My name is Edo Hannema and I just love watercolor (Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and my blog!). The medium is very versatile and when you get the hang of it and let the water and pigment do their thing, you will notice your style will improve and you make more appealing and transparent work. We don’t like to give away our control, but when you make it happen, you are somehow in charge anyway.
I seldom use tricks with salt, clingfilm or masking fluid, but sometimes you have to, like the logger with seagulls behind it, you can choose for body color or masking fluid. I used both in this cause the watercolor needed it.
John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Rowland Hilder, big names in watercolor, all used white and black. Hilder started even his skies with a first layer of black, he preserved the whites, and wit a second layer of Burnt Sienna so he preserved light grays! This guy could layer, sometimes up to 8 layers or more! Waiting for drying is the patience thing in watercolor. Make a plan, knowing where you want to go, and try to stick to it. When the watercolor demands you to go another way, just go with it. But stay focused on the end result. I have seen outdoor painters altering the sky every time they saw a new color, and created mud at the end!
We live on the coast of the Netherlands in IJmuiden, nothing picturesque about it although it is a fishing town, they removed all the nice buildings and neighborhoods. I just wished they dug the harbor not so deep, because I never see a boat lying on the mud like in the UK. Would have loved that! A trip to Britain or France is a option! But life is easy, and I like it a lot here!
When I work from a photo I set it always in B&W and print it out. Not to big, too much detail ruins a watercolor! My way of working is more or less always the same, I make a preliminary sketch with a big graphite pencil, (Creta Color) just to know where the tones will be and if it works.
A subject is almost never 100% perfect, so you have to lie a little. I don’t copy scenes, I make watercolors! That can go to adding trees or removing a few, bending rivers and changing colors of houses. All for a better painting. The main subject has to be recognizable as the windmill from that town you are painting. No one will tell you that you painted a tree to many!
Now that I have my plan, I sketch very lightly on my watercolor paper, just the horizon and the land, the trees I just give them a place on the ground, but I don’t sketch branches or foliage. From this point I work only from my preliminary sketch, I invent the colors myself for the scene and only look on the photo if I missed something on the sketch. Taking a big brush, a round 22 or a flat 1/5″, I wet the sky in some parts where I like it to flow, but never the whole sky, you lose every control when you do that. But some painters do, and that is fine!
I work my colors in the whole painting to a point I cannot do a thing anymore than wait for drying. The mood is set and the watercolor is 70% done by now. The paper is covered with pigment, and a few preserved whites are making the watercolor sparkle. This is all done with very light washes.
The second layer is often to ensure the focal point, I paint darker tones around this, and at the trees, reflections and shadows. Still big washes and a big brush. No fiddling to this point. When this is dry, I am ready for details and the last brushstrokes. Most of the time, I use a pointy synthetic no. 8 for this work, or when I have a boat a rigger is the best!
Then I look to see if there is something I can add, a foreground shadow, or some trees in the back, just to make sure it is pleasing the eye and there is balance to the painting! Sometimes, I glaze a weak wash over the whole watercolor just to make it all work together. You hold your breath and go for it!
I have a blog on my website and I usually write about watercolor there, or what I consider as helpful. One of my blogs was “solutions to paint better”. After a lot of years of collecting all sorts of paper colors and brushes, I came to a point that you can better choose one or two sorts of paper, a minimal amount of colors, and a few brushes that become your second nature! So to listen to my own advice, I decided to do what I wrote!
In my opinion, paper the most important of a watercolor. I decided to use St Cuthberts Mill papers, Saunders Waterford, and Millford for at least a year, I already knew Saunders Waterford cause I use it regularly, but Millford was new to me. And I have to say I love it! I have to discover more to have a verdict, but from the first painting I knew it is something special!
Pigments are the second most important (for me). I use different brands, but more or less the same colors. Prussian blue, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine blue, Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, Raw Umber, New Gamboge, Alizarin Crimson, Light Red, and Neutral Tint.
Brushes are nice items to buy, but very expensive sometimes. I have some about 25 years old and still good! I have a few flats from Winsor & Newton with a couple of Petit Gris, and a few synthetic Escoda brushes. I also like to paint with Chinese brushes, the hair holds a lot of water, and the painting is really a challenge. You have maybe less control, but you get back a much looser watercolor. And you have learn to paint with them, just how you learn to mix colors and get used to new paper.
As for palettes, I’ve had a John Pike palette for a long long time. It was my first book, John Pike Watercolors that I bought on watercolor, so I have to have one! I have also a few Holbein palettes the enamel is just so smooth it mixes beautifully! But for real, even a butcher tray would do good, or a fondue plate! Oh, I just love to paint!
Best wishes and regards,