Uniquely Watercolor - Perspectives from The Artist's Road

Uniquely Watercolor

Perspectives from The Artist's Road

Three Color Effect in Watercolor © JM Hulsey

   Those watercolor painters who understand the differences between staining pigments and sedimentaries are happy painters indeed. No other paint medium we know of relies on and benefits so much from these two distinct qualities—not oils, temperas, pastels, gouaches, or encaustics. Each type of watercolor, whether stainer or sediment, behaves differently in the palette and on the paper. Sedimentaries 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, followed by the more transparent stainers. Sedimentaries will also quickly “settle out” of any mix with water, and if not kept stirred as we paint, will 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, and can also be made to separate some on our paper as well. This is where the real fun begins.

   Some common 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: Cadmiums, Ochres, Umbers, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Horizon Blue, Permanent Red, Naples Yellow, Davy's Gray and Sepia.

Watercolor Paper Cross Section © JM Hulsey

   If we recognize that cold press and rough papers have considerable texture to them, then we can take advantage of that knowledge to create subtle visual effects with our 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 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 sedimentaries and stainers which made the mix! No other paint medium does this. Is this not amazing? Try it yourself and see if you can create this remarkable effect.

Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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Photograph of John Hulsey and Ann Trusty in Glacier National Park
We are artists, authors and teachers with over 40 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals.  You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below.
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