Monday, December 31, 2012

Stretching Cheap Watercolor Paper

As an amateur watercolor painter, I've been experimenting findinga paper that will fit the requirements of 7" Kara, my watercolor comic. There are a lot of options available, from sumi paper to heavy cold pressed watercolor pads, and the selection can be intimidating.

If you select the wrong paper for your needs, or choose a cheap (and light) paper, you may end up with a piece that is buckled and warped, or a paper that resists reworking. If you've already purchased a paper like this, all isn't lost. You can easily stretch your watercolor paper at home, with only a few easily found materials necessary.

I've found that I get the best results when working on 140lb paper that's been pre-stretched on a watercolor block.  The block is a pad of watercolor paper that's glued on at least two edges, holding the attached paper taut and preventing it from buckling.  Unfortunately, the needs of  7" Kara prevented me from working on a thick block of paper.  I needed the ability to run my paper through my printer, so at the time, I opted for a 90lb cold pressed watercolor paper by Canson.  Unfortunately, even though I'd 'stretched' it at the time (taped it down, saturated it with water, let it dry), I was still having issues with buckling.  A little trial, error, and research revealed that I'd been stretching my watercolor paper all wrong.

How to Stretch Cheap Watercolor Paper

Your thin paper
Masonite board at least slightly larger than the paper itself. You want something a little bit absorbent, but won't warp with dampness. You also want to choose a board that allows you to continue working, because you won't remove your paper until the entire piece is finished.
Tape, like masking,drafting, or painter's. I like a 2" tape, as it leaves plenty of tape to grip the board.
A mop style brush capable of holding a lot of water.
Clean water

Step 1

Prepare your workspace.  I recommend pencilling your image in ahead of time, especially if you print out bluelines, as there's a high chance that it'll get washed away.  Have your strips of tape ready, and lay your paper on your board.

Step 2

Wet down your paper.  You want your paper to be completely saturated through, so that it'll stretch evenly.  Although I haven't demonstrated it in this image, I usually saturate the backside first, and then spread it on the board, and soak the front.  This allows better suction between my paper and the board, and usually results in a better job of stretching the paper.

EDIT: An intrepid Twitter follower took issue with my advice that you soak the paper, saying it would remove the sizing. I disagree. Many watercolor manuals suggest you even submerge the entire page in water for even distribution, which I don't do. Sizing is made of gelatin, which will dissolve in hot or warm water. You should never use hot or warm water with quality brushes because that will dissolve the glue holding the hairs in the ferrule, but cold water is fine. Same goes for sizing. My printmaking professor insuring undergrad, Cheryl Hayes, recommended that we soak out BFK Reeves for 10 minutes prior to printing so that it would print better. BFK is a high quality watercolor paper that one would be loathe to ruin, whereas I am suggesting a simple even saturation for cheap watercolor paper that would severely buckle if not properly stretched. Since my prior wording caused confusion, I am grateful that she pointed out her issue with this post, as it granted me an opportunity for clarification. Thank you, @OhComeOnAsh.


Step 3 

Apply additional water as necessary.

Step 4

Sponge off excess water.  You can use this as an opportunity to really press your paper down against the board.  I usually roll a roll of paper towels across my page a few times.  You're not attempting to dry out the paper, just dab up pools.

Step 5

Wet down your tape strips, just enough so that they're damp, but not so much that they lose tackiness. 

Step 6

You'll have to work kinda fast to get all the tape down, and it'll have a tendency to twist on you.  Once all four strips are down, you can dab away the excess water. 

Let the paper dry fully (I usually let mine dry overnight).

You  may end up with some buckling if you didn't properly saturate the paper.

You can try restretching the paper, but your results may be no better and the tape may tear the paper.

Once your paper has dried, you can begin applying washes if you so choose.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Different Approach to Watercolor

Trying Out A New Watercolor Technique

Most watercolor artists have a favorite watercolor technique that they come back to, time and again. There's a reason for this- it usually works, and when you're on a deadline, it's important to focus on what gets the result you're looking for.

When I'm not doing work for pay, however, I enjoy getting out of my comfort zone and trying new techniques. Sometimes the end result isn't as polished as I'd like, but I don't abandon a technique until I've tried it several times. I'm a firm believer that you can't hate (or dismiss) something unless you're proficient at it. Otherwise, it's simply a lack of skill that prevents you from achieving the sort of quality you'd like in your work.

Usually when I work with watercolors, I don't go to the trouble of creating an inked line art before I begin painting.  Generally I'll tighten up the printed blue lines by pencilling in the entire piece, partially because I like the soft look of the graphite, but also because I often lose the blue lines when I put down a wash.  I find that traditional techniques for creating line art tend to look very harsh against the softness of watercolor pigments.

I'm always on the lookout for interesting and new watercolor techniques, and I enjoy picking the brains of other watercolor artists, particularly if their methods greatly differ from my own.  Recently I was introduced to a new technique by Jeeyon Kim (a fellow SCAD Sequential Art graduate student and watercolor artist)  that involves inking the piece beforehand with non-waterproof ink.  The goal is that this line art will dissolve into the watercolor piece, creating a softer lineart that tones the watercolors, unifying them.  I inked this particular piece with Winsor Newton's non-waterproof ink in Nut Brown using a Tachikawa G nib.  I must admit, I wasn't as careful as I could be, as I assumed that the ink would disperse with the first wash.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Watercolor Bonanza

I've been painting a lot lately, trying to improve my skill and eye for color. I really enjoy watercoloring, and have a tendency to work on a couple at a time. This allows me to stay busy while an important wash of color dries, and prevents me from getting anxious and overworking the piece.

These are just ugly cellphone photos of my work, some of which you've probably seen before. Watercolor can be hard to scan properly, so I'm waiting until I have access to a better scanner to do so. The vast majority of these are of Kara, mostly because I have a large backlog of sketches to work from easily.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Pigments and Plastic

Painting on Yupo

What is Yupo?

According to DickBlick,
Yupo is a compelling and unique alternative to traditional art papers. It's a synthetic paper, machine-made in the USA of 100% polypropylene. It is waterproof, stain resistant, and extremely strong and durable.
This extraordinary, non-absorbent surface resists tearing and buckling and remains perfectly flat, eliminating the need for soaking, stretching, or taping.
Watercolor professionals have found Yupo to be receptive to a variety of aqueous techniques, but it is also ideal for offset printing, silkscreen, debossing, drawing, acrylic painting, and more.
Because of the unique qualities of this paper, dirt and oils hinder its performance. We recommend removing spots and fingerprints with soap and water before use.
PH neutral, flawlessly smooth and Recyclable. Available in bright white or translucent. Pigments applied to the ultra bright white sheet retain their true clarity and brilliance while the translucent sheet allows for special layered effects and tracing.

Sounds pretty promising, doesn't  it?  You don't have to worry about the paper being archival, as it's pH neutral.  Yupo is recyclable, doesn't require stretching, and because it's made of plastic, it SHOULD be able to take anything the artist dishes out.  

I bought my current pad of Yupo Watercolor Paper (in opaque) when I did a tutorial for Copic Marker.  My thought process at the time was that a non absorbent, synthetic paper would be ideal for pooling ink, which was the effect I was going for at the time.  Recently, I've been testing watercolor papers to find which would suit my needs best, and decided to give the Yupo a shot at it's intended purpose.

This was my first time painting on Yupo, and I'd stupidly expected it to take paint the way regular organic-based watercolor paper takes.  The Yupo took me by surprise- some areas allowed me to apply multiple washes without the pigment lifting, some areas lifted with the lightest fresh application, and areas that had graphite erased resisted the water like a wax resist, even after repeated rubbing with a paper towel to remove the leftover eraser rubber.  For the most part, I felt like I was trying to work around the Yupo, rather than working with it, and wasn't satisfied with the end result.

Posted below is the process I underwent with this piece, which doesn't really differ from my usual watercolor process, possibly because I'm a one trick pony.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cleaning Palettes in Dishwasher

Watercolor palettes don't really require a lot of upkeep- most of the time, you just rinse them off and wipe them down and they're ready for another use.

This is a great method for always-clean watercolor palettes if you're particularly on the ball or neat and tidy.  I am not.  I have a lot of palettes (I like to let the watercolor dry and reactivate it when necessary, it helps keep my colors consistent when I'm working on larger projects), and sometimes all these palettes happen to be dirty at the same time (more often than not, actually).  When this happens, I'll give them a good long soak in the tub with some dish soap, scrub out most of the dried pigment, and then pop them in my dishwasher to get them really clean.  I don't recommend washing palettes with your regular dishes, as there are many pigments that are toxic when consumed, and even several good scrubbings may not result in really clean palettes.

Before running the dishwasher


Friday, December 21, 2012

Sketchbook Confessional

I'm going to make an honest confession. When I don't have classes that force me to be have like a human, I have a horrible sleeping schedule. A really terrible sleeping schedule. I wake up at 3p.m., work til around 2:30a.m. and then spend the next three hours trying to go to sleep. I'm all turned around.

This wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't heavily dependent on sunlight, social interaction, and overpriced coffee drinks with a heart in the foam served to me by someone with at least three tattoos. You see, I'm usually working from home, and while I can set an alarm to wake me up at a specific time if I have a time when work NEEDS to be in, for the most part, as long as it's turned in on that date, I am fine. This means I keep hours that most working professionals would scoff at and wait til weekends to pick up my mail, since by the time I've done my 'morning' chores, bathed, and put on clothes, the mail center at my apartment complex has closed (winter hours end at 5:00PM on weekdays). My morning chores usually include some warm up drawing (or finishing work for the night before), checking email, sending emails, and cleaning up after cats.

Other downfalls of this near night owl schedule include my prime business hours being from 8:00PM-12:00AM, the sinking feeling that all I do is work or sleep, and a lack of in person social interaction. I do not promote this state-of-being at all.

Every night, I attempt to go to sleep with the best of intentions. Try to go to bed early. Try to wake up at a decent hour. And every 'morning', I wake up thwarted. Alarms mean nothing to me, without the dire threat of 'lateness' hanging over my head. I could sleep through the apocolypse, so long as my bedroom cold and my blankets snug.

And while I'm making damning confessions, I might as well admit that I, like many artists, wear pajamas all day while working on many an occasion. I promise you that they are clean pajamas, and that I did indeed shower that morning and have also brushed my teeth, but they are pajamas none the less. Since I do the majority of my work on the floor, it makes sense that I work in something comfortable. Today I was feeling swank- I wore a jersey tunic and a pair of leggings. This is in stark contrast to my 'going out' attire (which is worn any time I leave the apartment or someone comes over), which is usually a dress, heels, stockings, and a sweater.

And another- I usually survive on coffee milk alone until around 7:00P.M. and hazelnut chocolates. I do love eating, and I enjoy food, but I don't necessarily dig cooking or washing dishes. I also tend to be fairly single minded while in the zone, so stopping to eat a real meal doesn't usually come to mind.

As bad habits are hard to break, and I'm doing my best to break these.  I set alarms for 30 minute intervals between the hours of 7:30 and 11:00, I schedule social interaction (because if I didn't, I'd just work forever), and try to be satisfied when enough is enough.  As artists, many of us have the unsavory trait of constant and complete dissatisfaction with self, which is counter productive to growth.  In order to flourish as artists, we need to figure out these counter productive traits we've cultured, and work towards a more positive work ethic.  Your schedule should help you produce art, not cram you into a depressing cycle.

What are some bad work habits you'd like to break? What's your ideal workday like?

Wordcount: 630

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

November and Early December Sketch Dump

So in between doing actual work and doing watercolor practice, I've mostly been just noodling around in my sketchbook without much direction.

When suffering from art block, I try to work on an existing project.  If I feel like my drawing abilities are subpar, I'll try to focus just on doing concept work, stuff that requires ideas but not concept.  Working with a direction in mind often inspires me and helps me break out of my rut.  There's different kinds of art blocks though, and sometimes it isn't the ability that fails you, but a lack of concept.  And sometimes you're satisfied enough with both concept and ability, but you need some new insight, a fresh spin on things.  I've never been the sort to just doodle aimlessly, when I'm looking to kill time by drawing, I usually draw from reference.  This may be detrimental to my creative output- once I've hit a comfort zone, I have a tendency to stay there until I'm absolutely sick of it.

A way I can mix this up is by doing style tests, where I draw my characters in the styles of various artists.  Without real pressure to come up with something of my own, I can focus on picking up new techniques.

In this batch, I've continued with last month's project of putting together outfits from my reference folder, and have tried to do more gesture sketches.  PixelLovely has introduced an animal drawing tool similiar to their figure drawing tool, so I've been mixing it up a little.  I highly recommend it if you're looking for an easy way to practice drawing animals.

About midway through, I asked my Twitter friends to suggest cute poses for Kara, an exercise in loosening up and getting outside my head.  Although they're rough, I'm pretty pleased with how fun they are.

Kara chatting with Clover.

Some gesture sketches of kids.

Pose sketches.

Meldina, Kara's mother.

Kara isn't too impressed with where this sketch was going.  And some style doodles.

You'll be seeing more of this sketch later on.

Wordcount: 343

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gift Guide for Intermediate and Student Artists

By request of one Aisazia, I am expanding my gift guide to include presents for more experienced artists who may not have a working studio yet.

By their very nature, better art supplies suited to more experienced artists are going to cost more, but there's no pressure to outfit an entire studio either. I'm going to expand on my basic gift guide, assuming that the artist in question already has many of those items, and focus on either replacing or augmenting the existing set. For this post, I'm going to be drawing heavily on my own experience and artistic preferences, as well as what I use in my own work on a regular basis.

I'm going to be kind to myself and set the end price at $200 total, though I will limit myself to one site for this gift guide. There's been interest in me writing an artist's gift guide to JetPens, so I'll be drafting and posting that shortly.

Since I started with Dick Blick, I'm going to stick with Dick Blick, so that my lists are mix and match according to the artist's needs. If you're buying for an artist and you aren't familiar with their arsenal, you could see if they have an online wishlist or just get them a giftcard to their favorite art supply store.

In case there is any doubt, I am under no sponsorship and receive no sort of funding for these posts.



Conte crayons, set of 6 in tin


Vine, Soft
Vine, Medium

Newsprint Paper 18"x24"

China Marker

Blick Artist Colored Pencil, Black

Better Erasers:


Prismacolor Multl-Pack (also includes a kneaded eraser)

MagicRub Eraser




Lyra Rembrandt Art Design Graphite Pencil Set

Caran d'Ache Sketcher Non-Photo Blue Pencil- Way nicer than the Stanford non-photo blue recommended in the prior post. A lot of my friends use this for bluelining comics.




Yarka Professional Watercolor Set, 25 Colors (full pans)- To replace or augment the Raphael set



Mop, 5/8"

Scepter Gold Round 0

Winsor Newton Round Size 1

Winsor & Newton Round Size 4

Flat Wash, Size 3/4

Brush Cleaner



Nice Watercolor Pad

Canson Montval Watercolor Pads 15"x20"


Yasutomo Fan-Shaped Plastic Palette

General Studio:



Alumicutter Ruler 18"

Exacto Blade X2000

Because every studio is differently equipped, and I can't predict the exact needs of your intermediate artist, I've decided to include an optional list, in case some of the things I've listed above are already owned

So let's crunch some numbers before continuing!

Once your order is more than $160, you qualify for free shipping.
But taxes'll put you at 203.91, shipped.  If that's not ok by you, there's a couple items you could remove from the list that won't really affect the integrity of the gift.
The duster and one of the two rounds can both be sacrificed, especially if you're building on a studio already equipped with much of the same supplies as the Amateur Artist Gift Guide.

Just removing those two items puts you back under budget!
Maybe your studio is better equipped than I accounted for.  Here are some often neglected studio essentials to help round you out:

  OPTIONAL (And not calculated in the total):


Blick Archival Storage Boxes, varying sizes:

To be honest, you don't have to buy branded 'art' storage to get good storage for your art supplies. Toolboxes from Walmart work just as well as ArtBins, and are much cheaper, Rubbermaid makes some nifty organizational stuff as well. If you're looking for archival, I'd hit the art supply store and specifically ask, but otherwise, save your money.

Pencil Cases, 24-48 Count, Black, Rose, Wheat, or Blue- Optional

Brush and Storage Tube 2"x14"

Paintbrush Holder, Large- Optional


X-Acto Self Healing Mat 18"x24"- Optional

Spray Mount- 3M Super 77 Multipurpose Adhesive 13.6- Optional

Fixative- Optional

Workable Matte Fixative


Itoya Portfolios, Various Sizes

Wordcount: 679