainly be advisable with all of those straight lines. There’s a healthy dose of artistic interpretations in the architectural details.

Casein Sketches: Bob Ross

Still trying to figure out how casein works, I decided to plunge in and paint a few Bob Ross landscapes. I’m trying to figure out how to achieve some realistic landscapes, and right now, they are blocky with few soft edges. I’m using the James Gurney six-pack of Richeson casein: titanium white, ivory black, Venetian red, yellow ochre, cobalt blue, and raw umber. Trying to mix green has been a struggle. Cobalt blue is cheerful and bright, and yellow ochre is brownish and dull. There are numerous shades of green in there, especially when adding in white and raw umber, but it’s challenging.

Also, I purchased some synthetic brushes (Simply Simmons) to use only with casein as I’ve read it can be super hard on brushes. You can see how I’m attempting to use a fan brush, something new for me–yikes! Something I’m really pleased with is the old-fashioned, matte look casein has when it dries. It’s so unique.

First Casein Sketch

I’ve become fascinated with casein paint, mostly because it’s water soluble and can be used like a transparent watercolor or an opaque gouache or even like a thicker, heavier acrylic. It also dries to an impermeable surface which can be left alone, varnished for an oil painting appearance, put under glass, or displayed in a frame. In other words, it’s versatile.

I bought a six-color kit and practiced a little on my watercolor paper. Used thinly, supposedly it won’t crack after it’s dried. I’ve learned a lot in less than an hour:

  • Casein dries on the palette quickly. It turns thicker and thicker until it goes from a smooth, velvety texture to a gluey texture. At that point, you need more water to get the paint onto the surface, and that extra amount of water will thin the paint so it’s not as opaque. I’m going to experiment with a wet palette to keep the paint fluid for a longer amount of time.
  • Casein is truly opaque, which means one layer will totally cover the first layer (when the first layer is dried). This is so different from watercolor that it’ll take some thoughtful practice to get used to it. For example, when painting the windows on the houses, I kept painting around the edges. Only at the end did I realize I could paint directly over the wall of the house to create a window.
  • Casein can be mixed on the palette, but when it’s still wet on the paper, it can also be mixed on the surface. I think this is a matter of skill as the paint doesn’t blossom like watercolor. It’s far more subtle.
  • You can use two colors on your brush to create super cool effects.
  • White doesn’t appear as pure white when layered over other colors, at least not for me. It seems to show color beneath. I suspect you need to use fairly thick paint with nearly no water to get white to obliterate the color below. So, perhaps, when the painting is nearly done, putting down a fresh bit of white paint to use is the best bet.

The little painting is from a 1950 book by Henry M. Gasser, Casein Painting: Methods and Demonstrations. This first example is using casein watered-down, more like transparent watercolor. I simplified it tremendously, not wanting to paint two dozen teeny houses. It’s funny how crooked my houses are–can you tell I did this at the end of a very long day? I was super excited to try the paints and wasn’t content with doing the color sampler.

Artist James Gurney is a fan of casein and is probably the reason why I bumped into it in the first place. He writes about it on his blog and has numerous short videos painting en plein air. Truthfully, although artists use this medium, there isn’t a tremendous amount of current information about it, even though it’s the oldest known paint and was used in ancient cave paintings.

Catching Up: 9″x12″ WC Journal

I have a dream of painting pictures with horses in pretty much every one of them, so I do a little praticing now and then. Maybe I’ll get there someday, but first I need to gain confidence drawing them. These head sketches are from my favorite children’s illustrator Sam Savitt. His book is Draw Horses with Sam Savitt. It’s awesome. I added some dull colors here and there as an afterthought when I realized I had used up an entire page of watercolor paper with pencil sketches.

I’m still getting used to my Daniel Smith watercolors. They’re so vibrant, and I only have the six colors, so I’m practicing using the pigments straight…

…and with mixing. These stormy sketches are from Bob Davies’ tutorials. I gained some confidence mixing gray and burnt umber, plus the skies are really fun, super moody, which is what I’m fancying at the moment.

Daniel Smith Essentials Watercolor Set

Along with steadily filling up the pages of my sketchbooks, my student-grade Cotman watercolor set has been fast disappearing. My original original set had ten 8ml tubes and I added three. So far I’ve emptied five. Several tubes haven’t appealed to me yet, like white and black. I’ve been using yellow ochre and burnt umber, but I’m never happy with the results, probably because they’re opaque. Opaque muddies the waters, so to speak.

So, with the thought that I needed more paint, and I was leaning toward transparent colors, and I wasn’t using five of the original ten colors, I realized I was in a perfect situation to experiment with artist-quality paints and consider some new colors. So, I purchased Daniel Smith’s Essentials set.

This teeny set (each tube is 5 ml) has six transparent colors in a split primary palette: two each of red, yellow, and blue. Each of these colors is either warm or cool, which means that instead of “yellow,” there’s a yellow with a hint of green and a yellow with a hint of orange. This makes one cooler and one warmer. It’s a curious thing that with these six colors, so many combinations can be made.

As it turns out (with the exception of purple), mixing cools with cools and warms with warms gives a crisper, more vibrant color. Crossing the warm with a cool gives a duller color. Mixing three together gives a neutral brown or green/gray. And when I bravely mixed all six? A steely gray. After having a little fun painting a glazing grid (top left) and doing some initial mixing of greens and warms with warms and cools with cools, I found this wonderful handout from the Daniel Smith company on this exact set. I set up a color wheel and gave their mixing a try. Someday I’ll write about the paint as far as painting a sketch and not dabbling with color wheels and charts.

I also purchased this Mijello Bulletproof Glass Palette–which isn’t glass nor bulletproof. It’s some type of plastic. I like my other Mijello Fusion Palette a lot–a super lot! Strangely, however, even with using a limited palette, I mix like crazy and wanted a bigger mixing area. Right now, I only have my Daniel Smith colors in it.

Here are the two, side by side:

Watercolorists at Work: Millard Sheets

Using my favorite book, I painted along with Millard Sheets this time. He has a bold, blocky style that’s hard to imitate, but I loved putting in the horses. I’ve skipped the final step, where he stipples the entire painting, creating a totally different look. I’m not confident I’ll be able to even get close. Maybe I’ll wait a few months and go back and give it a try. What I enjoyed about this one was the departure from realism, the layering and glazing of color, and the weird sky.

With my first sketchbook/journal, I painted mostly landscapes and skies. The second book was where I focused more on structures (and skies). This third one is where I’d love to put in more figures (and skies). Skies are endlessly interesting.

Completed: Second Watercolor Journal

My watercolor journal choice for practicing, not taking outdoors, is a Strathmore 9″x12″, 140 lb. pad. It’s spiral bound and fits nicely into my rugged clipboard case. I’ve just finished my second one, and that means I’ve filled 24 pages.

Here are the final practice pieces of journal two, both tutorials from Patrick Ley-Greaves. The first one has a nice perspective of looking down into a little valley and across the ocean. The second one was going pretty smoothly until I decided to add in the figures. The paper is buckled, which may be hard to see, and the poor people look a little bit like zombies. If I flatten out the paper, they are more like people. If I cared about flattening out watercolor paper, I discovered a great method that works well. However, with these practice pieces, I’ll leave them as is.

And I spent some time painting this, trying to create a moody sky. The rocks in the foreground were scraped in using the edge of a plastic card.

WC: Skies and Lifting Color

Practicing painting skies and clouds has become one of my favorite things. Mostly, I use the wet-on-wet technique and then drop in other colors/shades as it dries. I often lift off areas to create more lights and darks, although some of the light areas are from leaving white paper in the beginning. Lifting out color with a damp brush or tissue is also a great way to create mist or fog, which I do on the final sheet.

There’s a big mistake on the first sheet (bottom left) where I blotted out everything but forgot to try to paint over. The paint stained the background and I thought it would make a cool, stormy sky. I’ll try it later.

Learning to Paint in Watercolor

Like most kids, I liked to draw, and like most adults, I stopped drawing. But recently, I was bitten by the watercolor bug. I’ve found a lot of great information in books–some of my favorites are by Zoltan Szabo. Youtube, however, has remained one of the best places to find  numerous, generous artists who publish free tutorials. Because there’s so much out there, though, one tip I can offer is to stick with one or two artists for quite a long time. Read a lot, too, and start numerous painting journals so each time you decide to sit down and paint, it doesn’t have to be an important painting. It’s practice. Another tip is try to avoid too much time watching reviews; it’s a bottomless pit of time comparing one brand to another. Get your gear and go! I’m using student paints (Cotman) and 140 lb. paper. My brushes are inexpensive. When I use it all up, I’ll consider upgrading, but in the meantime… It! All! Works! Great!

Here are my favorite Youtubers. Although I routinely find new channels and artists, I lean toward landscape artists:

  • Grant Fuller: These are some of the best tutorials I’ve watched. They can give you a lot of confidence to try the basics in landscape. Sadly, Mr. Fuller passed away in 2016.
  • Patrick Ley-Greaves: This artists offers up a ton of wonderful landscape tutorials. On his website, he even has a special set of lessons arranged for beginners. Start with “The Basics” and move forward.
  • The Mind of Watercolor: Steve Mitchell is funny and a wonderful painter. His style is inspiring. You will realize why watercolor is a medium meant for water. This sounds strange but watch this and you’ll understand.
  • Millie Gift Smith: From what I can tell, Ms. Smith is about 97 years old. She paints with watercolors and other mediums. Her abstract landscapes are gorgeous. She refers to her style of painting as “loose and easy.” Love the tunes.
  • The Painting and Drawing Channel: Other than the strangeness of having 30-minute tutorials broken into three sections, this is my favorite all-around channel for lessons. The artists featured here are awesome teachers. A few of my favorites are Geoff Kersey and Keith Fenwick.
  • Art Painting Workshop: This unnamed (I think) artist posts speed-painting videos. This is a fun way to watch a full painting come to life.

Watercolor Journals and Practice

This past week I’ve painted lots of sketches in all three of my journals. Some are super tiny, but others are more substantial. The en plein air ones always look hurried and unfinished (which they are):

I spend more time on the tutorials and the ones I paint using photos as a reference:

My favorite of the bunch is the stone building above. It’s from a photo my husband took, and I really like how the colors turned out.