Watercolor Painting FAQ: Brushes, Paints and More

Fruit and Artichoke Half by Laurin McCracken, watercolor painting.

Fruit and Artichoke Half by Laurin McCracken, watercolor painting.

Get a Stellar Watercolor Painting Every Time With These Tips

There are certain aspects of painting that are true essentials: Basic elements such as perspective, value, shape, color and texture, for example. Add to this the principles of design, elements for specifically painting landscapes or portraits, and then top it off with the ins and outs of using one of the most popular mediums, and you have a recipe for watercolor painting.

The best way to get started is to get the right information straight from the experts. Laurin McCracken, a signature member of the National Watercolor Society, is just such an expert. He recently shared the answers to the most common watercolor painting questions he gets from students and collectors alike regarding the materials he uses. Enjoy!

Courtney

Watercolor painting advice | Laurin McCracken, ArtistsNetwork.com

Heritage (watercolor on paper, 20×27) by Laurin McCracken. Article contributions from Cherie Haas.

Watercolor FAQs with Laurin McCracken

Paint brushes

When I first started painting, I assumed my biggest expense would be paint. In truth, my biggest expense has turned out to be brushes. Painting fine details the way I do quickly wears down the points of the brushes, and having fine points is the key to creating fine details. After a brush starts to wear, I move it to my plein air painting kit.

I use kolinsky sable round brushes, both Series 7 by Winsor & Newton and Performen by Creative Mark, and Escoda brushes. I have sizes 10 and 12 for background washes, but the brushes I use most often for painting my detailed silver still life objects are sizes 0 to 6. Of those, the ones I turn to most frequently are Nos. 3 and 4. I also have some flat brushes that I use on large background areas and a range of synthetic brushes for lifting and creating special effects such as marble and wood grain.

Watercolor Paper

I’ve found Fabriano’s Artistico 300 lb. Soft Press, which is ideal for my still life paintings. While it’s very much like a hot-pressed paper, it’s still soft enough to absorb the paint, and therefore can react to the two-brush technique the way I want it to. From time to time, I use hot-pressed paper if I want really sharp hard edges, such as when I’m painting cut crystal. I use 300-lb. paper exclusively. I hate to waste time stretching paper, and I like the stability of the thicker paper.

Blacks

Honestly, I get more emails asking me about the rich blacks in my paintings than I do about any other subject. I don’t use lamp black or India ink; I mix my own blacks. Using Daniel Smith watercolors, I start with Prussian blue and then add alizarin crimson and the deepest violet or magenta I can find. I mix a lot of this black at a time and store it in baby food jars. When I go to use the black in a painting, I may mix in some yellows or earth tones such as burnt sienna, depending on how opaque I want the mixture or how warm or cool I want it.

Discover more watercolor painting basics from Laurin, including a step-by-step demo, and all of the following in Watercolor Essentials:

• The five techniques that provide the foundation for all watercolor painting
• The basic elements of art–perspective, value, shape, color and texture–and how you can put them into practice in your next work
• The organizing principles of design and how they impact your work
• Tips and advice for painting the most popular subjects: landscapes, figures and still lifes

Check out a video preview below for instant inspiration! And get your Watercolor Essentials now and use the coupon code SAVETEN at check out to get $10 off four select products in celebration of the Fourth of July!

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