Let Your Creativity Flow with Brilliant Watercolor Glazesby Jan Fabian Wallake
I love color. Pure, transparent, glowing colors are a hallmark of beautiful watercolor painting. This unique medium uses light and transparency to produce a luminous quality. I maximize this feature in my paintings by pouring on paint washes rather than brushing them on. Pouring a glaze is an exciting way to infuse your paintings with radiant light. Follow these simple steps for color that glows with light.
Preparation One of my favorite papers is Arches 140lb. cold press. I like to stretch my paper when glazing so that it remains flat. If left unstretch, the paper would ripple when wet and that would cause the glazes to form streaks. I soak the sheet in room temperature water for about fifteen minutes, drain off the excess water, and place it on a basswood board (or Gator board; one that will accept ordinary office type staples. No need for an industrial stapler).
To stretch the paper, start by placing four staples close together in the center along one edge of the sheet. Place the staples a half inch from the edge. Turn the board to the opposite side and pull the paper gently but firmly directly across from the first four staples. Hold the stretched paper in place and staple four more times on this side, again a half inch in and close together. Now repeat with the remaining two sides. Pull each corner out as far as possible, hold and staple. Finish by stapling every two inches all the way around the paper’s edge. Allow the sheet to dry completely.
Tape over the staples, over the paper’s edge and onto the board with two-inch masking tape. This will prevent your glazes from creeping under the paper’s edge which could cause a backwash or bloom effect in your glaze.
Be careful not to touch the paper’s surface or to lie anything against it. Maximizing refracted light for the best glow requires that the paper surface remains unmarred.
Transfer your sketch (I do mine at 100% on a separate sheet of sketch paper) to the stretched sheet by tracing over a graphite sheet. You can get one at a drafting supply store.
Pour a Glaze
Decide on a color palette for your painting. When glazing, it is best to choose analogous colors (those side-by-side on the color wheel). Since they blend naturally one into the next, analogous colors glow clean and bright with each additional glaze. Mix each color you intend to pour in a separate mixing cup. I like to use the plastic cups that come in powdered laundry detergent. Add enough water to the pigment to get a “milky” consistency.
Wet the area to be glazed. I use a spray bottle for this wherever possible since it does not disturb the paper’s surface fibers as much as brushing water on would. The glaze will flow only where the paper is wet. It will stop when it comes to dry paper, so if you want to contain a glaze in a specific area, wet only that area. In cases where you want the wash to stop at a hard edge, you will have to use a soft brush and very gently fill in the specified area with water. Make sure the area to be glazed is completely saturated. Drain off any excess water.
Gently slide the first color onto the wet paper. You will have to judge the amount of paint you need to cover the area. Tilt the board in all directions to run the glaze over the area you are working in. When it is thoroughly covered with an even glaze, drain off any excess paint back into your color cup. Now with a damp sponge, wipe clean the taped edges on your board. Allow this glaze to dry. Repeat, if you like, with the same or an analogous color.
These glazed portions of your painting offer a restful contrast to any active brushwork you add to the work. I usually create my center-of-interest with more detail, stronger value contrast, harder edges, and more deliberate brushwork. When finished, I step back and evaluate the painting. Maybe a final glaze of color will harmonize the colors and energize the scene!
Pouring on a glaze of pure color produces a free, even transparent flow. It also helps keep your painting process loose. Let the paint and water do the work for you. Maximize the glow.
Use a pump sprayer whenever possible to wet the prepared paper. It will cause no harm to the paper’s surface. In this painting, however, I want to contain the flow of the glaze, so I spray only the top of the sheet and use a large, soft Kolinsky sable brush loaded with water to create a hard edge along the horses, blending it into the sprayed area. I am careful to see that there are no dry spots within the area to be glazed. There is no need to wet the bottom of the paper now since my red wash will remain at the top only
I gently slide my first color (Daniel Smith Permanent Red ) onto the wet paper then tilt the board to run the color around. The glaze will flow only as far as the wet areas. It will stop when it hits dry paper. I have re-glazed the red section with Winsor & Newton Bright Red. I have decided to section off a geometric shape at the top left and at the middle right of the paper. A narrow line of masking fluid will prevent the subsequent glazes from flowing into these areas. This design decision will add energy to the composition. Now it is time to pour on a glaze of Daniel Smith Quinacridone Gold. This time I wet the paper on the right hand side and well into the red area. By wetting far into the red glazed area, my gold glaze will simply vignette over the red. Again, I tilt the board and run the glaze around the wet area.
Once this is dry, I re-wet the paper and pour on Daniel Smith Quinacridone Burnt Orange. Finally, I repeat with a glaze of Daniel Smith New Gamboge.
I follow the same glazing process in this painting (Red Runners). While the wash is still wet I drag a soft, damp brush through the paint to lift streaks of color. This suggests active motion in the composition. Later, I repeat with a glaze of Scarlet Lake and lift that color in the same streaks.
When all glazes are dry, I carefully remove the masking fluid along the geometric shapes with a rubber cement pick up.
It is time to paint the center-of-interest with a brush. I add a riot of color to the horses. This chaotic color contrasts dramatically with the passive, even glazes.
Finally, I pour glazes of various colors onto the geometric shapes, add a few linear strokes within the horses and paint the attention-grabbing spot pattern on the main horse