Setting Up A Watercolor (or Gouache) Palette

 Hey my peeps, just a quick spotlight on your palette today. How do you know what colors to buy, how do you save money trying new kinds of paints, how can you store the paints you have so they’re accessible? I’m combining tips for watercolor and gouache palettes here because they go so swimmingly well together they’re often used in conjunction.

 

TIP #1 - YOU ONLY NEED A FEW COLORS

If you’re new to painting, or just trying a new medium like gouache instead of your usual acrylic, buy the highest quality paint you can afford but only the primary colors and an opaque white (if not using watercolor). If you want a dark you don’t have to mix from scratch every time I’d recommend a Paynes Gray rather than a black.  Paynes Gray leans towards the cool side but maintains a lot more vibrancy than any regular black will when used straight or in mixes. Alternately you can skip the dark, and mix the three primary colors together to make your own dark and save some money. The color wheel is your best friend and you can mix literally everything you need from the three primaries.

 

TIP #2 - SINGLE PIGMENT PAINTS V.S. MULTI-PIGMENT PAINTS

When you decide to expand your color range with new paints, try to avoid buying paints that are made from more than 1 pigment unless you know you are madly in love with the color and will use it all the freaking time. Paints can be made with 1 pigment or more, and multi-pigment paints can be really beautiful. The problem is that they tend not to mix as well and get muddy when combined with other colors much more easily than a single pigment paint would. If you combine two multi-pigment paints it’s the same as having combined four or more single pigment paints, so you can imagine that could get wonky looking real quickly when mixing stuff together.   On artist quality paint tubes, the pigments used will be listed so you can tell what it’s made from. They’ll usually also tell you how lightfast (fade-proof) and opaque or transparent they are. With watercolors they’ll also say if they granulate or not which is something you should keep in mind if you don’t like texture in your paintings.

 

TIP #3 - MIX HONEY INTO GOUACHE

This one is specifically for my gouache squad out there. I adore painting with gouache, but having to keep tubes of it out to use can be really limiting if you want to paint outside or are just lazy like me. If you’re lazy like me you may have already tried leaving gouache out to dry on a palette and tried to re-wet it, and may have already discovered that most gouache brands don’t take to this well. Gouache cracks and crumbles as it dries and can be hard to impossible to re-wet to its former glorious consistency and opacity. Here’s a hack for that if you want to have it all, like I do.  Mix a tiny amount of honey into your gouache thoroughly before putting it in a pan to dry (you can also use liquid glycerin for this though I haven’t gotten to try that personally yet). This little bit of honey will stop the cracking and drying out that usually happens, and leave your gouache incredibly smooth and re-wetable on your palette.

*Note: Some brands of gouache like M. Graham already have honey in them because they use it as the binder for the pigment. I personally really dislike the sheen and sticky texture this leaves behind. So I use non-honey based brands of gouache and put WAY less honey in mine to get the best of both worlds - my colors still dry matte and aren’t sticky but are super palette friendly. 

 

TIP #4 - MIX WATERCOLORS WITH GOUACHE

Another gouachey tip is for those of you who already have some watercolors but want to try gouache out too. To start only buy a white tube of gouache and mix your watercolor pigments into the white paint. It pretty much instantly transforms your watercolors into gouache and you can get a feel for the qualities gouache has, like the opacity, fairly intense shift in color as it dries, layering capacity, and the consistency of the paint you need to mix to get the coverage that you want in any given situation. 

 

TIP #5 - PAINT FROM TUBES OR PANS

For watercolorists, I suggest you experiment to see whether you prefer working from tubes or from dried pans. I know some people are tubers for life and feel they get the most vibrant colors that way. For me personally I NEED my pans - they save so much money in wasted paint over time and are incredibly convenient. I wouldn’t trade them for all the tubes in the world.  So I buy my paint in tubes, but squeeze it out to dry in pans and I’ve never felt like I’ve lost any color vibrancy doing things this way.

 

TIP #6  - PRE-MADE WATERCOLOR PALETTES V.S. BUYING YOUR OWN COLORS

It’s up to you whether you buy a pre-made palette or buy individual colors and make your own, but my personal recommendation would be to get your own colors. If you stick with the primaries and a white you should be able to afford higher quality paints for the same amount as a pre-made palette with other colors you may not want in the long run, or the crappy paint brush with hairs sticking out everywhere that every pre-made palette inevitably comes with. And as for the actual palette you start with, seriously to this day I use a plate to mix my paints on - you just really don’t need to buy a palette if you don’t want to. And if you do want a palette to store many colors in but don’t want to spend much money on one you can make your own palette really easily. A great video for this is from the YouTube channel In Liquid Color and you can find it here - I HIGHLY recommend this channel for learning more about pigments, binders, color mixing, palettes, brands of paint, etc...especially for watercolor artists, but not exclusively as much of the information crosses over to other mediums.

 

IN SUMMARY

I hope these tips help give you some direction to start a new palette or start with a new medium without breaking the bank. These are all things I had to learn the hard way (I’m talking to you, huge collection of expensive Arcyla-Gouache I have and hate to paint with), so hopefully you can learn from some of my mistakes. 

Experimenting With Art Styles

Experimenting with Art Styles

Greetings fine people. Today I want to talk about experimenting with your art style, because it’s my favorite thing to talk about in the world. Art has an infinite capacity for exploration, learning, and expression and that is amazing. Style experiments can help you find your style if you don’t know what it is, improve your art at any stage of skill, and be really refreshing if you feel like you’re stuck in a rut. 

This topic could be huge, so I’m going to limit it to the example of some studies I did this week. There will be some tips at the end in case you want to try some style experiments of your own.

Enter the Experiment Zone

For my experiments this week I used a reference image of some free-range sea lions I took in Newport, Oregon. I painted this same image 3 different ways, none of which focused on realism. I honestly dislike all of them as paintings, but I had a lot of fun, learned a bunch, and gained a lot of insight into new things I’d like to explore so it was completely 100% totally super worth it and you should definitely try this at home.

sea lions newport oregon wildlife illustration reference image

Watercolor Wildlife Illustration

For my first attempt I decided to try the old school combo of inked lines and watercolor washes because I’ve never tried it in earnest. I stayed pretty limited on color choices, and didn’t really use the ink lines very expressively which is something I’d change if I were to do this again.

sea lion watercolor wildlife illustration study

Colorful Wildlife Gouache Paintings

For my next two studies I really focused more on color since the first one felt so dull. This second study was all about picking random colors and trying to make them work by fitting them into to places with a similar value to the reference image. I also challenged myself to use an oversized flat brush in straight lines, only to see if I could do it. The brush was hard too work with and I went way overboard on the colors so I decided to change things up for the third painting.

wildlife animal illustration art study gouache painting

This third study was done with a smaller round brush instead of the unwieldy flat one and I tried to mix in some more realistic colors. I also really focused on lost edges in places of condensed shadow.

wildlife animal illustration art study gouache painting

Like I said before, I don't love all of these studies as end results, but they were completely worth doing. I learned SO much trying these different things out and now I have many new ideas of things I’d like to refine and add to my personal paintings in the future. I can’t recommend doing studies like these enough. So if you’re game to try, here are some tips.

Art Style Tips For Experimenting

1. Work small and use the same drawing transferred to multiple sheets of paper. You save drawing time, and learn about the image each time you paint it, which can help you come up with ideas for new things to try next time.

2. Listen to artists teaching core principles for ideas of things to explore, or look at art that inspires you and try to incorporate something you like about it into your painting. These things are easily found on the almighty interwebs.

3. Look in unusual places for ideas. For example, I usually paint in a semi-realistic style but I've been doing a lot of studying in animation art books. Really skilled artists making things that look wholly different than anything you do can still have a lot to teach you.

3. Have a clear and defined goal or focus for each study you do, and write it down on your paper before you start to paint. It helps remind you what your focus should be and what the point of the study is so you don’t get lost or discouraged halfway through it.

4. Use a really ugly sketchbook that you kind of hate and don’t mind ruining. Don’t use anything that makes you feel restricted or precious about painting these studies. Rejoice in the freedom an ugly sketchbook can offer you.

Good luck and stay experimental!

Using Reference Images Artistically

Using Reference Images Artistically

There seems to be some controversy on social media over whether "real artists" use reference images. I'm not going to attempt to convince you either way, but over time I've learned that there are many different ways and reasons to use reference. These ways all come with limitations and the need for creative thinking. But then, so does making art without reference! So I'd like to share what I've learned about using other people's images for reference, taking your own photos, and why in the world you'd want to paint something you already have a picture of. I'll also share some reasons I can imagine not using reference to be a valid choice because you do you boo.

Other People's Photos

I need to preface this by saying: It is SO IMPORTANT not to rip off a photographer's work - they're artists too and it would suck just as much for them to have their images used without compensation or permission as it would for you if someone stole your art so don't do it, it's not okay. If you simply must paint a replica of someone's photo, contact them and ask their permission to license the work. 

All that doesn't mean you can't use other's pics for reference at all though. I use other people's photos to see what animals look like that I've never seen in person, especially when I need to understand their anatomy, or what their markings look like, or how they look in some particularly obscure position. Since I don't own the rights to the photos I use for this, I look at many images by many people and compile bits and pieces together for my own sketch. This makes for my own original composition but also leaves some difficulties when it comes to painting things more realistically. It leaves questions like, "How would that fur look in a warm setting sunlight", or "How would the shadow lie over this leaf", etc... In this case the best you can do is use your artistic license and study of real life lighting and animals to imagine what seems appropriate. Also don't think you need to limit reference to photos. You can take stills from films or live camera feeds and use those too. 

Your Own Photo Reference

Taking my own reference photos is my favorite thing to do, and yet I absolutely never used to do it. I questioned why I would want to paint something that I already have a perfectly sound picture of. I just didn't see anything creative or self-expressive about the idea. But I believe that was a limited way of thinking, and I'd like to show you an example.

Here's a Blue Azureus Arrow Frog I painted this week.

reference image artist use frog

And here's the reference photo I took of this frog and made this painting from.

blue azureus frog reference image artist use

Obviously this photo is terrible, and seemingly useless as an image. BUT. There's a lot of great information in here about the way the frog's skin reflects lighting, the way his color mutes in shadow, and most importantly his personality (which is one of bravery and exploration in my humble opinion). I found this little dude in a local pet store that I specifically went to in order to take reference images, because I realized after ruining two paintings in as many hours that I'd forgotten how to paint and needed some inspiration to help me power through it. I've loved these beautiful frogs from afar for a long time, and had no idea I'd find one in a pet store so it was completely exciting and lovely to get the chance to see one. I went home to paint him immediately. I wanted to imagine him in his wild state so that's what I thought about while I was painting him. The painting process was effortless and helped me feel confident with painting again. Importantly for my point here, the painting isn't a copy of the photo and still required some creative leaps but was definitely informed by the picture I took.

So in summary what I'm saying is that if copying directly from a photo, even your own photo, isn't your thing then don't do it. There's still a lot of room for creative exploration. Taking your own reference is a perfect excuse to get out of the studio and spend time with the things you care about, go to new places, and find new things around you. It's also a great way to make art that's more personal to you, since the things you can take pictures of are quite literally in your life somewhere, however tangentially.

Reasons Not To Use Reference

  1. You don't want to. No explanation required.
  2. You struggle to let your imagination loose and feel constrained by images of reality.
  3. You don't have access to any reference at the same moment that you want to draw something. Draw anyway.
  4. You want to draw something the way that you remember it rather than the way it is. This can be a lot of fun, and for some people it's a huge part of their style.

Reasons To Use Reference

  1. You want to. Still no explanation required.
  2. You're trying to make something that looks "convincing" or more accurate to life.
  3. You have your own reference photo and would like to make the memory into a piece of your own artwork.
  4. You're doing a study to improve your physical drawing or painting skills and want a challenge.

If you do or don't want to use reference it's totally cool and completely valid. Everybody has their own process, which is great because otherwise art wouldn't be as diverse. Do "real artists" use reference? They do if you're making art and using reference. It turns out that real artists do exactly what you do when you're making art - what a crazy coincidence! I hope this has been helpful because it's been a lot of fun to talk about. Until next time, stay wild my lovelies.

Baby Turtles and 2018 Goals

Hey everyone and happy new year! I'm off to a late start this year, having come down with the flu of death a few weeks ago and only recently recovered. But I'm better now and have recently finished my first painting of 2018, a little Burmese Star Tortoise that I'll be hanging in Townshend's Tea House on Mississippi next month along with some other originals and prints. If you're in the PDX area, please stop by and take a look!

burmese-tortoise

I made a process video showing the stages of painting this turtle that will be up on my Instagram later today if you'd like to see the steps I took. I painted this guy in acrylic gouache, a medium I have yet to comprehend and have much to learn about.

2018 Illustration Goals

I really appreciate hearing other artists share their goals for the year, so I thought I'd share mine with you.  These are just a few, but I'm sure that I'll be adding more to the list as the year kicks in!

  • Participate in my first Art Fair. I've never gone out and gotten a booth at a fair or convention before and this year is the year I want to take that step.
  • Start accepting commissions. I want to start accepting commissions from individuals as well as editorial work. 
  • Maintain a better work/life balance. I realized this last year that I wasn't making enough time for myself and my wellbeing in my schedule. So this year I'm trying to take weekends off, get back into some yoga classes, and make sure to get out into nature more.
  • Sketchbooks! I really want to up my sketchbooking game this year, and instead of only using sketch time to study anatomy, or practice values, etc...I want to just stop thinking and sketch for fun. I like to imagine it like stream-of-consciousness writing - I don't care if I understand why I'm drawing a pigeon, I want to just let myself draw that pigeon without caring if it's anatomically accurate. I can worry about those things later, I just want to get the sketch down and play with things for fun. Yay for self expression.
  • Requisite art goals. The ones we all have. Improve my color choices, push my gestures, emphasize values and relationships, get loose where I should be loose and tight where I should be tight. And so on and so forth - far too many things to mention that I want to improve in my craft.

So those are a few of the more important goals I have this year. I'd love to hear what goals you have for your creative life this year so please feel free to let me know in the comments. See you next time!