Saturday, July 19, 2014

How many ways do you know for bringing back the white?

Watercolour papers are traditionally white which allows the maximum amount of light to be reflected back through the wash, giving that characteristic watercolour ‘sparkle’. Since watercolour is a transparent medium and white is a desirable quality, this means you must decide from the very beginning where the areas of white will be in your painting
There a number of ways to save or re-create white areas in your paintings. You probably know most of these but you might find a few ideas that you may not have tried.
First the most traditional approaches
  • Leaving the white untouched: for large areas, it might be easier to paint around the area. This is the simplest of the methods 
  • Masking fluid: this liquid medium come in colorless or colour and is applied (not with your good brush) to mask areas of work that need protection when color is applied in broad washes. It is specifically designed for soft sized papers to avoid staining. To apply use an old brush covered with soap or a shaper.
  • Opaque paint or acrylic paint (Titanium white): This will provide you with whites but they won’t get as luminescent a white as the paper. It tends be more artificial looking even with the bright permanent whites. 
  • Scratch method: You can scratch out small highlights using an exacto knife (craft knife). The method is best for fine details such as hairs and tiny highlights. This method provides some beautiful luminous highlights. Scratching the paper is a final option because it wrecks the paper surface. Ensure this is the final step in your painting and that you do not have to paint a shadow or colour over it otherwise, you can’t get that white back. 
  • Lifting dry paint: With a clean, moist brush, make several brush strokes in the area where you want to lift out the watercolor. Wipe the watercolor from your brush onto the dampened portion of your paper towel. Repeat the brush strokes. If you need to remove more color, rinse out your brush, blot it on the paper towel, then lift out more color. Wipe the watercolor on your tissue. Repeat as needed. Although any of your regular watercolor brushes can be used to lift dry watercolor paint, I prefer a white taklon angular brush. The bristles on this brush are a little stiffer. Therefore, you must go easy on the paper and remember to ensure you have enough water to reactivate the paint and you must blot often.
 Here are a few less common approaches:
  • Permanent masking fluid: this is a non-removable, transparent liquid mask and is better suited to small details. As regular masking fluid (above) it can be applied directly onto the paper, or mixed first with watercolors. Ensure that the fluid is thoroughly dry before painting over it. 
  • Aquacover: This product which isn’t easily found, allows you to add the white later on in the painting process. This product comes in five five shades of white to match the most watercolor paper you use. Even better it can be applied over small or large areas and colour can be applied on top. 
  • Lifting with bleach: If you want to enhance the lifting of the watercolor, you can add a bit of bleach to your water and use the same technique as above. A mixture of 50% water and 50% bleach works well. However, you must be careful as bleach can destroy your brush! Use a synthetic brush for this technique.
  • Winsor Newton Lifting Preparation: This process is quite simple. You first apply this lifting preparation to the paper first and allow it to dry. You can then paint as you would on any paper. Any corrections can be done by sponging or lifting as above with wet brush. This medium helps with the lifting of staining colour (e.g. Permanent Alizarin Crimson). The paper doesn’t return to its pure white form but better than just lifting. However, it requires you to know ahead of time where you will be lifting.
  • Gum Arabic: because adding gum arabic to your water colour will slow the drying time, this will make it easier to blot out areas you may have applied paint by error. If you plan on using this, you should know that it increases the transparency of your watercolours and it might give I a bit of gloss and make your painting more luminous.
  • Magic sponge: some of us may have used this product to clean our house. Would you believe that you can also use it to completely remove unwanted paint from your paper? To do so, dampen the sponge and gently wash off the paint on paper. I’ve used this in cases where I wanted to redo a section of a painting. Caution, this will be harsh on your paper. You must let the paper dry completely after you have removed the paint. With your hands you’ll be able to gently rub the paper to remove the little “pills” that might have occurred before you resume your painting. 
  • Crayola crayons: I've had some success in using a white crayon to create short lines where I want to keep whites in water. This has a hit or miss effect, but nevertheless creates an interesting effect.
Have you tried anything else you'd like to share with us? 
Winsor New has some new watercolour crayons and markers hitting the market later this month (I got a sneak peak about a week ago). However, I doubt that they could be of used for bringing back the white to our paintings.
Apologies if this is written quickly. I have the Ottawa Watercolour Society coming to my garden ( and in less than  two hours for a plein air session with a demo from a local known artist and I'm a bit excited.
For today, a painting by Alvaro Castagnet. This was a demo painted in Munich recently and posted on Facebook.
Would like to hear what ideas you'd like to see on this blog.
Have a great week

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