Avoiding the Pits (watercolor on paper, 10½x16) by Nancy Collins
I often used to wonder, “What good is hot-pressed watercolor paper anyway?” It’s soft, uncontrollable, unforgiving, hard to manipulate and frequently an all-around pain. But recent developments have led me to reconsider my position on the topic. While painting a floral illustration on 300-lb. hot-pressed paper, I became so frustrated with the slippery surface’s tendency to wick outside of the area I was trying to paint, that I decided to conduct an experiment: I burnished the painting between each application of paint in the hope of bringing some control back into the painting process.
The results made me a true believer in experimentation. I came upon a new process that brought a spark of creativity and energy to my work—and I learned how to make the reflective subjects I love to paint really shine.
To burnish the painting, I took a stainless steel spoon and applied it in a circular motion to the dry surface of the painted paper, smoothing and bonding the paint. Burnishing is a simple way of giving the artist more control over the painting surface. It also creates an interesting effect: The pigment literally shines. The end result is a lacquered look, with a rich luster and engaging glow. In order to avoid smearing the sediment in the paint, I use only staining, transparent colors and I dry each application of paint with a hair dryer so that I can begin burnishing each layer immediately.
Bring new energy to your work by experimenting with a process or a surface. Select subjects that mirror the qualities you’d like to explore with your choices. For example, if you’d like to experiment with a burnishing process as I did, select subjects that will be enhanced by a shining surface. Learning through trial and error can be challenging and it can also reap unexpected rewards. It’s all about finding what works for you—and running with it.
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