A new medium?
July 24, 2008 9:30 PM   Subscribe

Can you kindly recommend to me watercolor and/or acrylic paint resources?

My wife wants to learn watercolor and acrylic paint. We saw this question, but she was hoping specifically for books. Naturally, web resources or even some pointers would also be appreciated.

She can already work with pastel and gouache, so she doesn't need something in the "...for dummies" vein. Particularly, recommended brushes and techniques are of interest.

posted by owtytrof to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
posted by cvoixjames at 10:02 PM on July 24, 2008

I love Watercolor Painting Outside the Lines. It talks a lot about underpainting and layering, which are fairly unique to watercolor. It's not really a step-by-step project book though - the author intends you to consider her examples and then apply the techniques to work of your own imagining.

If you're looking for a more technique-based book, Watercolor School is great. It'll show you washes, dry and wet layering, composition, etc.
posted by rhiannon at 11:00 PM on July 24, 2008

Lots of support and guidance to be found online at wetcanvas.
posted by fire&wings at 3:34 AM on July 25, 2008

posted by Thorzdad at 4:58 AM on July 25, 2008

Seconding wetcanvas for advice and helpful forums.
posted by Ostara at 7:46 AM on July 25, 2008

My very wise watercolor professor made us all buy this book, The Art of Watercolor by Charles Le Clair. I heard lots of good things about it, but true to my college self, never actually bothered to read it. Paging through it now, as an adult, it looks very good! It seems to be a hit on Amazon, too.

If your wife enjoys gouache, she should enjoy watercolor. It's a very rewarding art form.
posted by bristolcat at 9:30 AM on July 25, 2008

If you have one locally, try a popular hobby chain store Hobby Lobby (linked to store locator, there are stores in every state except in New England (save NY), nor anywhere west of Idaho).

I'm a former employee from back in the college days, and they have excellent deals on all kinds of painting technique books, including a surprisingly wide assortment of paint varieties (as they get much of their art business from local university students needing supplies for art classes).

They will occasionally have decent discounts for paints in their weekly ad (you can ask a manager when something will be on sale next), and plenty of canvas/materials, including a beautiful assortment of paintbrush types.
posted by vanoakenfold at 11:06 AM on July 25, 2008

My pick for non-beginner WC books that really spell out the details of the technical approach of their very accomplished and inspiring authors in non-dumbed-down form would be:

Wet-on-Wet Watercolor Painting by Ewa Karpinska
How to Make a Watercolor Paint Itself by Nita Engle

On choosing and mixing colors, I also really like Transparent Watercolor Wheel by Jim Kosvanec and Making Color Sing by Jeanne Dobie. But there are very few crummy WC books, if you like the style of the author.

WC tools can be very expensive, but starting out with cheap tools is a big mistake. Cheap papers and brushes especially make learning the basic skills very difficult, and can actually make some of the basics impossible to do.

The paper is REALLY critical. I recommend either buying Arches 140lb cold pressed (it just works for virtually all techniques, and is very forgiving) if you want to not have to worry about this aspect, or picking up a few of Cheap Joe's excellent Sample Packs if you want to explore the range. I'd recommend the former for most folks since there's not so much to learn from the samples unless you already have a way you to like to work, and want to see how different papers respond to it, or how it needs to change to respond to the papers. OTH, it's good to have checked out the different surfaces (rough, CP, hot pressed) early on, so this one would be a good choice.

Kolinsky sable brushes are the ideal brushes for all the typical techniques, and they aren't cheap. These are about the cheapest ones I've found, and they're perfectly serviceable. ( These look well worth trying, too; haven't yet.) You need to try both round and flat , altho the rounds are somewhat more versatile. Every WC-ist should have a #2 Winsor & Newton Series 7 for details and fine lines.

Synthetic brushes don't hold as much water or pick it up as well, or generally respond as subtly, so they aren't as easy to learn with. Unless you're determined to work big from the start, my advice would be to choose smaller kolinsky brushes and work on smaller sheets as you learn the basics, after which you'll find synthetic brushes easier to get results from (or so disappointing that you'll be willing to pay for bigger and/or more luxurious kolinskys). Once you know what you're doing and where you want to go, almost all types of brushes can be useful, and will reveal their uses as you play with them.

The options in all areas of WC can really be overwhelming, but there's never in my lifetime been more good info and more useful tools available than right now. Wet Canvas and handprint .com are both proof of that. Have fun!
posted by dpcoffin at 11:48 AM on July 25, 2008 [4 favorites]

Oh, and then there's THIS ...
posted by dpcoffin at 12:23 PM on July 25, 2008

Agreeing with dpcoffin on the paper. My favorite is Arches hot press. Mmmmmmmmmmm. Good paper will only help your art and make painting a joy. I don't know if Hobby Lobby carries fine paper anymore, but my local Michael's sure does.
posted by bristolcat at 12:28 PM on July 25, 2008

Just noticed the acrylic part of your question. Assuming you mean acrylics in their watercolor-look-alike mode, cancel everything I said about sable brushes and go for synthetics. Otherwise, much the same.

Some good books include:
Acrylics - The Watercolor Alternative by Charles Harrington
Acrylic Watercolor Painting by Wendon Blake
The Acrylic Painters Book of Styles and Techniques by Rachel Rubin Wolf, which covers other approaches as well (nicely), and has an excellent chapter on watercolor style using acrylics, pushing into the stronger values and more intense colors that acrylics make easier than traditional watercolors.
posted by dpcoffin at 12:47 PM on July 25, 2008

Here's a technique any beginning watercolorist should try. It's learning to "lay a wash," perhaps as basic a technique as you could come up with, and one that distinguishes watercolor from all other painting media.

Here's what to do:
Get some drafting tape. (It won't pull up the paper surface like masking tape.)
Use it to tape your Arches or other good WC paper so you have a grid of smallish rectangles of exposed paper and the outer edges covered, too. Rub the tape down well.

Have 2 water holders, one for clean water and one for cleaning the brush.

Brush water to completely cover one of the exposed rectangles, from edge to edge. Make the paper look glossy but not puddling or running when you tip the paper.

When you're sure that the rectangle looks evenly wet all over, but isn't puddling (learning to tell how wet the paper is is the whole key here, so pay attention!), then pick up some paint without wetting it very much and start brushing over your wet rectangle with it, starting at the top and working back and forth across as you also move towards the bottom. So long as you don't let any parts of the rectangle get dry or much wetter than when you started applying the paint, you can keep working the brush around until the coverage looks even; for a graded wash start at the top with less paint and let it evenly run out as you move down. When it looks good, stop and let it dry. If you notice that there's any puddling, you can try to push the extra wetness off onto the tape, or to suck it up with a damp clean brush. But these are more likely to cause problems then to solve them until you know what you're doing, so it's better to get the hang of keeping the area being painted evenly wet from the start.

Once you get this down, you'll find it much easier to combine the wetting and the painting steps into one step, but there's no reason to ditch keeping them separate as you gain experience; it's a great way to handle complex washes no matter how skilled you are. The whole "moving a puddle along from top to bottom in single strokes on dry paper" technique for laying a wash shown in many (especially older) books is very tricky to master, and hardly even worth mastering, IMO, since you can get much richer and more controlled results from even wetting first.

posted by dpcoffin at 1:52 PM on July 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

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