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Watercolor paints and watercolor painting

Watercolors in art and painting

Airy and noble - watercolor painting shows the craftsmanship of an expert, but also the spontaneous joy of an amateur.


History of watercolor painting

Precursors of watercolor painting can already be found in antiquity; later in ancient Egyptian papyri, where the color was made opaque by means of an added white pigment, in the rubbing ink of Asian calligraphies, or in medieval book illumination. These colors already resemble modern watercolor in their components, but in the narrower sense the technique has existed only since the 9th century and served for a long time as a medium for sketches, studies and designs, before it was appreciated as an independent art genre from the Renaissance on. In the 18th century, the technique really came into vogue. Today, one usually thinks first of the colorful works of the Bauhaus and Classical Modernism.

Components and production

Watercolor paint consists of very finely ground pigment, wetting agent and the binder gum arabic, the dried sap from the bark of various species of acacia native to Africa. Gum arabic was already discovered as a material in ancient times and spread by trade to far-flung regions. The wetting agent (glycerin or ox gall) reduces the surface tension of the water and thus facilitates paint application. The solvent is water, which is added just before painting. The paints are available dried in pots or thick in tubes and are very economical to use.

Application and techniques

Watercolor paints are applied very diluted and are always transparent; the color structure in a picture is therefore always from lighter to darker parts.

There are various techniques for processing, of which glazing and wash are the most common: Glazing means the superimposition of two or more transparent layers of color, resulting in an optical mixture of tones. In this process, one layer of paint must always be completely dry before the next can be applied.

Lavieren (from lavare: "to wash") refers on the one hand to the blurring of adjacent areas when painting wet-on-wet, or on the other hand to color placed in a wet area that runs uncontrollably and forms shades of light and dark.

Watercolor pencils are a more recent speciality; these add a few more tricks to the techniques. They allow, for example, the dry application of a drawing and its subsequent painting with water, the application of graphic accents to the finished watercolor, or the rasping technique, in which shavings of the lead of a pencil produced with emery paper are scattered on a wet surface.

Other techniques include covering parts of the paper to leave bright areas standing; salting (the grains of salt attract water and appear as bright dots); combining with other watery techniques, such as gouache or acrylic; blotting and splashing paint.

In the vast majority of cases, watercolor is applied to specially made watercolor paper: very strong, lightly textured, moderately absorbent paper whose surface relief adds vibrancy to the work, such as when paint collects in the valleys to appear darker than on the heights, or in granulation, when an almost dry brush is passed over the sheet with only light pressure so that only the heights are colored. A varnish is not applied in the vast majority of cases; if pastels are also used, the application of a spray fixative may be necessary.

What is the difference between watercolors and watercolors?

The term "watercolor" serves as a collective term for various aqueous techniques, including gouache, distemper, poster paint (a casein paint), and the like, whereas "watercolor" in the narrower sense means the above composition of pigment, gum arabic, and wetting agent.

Special features: Advantages and disadvantages

High-quality paint is extremely lightfast; this should be taken into account when buying it. Because it is stored in a dry place and only mixed with water when painting, watercolor is not only very economical to work with - the contents of one saucer can be used to wet an astonishingly large area, and is often sufficient for several months or years - but is also well suited for travel and plein air painting, as it is very easy to transport.

With water as the solvent, no strong-smelling or potentially hazardous ingredients are used in the process, making the paint suitable for beginners. Although some watercolor techniques require a certain amount of skill, beautiful effects can be achieved even with little experience.

One disadvantage is that it is difficult to correct - once dabs of color have been made, they are almost impossible to remove; damp wiping very quickly roughens the surface of the paper and creates unsightly blemishes. In addition, like other works on paper, a finished watercolor is very sensitive to splashes and stains, and also to moisture due to the water-solubility of gum arabic, and must therefore be presented behind glass. Protection from damage against sunlight also offers special glass with UV filter.


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