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How To Use Water Colors

( Originally Published 1920 )



To succeed well in this, one of the most beautiful as well as one of the most difficult of the fine arts, will require, in addition to a natural taste, a certain degree of industry that will be indispensable to success. There are two kinds of water color painting in general use. We prefer using the moist colors for landscape painting, and the dry cake colors for flowers. The moist colors are put in little earthen pans, and fitted into a tin box, with a palette, all complete for painting out of doors or on the table. The materials to be procured for water color painting are colors, sable brushes, paper, a drawing board, an eraser, an old silk handkerchief for wiping out lights, a small bottle of gum water, a soft sponge, a one and a half inch flat camel's hair brush, a china palette, or a set of saucers.

The paper most desirable for landscapes in water color should be rather rough on the surface, as, if it is too smooth, the painting loses much of that boldness which characterizes the English school. What man's paper is considered the best.

Brushes.-A complete set of brushes comprises a one and a half inch flat camel's hair, one each of swan, goose, duck, and crow; best sable brushes; select those which come to a point when charged with water, and which, when bent a little on one side, will spring back to the proper position without splitting.

Colors.-For landscapes, a tin sketching box, containing gamboge, French blue, raw and burnt sienna, yellow ochre, Venetian red, Vandyke brown, Prussian blue, olive green, brown madder, crimson lake, Indian yellow and a bottle of Chinese white.

Stretching and Preparing the Paper.-The painting side of Whatman's paper is known by holding up the paper between your eye and the light, and reading the name in proper position from left to right. This must be the outside. Place the paper on a table, and moisten the back well with a soft sponge and clean water; let it remain a short time, if the paper is thick, so that it may become saturated; then place it in the frame of your drawing board, confining it with the cross-bars.

Sometimes the paper, after being damped, is put upon a plain clamped drawing board, fastened down with glue around the edges. This mode of straining causes a little more care, and is not so expeditious.

Wiping Out Lights.-The parts of a picture (after the color is on) that require half lights, should be treated as follows: Mark out with your brush, and clean water, the parts you wish lighter, and then apply a little blotting paper to absorb the moisture; next wipe it hard with a silk handkerchief, and if not sufficient, repeat it; if you desire it still lighter, use the rubber.

Scraping.-Before using the eraser for any extra high lights, the painting must be perfectly dry.

Rays of Light.-Such as occur from an opening in the cloud, through windows, etc., can be successfully produced by placing a straight-edged piece of paper in the direction of the rays, and gently washing the exposed part with the damp sponge.

Using the Brush.-The effective handling of the brush requires rapidity and experience in covering large spaces with flat washes of color. It is well to commence brush-work, after making suitable proficiency in outline, with India ink or sepia; you then have but one color to deal with, and, with a little practice, all the mechanical difficulties of floating the color evenly will soon disappear. As a general rule, the brush for broad shades should be pretty full of color; but for finishing, all the colors are worked much drier, and the brush worked chiefly on the point.

Outline.-We will suppose that the paper has been properly strained on the drawing board, and allowed sufficient time to dry ; the outline is then commenced. In making a sketch for water-color landscape, it is best to sketch very lightly at first, so that the marks can readily be re-moved if required; as by hard rubbing the surface of the paper is liable to be disturbed. Proceed with all the minute details, sparing no pains in the sketching. The time is by no means thrown away, for you are remunerated for it when painting, as you can work with perfect confidence up to your sketch-marks. The appearance of, a good sketch should be lightness in the extreme distance, working a little stronger as the foreground is approached. In the foreground, boldness, observing a fineness of line on the light side, and breadth and depth on the shade side, so that even the pencil sketch may be suggestive of what the picture will be.

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