Painting Clouds- Paint separation- some help needed

Watercolor Painting & Sketching Group, Community, and Blog Forums Seeking Advice Painting Clouds- Paint separation- some help needed

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  • Hello folks,

    I am looking for specific advice on painting clouds.

    I have watching youtube videos, reading blogs and practicing. However I keep coming across 2 specific problems.

    1. When painting cloud shadows(the underside), I used orange mixed with Ult blue or Pht blue. This results in a separation in the paint. As you can see in Figure 1, my clouds have turned orange when dried. you can also see the separation happening even in the palette(Figure 2).  I mixed the  shadow colour thoroughly but this happens anyway and the blue and orange pigments “pull away” from each other when drying.

    In a separate study,  I just gave up and used yellow ochre and violet for shadows instead.

    Perhaps the quality of paints is a factor. Admittedly I am still learning and use “cheaper” paints (Reeves tube set) and the paper used here is Strathmore Watercolour paper cold press 300 Series (supposed fine grain but as you can see the granulation of blue is settling into the teeth of paper in Figure 1 – I read that 300 series is pretty decent quality already??).

    Any advice to solve this problem or sharing of similar experience is much appreciated!

    > I also very much struggle to get the right values. The whole cloud scene looks too muted and lacking in impact. Any advice here ?


    Many thanks for your help.




    Figure 1

    Orange Clouds

    Figure 2


    Figure 3

    Eunice, first off – I think your clouds are beautiful.  Strathmore 300 series is definitely student-grade as are the Reeves paints.  I’m not a person who thinks you have to have the best of everything, but the cheaper the product the more limited you are.  Either you work within the limitations (which you are doing extremely well), or you move to brands that will allow you to do more.

    Even among Student-grade there is a variation of quality.  I don’t think you will get deeper values with the Reeves – the pigment load just isn’t there.  Some student-quality brands that have good pigment load – Schmincke, Luka,s Van Gogh or Yarka. Though I haven’t done a comparison, I don’t think Winsor & Newton’s Cotman brand is as good as those listed above, but it would be a step up from the Reeves.

    The photo may (or may not) be exaggerating the texture of the paper, but it probably is contributing to the problem. But  I also suspect the  binder in the Reeves colors just doesn’t bind all that well and all your colors separate.  I don’t think there is a fix for that other than switching brands.

    If you can afford it, Strathmore’s 400 series is better, the 500 is professional quality.  You might also look at Bockingford, Waterford Saunders, Arches or Fabriano.

    Since you do have the Reeves and 300, you probably want to use up what you have.  Your option is to create charts or experiment to learn just what these colors can do on this paper, and then working within those constraints.

    As I started this answer – your clouds are beautiful.  You obviously have talent, and you are making your watercolors sing as best they can.


    Hi Sandra, thanks for your reply.

    Indeed I did a colour chart a few months ago and noticed that this separation problem specifically happens with Orange (with Blue or with Green). Must be some tendency with the paint. At that time, I thought it was due to the fact that I didn’t mix it properly.

    I am very intrigued by your preference of Van Gogh over Cotman(please tell me more!). For student quality paints, I see a lot of praise online for Cotman but not that much for Van Gogh. I wonder if this is due to the fact that W&N is just much more readily available than Van Gogh.

    I have only used 15% (max) of each tube on my 18 tube Reeves set so just like you mentioned, I hope to practice more with this paint first and pick up specific VGs (or W&N prof or Rembrandt. VGs are 3.50Eur for a 10ml tube (quite reasonable) versus 6.50eur for a 21ml tube – it will be a long while before i get through 21ml!) when I run out. I don’t like sets as I know there are some colours like Black that I probably will never use.

    In terms of paper – I just treated myself to an order of Hahnemuehle Britannia and Canson Montval. So quite excited to give these a go. I had only ever tried Canson XL prior to the Strathmore 300 and the Canson XL wrapped like a piece of overcooked lasagna even with slightly wet wash and therefore is only good for (slightly) wet on dry techniques. Strathmore 300 had seem like such a step up after that.

    Many thanks again for your reply 🙂






    I haven’t actually used either the Cotman or the Van Gogh very much – I just played around with some that a friend had. I felt the Van Gogh had a better pigment load than the Cotman.  Van Gogh is fairly rare in the U.S., but everyone I personally know (who has knowledge of professional vs student) who has tried it thought it was nearly professional grade.  Cotman is common in the U.S., but everyone I know (same as above) felt it was a good student brand but definitely student grade.

    One thing I’ve become increasingly aware of though, while talking with people here on Doodlewash, is that humidity, temperature and probably altitude can make a big difference.  Paints have different formulations and a paint that is runy for one person is not for someone else.  If you know someone who lives close that can give you recommendations you should pay attention because they’ll be working from knowledge of how the paint performs in your area.

    Thanks Sandra.

    Your clouds are lovely.

    A cheating trick I use on clouds is to use Primatek Lapis mixed with a bit of brighter blue or greys, and it also separates nicely into a slightly cloudy patterns even if I don’t move it a bunch.

    Awesome painting, Kate.  I haven’t tried Lapis – I’ll have to get a tube.

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