How to load your brush.

A good watercolor brush, if used right, can be much more than just a dip and go type of tool. It can be loaded up in all different ways to create all manner of effects.

For simplicity, I’m going to break down this post into two sections: water and pigment.

As we’ve gone over, watercolor is all about controlling water. And how much water you saturate your brush with will have a huge impact on how easy this is for you.
One of the biggest game changers you can learn is this: don’t just jam your brush into your water the same way every time. For some brushstrokes, you will want more or less water. Load your brush up appropriately.
Here’s a basic breakdown of how far to dip your brush in:

If you load your brush with too much water for what you’re working on, you’ll lose control of the painting and make a mess. If you don’t load enough water into the brush, you might make streaks. The only way to get the hang of this is to just practice a lot. Just practice with the awareness that your brush doesn’t need to take a polar plunge every time you use it.

So that’s water. Now you know that there is a technique to develop when it comes to dipping your brush. Pigment is no different.

One of my favorite things about watercolor is how much is going on in every square inch of painting. It’s a very collaborative medium, and it has a mind of its’ own. A way for you to take advantage of this characteristic is to play with loading multiple unmixed pigments into your brush at a time. The results are complex brushstrokes that look like a rainbow.

You need a larger brush to play with this technique. The idea is to incorporate multiple pigments at once, without mixing them on the tray.

Here, using a 3/4″ flat brush, I filled in an area by putting multiple pigments in the brush at once. So for an example, I would fill the brush with naples yellow, and then dip just the end in mauve before making a wash. Or I’d fill the brush with purple, and dip the right half of the brush in blue. Taking that approach, I filled in this rectangle:

With the exception of the hard purple line where the previous layer had dried, you can see that the colors move into each other gradually while still being distinct.

This approach is different than adding colors one at a time onto a wet painting. To show the difference, I did a similar painting but instead of loading the brush with multiple pigments for each brushstroke, I added them one at a time.

You can see that even though the colors and layout are similar, the effect is different because the colors are essentially colliding and push each other out of the way as they meet. Whereas if you put them in the brush at once, they wash onto the paper smoothly and at the same time, creating a more uniform look.

In my opinion, flat brushes work best for washing on multiple colors, because you’re making a broader contact with the paper, but round brushes are fun to play with too.

I hope that all makes some sense! It’s subtle, but a helpful tool to have sometimes. The more effects you can intentionally create, the more interesting your paintings will become.

Happy painting everyone!

Pigments vs. Dyes

This is a subtle point that doesn’t often come up in the classes I’ve taken, but nevertheless understanding it can save you a lot of grief at your art table.

Which is that while watercolors might all look similar in their tubes or pans, they are not. Some of them are pigments, and some of them are dyes.

So what’s the difference? A big one.

A pigment is basically dirt.
It is tiny particles of pigment, finely milled and suspended in a binder. When you get it wet, it becomes very fancy mud.

A dye is water soluble.
Unlike a pigment, which is particles of color suspended in a binder, a dye actually dissolves in the water. It’s been fixed with a mordant to make it lightfast on the paper, but it still dissolves real good. If a pigment is mud, a dye color is a glass of red wine.

They behave relatively similarly to paint with, but one is permanent and one is not. Dye colors are permanent. While pigments sit on top of the paper, dyes go in and effect the actual fiber of the paper. It’s the difference between getting mud on your shirt or spilling wine on it.

This makes a difference when you’re painting, because you cannot rewet and manipulate a dye color later. Once they touch the paper, the paper is that color now. They are the most unforgiving of the watercolor family.

But they’re not all bad. Dye colors are also generally appreciated for their vividness and transparency. Because a dye color fully dissolves in water, they are fully transparent. They aren’t something to avoid, but it’s helpful to know the difference.

Here’s a list of dye colors that I’m aware of and use (I’m sure there are many more):

Bright Red, Prussian Blue, Indigo, Cadmium Scarlet, Scarlet Lake, Vermilion Hue, Cadmium Red, Winsor Red, Rose Doré, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Permanent Rose, Winsor Blues, Winsor Greens, Winsor Emerald, Hooker’s Green, Permanent Sap Green, Alizarin Crimson, Olive Green, Gold Ochre, Venetian Red

So if you’re painting along and you come across a color that won’t budge once it’s touched the paper, you’ve met a dye color.

Don’t panic. They’re here to help. A dye color is your best friend in creating that beautiful watercolor layered effect, because they are truly transparent. They are the perfect solution to wanting a tiny dab of color on top of 5 others, without making a mess. They’re the most watercolory of the watercolors. And, they’re permanent as heck.