Two Distinct Qualities of Watercolor
Those watercolor painters who understand and exploit the differences between staining pigments and sedimentaries are happy painters indeed. No other paint medium I know of relies on and benefits so much from these two distinct qualities—not oils, temperas, pastels, or gouaches. Whether stainer or sediment, the two types behave differently in the palette and on the paper.
Sedimentary colors are essentially coarser, chalkier, heavier and more opaque than stainers, which can be thought of as ink-like in their behavior, and will stain the paper to some degree. Because of that, we often lay down sedimentary washes first, and glaze with the more transparent stainers.
Some common watercolor stainers are: Prussian Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Indigo, Hooker’s Green, Sap Green, Viridian Green, Dioxazine Violet, Quinacridone Rose, Alizarin Crimson, and Indian Yellow, to name but a few. Some common sedimentaries are: all Cadmiums, Ochres, Umbers, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Horizon Blue, Permanent Red, Naples Yellow, Davy’s Gray, Sepia, and so on.
Sedimentaries will also quickly “settle out” of any mix with water, and if not kept stirred as we paint, can be inconsistent from one moment to the next. Stainers are very consistent in mixes with other stainers, but will tend to separate from sediments in any mixture on the palette as the heavier paint settles to the bottom of the color mix. The important thing to know is that a sediment/stainer mix can be made to separate some on our paper as well. This is where the real fun begins.
If we recognize that cold press and rough papers have considerable texture to them, we can take advantage of that knowledge to create subtle visual effects with our watercolor paint mixes. When we look at a cross-section of our paper under magnification we see hills and valleys. Staining paint will flow over the paper and bite into it fairly uniformly. Sediments, however, are heavy and coarse, like gravel, and will tend to roll off the hills and settle as deposits in the valleys. What this means is that in any sediment/staining mix, the texture of the paper can cause the mixed color to separate just enough on the paper so that we can get a 3-color effect. We can see the mixed color, as well as each of the sediment and stainers which made the mix! Is this not amazing? Try it yourself and see if you can create this interesting effect. To learn more about creating vibrant, exciting colors with watercolor, look for our article, Watercolor Mixing Secrets.
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–John and Ann