Texturize Your Watercolors


Secrets 1 (watercolor, 28 x 36)

After an exhilarating hike in the woods five years ago, I began looking for ways to capture the textures I saw in the forest tapestry: the enveloping branches of a huge, old tree, the veins in a leaf, the feathers of a bird’s wing. After a bit of experimenting, I found my answer in a process that allows me to transfer all kinds of textures using paint and the heat from an everyday iron. With this process, I can transfer paint from a variety of textured surfaces including rocks, tree bark, foliage, paper cut-outs and doilies onto watercolor paper, creating unpredictable and exciting effects not possible by painting directly with a brush on paper. (For an example of these effects, see my painting Secrets I above.)

The process works like this: The heat from a standard household iron opens the fibers of watercolor paper and allows the paint from my stamps and painted images to permeate the surface of the paper. For this technique, you can use acrylics, watercolors, gouache or DEKA-IronOn transfer paint, a water-soluble medium designed for transferring images onto fabric. Watercolors and gouache may be transferred either wet or dry onto wet or dry paper. Transferring wet paint onto wet watercolor paper will produce a softer, more diffuse effect than on dry paper. Acrylic paint dries insoluble; therefore, it must be ironed immediately onto the watercolor paper. DEKA-IronOn transfer paint can be applied thick or thin on a variety of surfaces. When using this medium, both the paper and the painted surface must be dry before you apply a hot iron.

This heat transfer process can be a fun starting point or an exciting end to a painting. Here are four ways I use this technique to transfer images or add texture to my paintings.

Create textural designs to transfer by applying watercolors or acrylics to crumpled paper or aluminum foil, then ironing the freshly painted surface onto wet watercolor paper. Here, I transferred wet watercolors from aluminum foil to wet watercolor paper.

Transfer negative shapes by using things like leaves, grasses, paper cut-outs or doilies as resists. Here I placed a leaf between wet watercolor paper and a sheet of typing paper with freshly painted watercolors before applying a hot iron.

Transfer positive shapes by applying paint directly to leaves, cut-outs, doilies, aluminum foil, feathers, fabric, string, stencils and tissues. In this example, I applied DEKA-IronOn transfer paint to a yellow paper doily (1) and then transferred the textured color onto my paper (2).

Transfer found textures by placing a piece of scrap paper over the surface of a rock, tree bark, foliage or other unusual surface. Then paint on the paper using a dry, stiff-bristle brush to pick up the texture (1). Since I wanted to mimic the look of the dry tree bark in this case, I waited until the paint was dry before ironing the image onto my watercolor paper (2).

No matter which method you choose, follow these same basic steps for transferring the images or textures:
1. Preheat your iron to a dry, hot setting (not steam).
2. Create a board to work on by covering a hard surface like wood or Gatorfoam board with foil, newspaper, cloth or tissue paper.
3. Place the image you want to transfer, painted side down, onto your watercolor paper. For the transfer process itself, the watercolor paper can be on top or bottom.
4. Lay another piece of foil, newspaper, cloth or tissue paper on top of these materials to prevent the paint from burning onto the iron and redepositing on your painting.
5. Hold the materials securely together and apply a hot iron, moving it evenly back and forth. Peek at the paper periodically to check the results.

When he’s not scouting out interiors to paint, Douglas Morgan teaches at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. His work has won numerous awards and been included in juried exhibits across the country. He’s represented by Kertez Gallery in San Francisco, California; Garden Gallery in Half Moon Bay, California; Southwest Gallery in Dallas, Texas; and Northern Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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