Removing cockles and wrinkles from watercolor paper

If you do not stretch your watercolor paper you will usually find that your paper has cockled (the creasing or wrinkling of a surface) or warped during painting to a varying degree. Then when you try to frame it your painting will not sit flat on its mat. To help with this problem I have produced a short video on removing cockles and wrinkles from watercolor paper.

I have a technique I use to fix this which will re-flatten watercolor paintings. I must say at the outset however that you do this at your own risk because if you let any water flow onto the painted surface of your watercolor painting you will ruin it!

To carry out this technique you will need the following material:

  • Flat table or bench top
  • A sheet of mat board cut into two so each half will fully cover the watercolor paintings you would like to flatten.
  • A sheet of waterproof plywood about 6mm or 1/4″ thick
  • About 7 strong clamps and or lots of heavy books
  • A trigger water spray bottle

Removing cockles and wrinkles from watercolor paper

Here is how to do it:

  • Lay one of your sheets of mat board on your table or bench top.
  • Place the paintings you want to flatten painted side down beside one another with a gap of about 2.5cm or 1″ between each.
  • With your spray bottle give the back of each painting a good spray of water, much sure no water runs under the paper where it can damage the actual painted surface.
  • I then run my hand over the back of each painting to make sure the paper is evenly wet. If need be I can add an additional spray of water.
  • I then place the second piece of mat board over the paintings and on top of that I place my plywood.
  • I then clamp all the way around my board and in the middle of the board I also place a stack of heavy books.
  • I leave all this to dry overnight.

The next day your paintings should be very flat and ready for framing.

Below you can see a short video I have produced on how to remove cockles and wrinkles from watercolor paper which you can have a look at. It should make all the above steps a little bit clearer. Hopefully this will help improve the overall presentation of your work and give your watercolors a more professional look.

Mold on watercolors in your palette

How does mold develop in your watercolor palette

One of my students brought in the photo below of mold or fungus growing over some of the watercolor paints in his palette.

Mold or fungus on growing on watercolor paint in palette
Figure 1: Mold or fungus on growing on watercolor paint in palette

I have heard of this for many years though I have never experienced it myself or met someone personally who has experienced it so I thought I would take this opportunity to record it.

Mold is basically another name for a type of fungus. These mold spores are everywhere; however they need the right environment within which to grow. Firstly they need food (in this case this type seems to like watercolor paint)!  Secondly they require water, specifically high humidity of around 70%, they also like high temperatures around the mid 70’s Fahrenheit – they also like darkness and stagnant air. So you can see that these could very well be the conditions in an enclosed wet watercolor palette!

I think the reason I have not had mold develop on my watercolor palette is because I generally let my palette dry out and prefer to paint with watercolors that are drier rather than straight from the tube. I mainly use Winsor and Newton artist’s quality tube paints and find that they re-liquefy very easily even after they dry out – at least for the palette of watercolors that I use.

How to protect against mold in your palette

If you find mold developing in your palette I suggest you let the surface moisture dry before you put the lid back on it. Then just before you start your next painting you can lightly spray water over each of your paint wells to make them easily workable. With the Windsor and Newton paints I use I find I don’t even need to give them a spray.

If you have mold that has developed then just wash it off with water before you start painting. Keep it off your fingers as some varieties are toxic to humans!

Hopefully you will never have mold on the watercolors in your palette but if you do maybe the above can throw a little light on the subject.

Art Masking Fluid

Using art masking fluid with watercolor

What is art masking fluid and how is it used? Masking fluid is liquid latex, which is a natural rubber, though there are synthetic versions of it as well. As a watercolor artist it allows you to protect parts of your painting. It allows you to quickly paint over areas of your paper without having to try and paint around complex shapes. Masking fluid is used by Acrylic artists as well watercolor artists.

For this demonstration I am using Winsor and Newton’s Art Masking Fluid which I have been using for about 14 years without any problems.

What you need to apply art masking fluid

Here is a list of the tools you will need when applying masking fluid to your watercolor paper.

Equipment for applying art masking fluid
Figure 1: Masking fluid, water container and range of old watercolor brushes
  • Bottle of masking fluid, also known by various brand names.
  • A water container filled with about3/4” of water – for use with cleaning the latex from your brush
  • Old watercolor brushes, do not use your good brushes as any latex left in the brush will destroy their good point very quickly. I have a number of such brushes with varying shapes, one has quite a fine point (obtained over time as hairs have worn away) for masking narrow lines and shapes.
Concentrated dish washing liquid for use with art masking fluid
Figure 2: Concentrated dish washing liquid for use with art masking fluid
  • Dishwashing liquid.
Crepe eraser for remove dry art masking fluid
Figure 3: Crepe eraser for remove dry art masking fluid
  • Crepe eraser for removing the dry masking.

Steps for apply masking fluid

The first step after you have completed the drawing for your painting is to give your bottle of masking fluid a good shake. I do this about 15 minutes before I need to use it to allow all the bubbles thus generated to settle back down. Otherwise you get masking fluid up the side of your brush when you dip it into a half full bottle.

While waiting for the bubbles to settle down add some dishwashing liquid to the container you will use for cleaning the masking from your brush. Stir it all up so the liquid soap is dispersed evenly throughout the water.

Add some dishwashing liquid to water used to remove wet art masking fluid
Figure 4: Add some dish washing liquid to the water container
Add a few drops of dishwashing liquid in water and stir used to clean art masking fluid
Figure 5: Stir up the dish washing liquid

Start by dipping your brush into the soapy water. Drag the brush over the rim of the water container to remove some excess water and then dip it into the latex masking.

After dipping brush in soapy water pick up some art masking fluid
Figure 6: After dipping your brush into the soapy water dip it into the masking fluid

Now you can paint the masking fluid onto your dry paper over the areas you need to protect.

Paint art masking fluid directly onto dry paper
Figure 7: Paint the masking fluid onto your dry paper over the areas you want to protect

Between every one or two times that you pick up fresh masking liquid rinse the brush out in the soapy water. If you fail to do this the masking will start to dry on your brush and you will end up throwing it out!

Dip brush in soapy water before dipping into art masking fluid
Figure 8: Frequently clean you brush in the soapy water

Continue this procedure till you have finished applying the masking fluid to your watercolor painting.

Finish placing all your art masking fluid and let dry thoroughly
Figure 9: Continue applying masking fluid to the watercolor painting till finished

Let the masking fluid dry completely. Once dry you can lay your watercolor wash over the unprotected areas of your painting. In my case I have used the masking to protect the flowers and branches of my painting so I can easily lay in the background watercolor wash. The masking will protect the paper underneath from staining. However sometimes you may find you have missed a spot leaving you with a small patch of watercolor where it isn’t wanted. This will need to be removed with some light scrubbing after the masking is taken away.

Once art masking fluid is dry lay down your watercolor wash
Figure 10: After the masking is totally dry you can lay your watercolor wash

After your watercolor wash has totally dry (this is very important) then you can proceed to the next step of removing the masking. The easiest way to do this is to use a crepe eraser. You do not have to press very hard as the latex of the masking fluid seems to be attracted to the rubber of the eraser and comes off quite easily.

After the watercolor wash is totally dry you can remove the dry art masking fluid with a crepe eraser
Figure 11: After the watercolor wash is totally dry you can remove the dry art masking fluid with a crepe eraser

You now have the background done and can concentrate on the details in the areas which were protected.

After removing art masking fluid from watercolor painting
Figure 12: The painting with the dry art masking fluid removed

If you had left a gap in your masking now is the time to remove as much of the unwanted watercolor paint as possible with a barely damp stiff brush. You can also use this same brush to fix any edges that you feel are not correct or too sharp before proceeding to the next step.

Key points for using masking fluid with watercolor paper

Make sure you only apply masking fluid to watercolor paper which is totally dry. Do not apply it to wet or damp paper or the masking fluid will be absorbed into the paper and will damage it when you remove it. Also, it should not be used on soft sized paper – I use Arches watercolor paper which has plenty of sizing. Otherwise it could be absorbed into the paper fibres. If this happens it cannot be removed without damaging your paper.

Do not use it on soft sized watercolor paper. This means watercolor paper with very little sizing on it. I mainly use Arches paper and have never had any trouble with it. The problem with soft sized paper is that the masking may be absorbed by the paper and not be able to be removed properly without damage.

Clean you brush in the soapy water very frequently.

Don’t use your best watercolor brushes for applying masking fluid or they will be damaged.

Wait until the masking is fully dry before painting over it.

Wait until you watercolor wash is totally dry before removing the dry masking with a crepe eraser.

You can apply masking fluid over a dry area of watercolor wash before laying another wash. However a little of the watercolor being protected is likely to be lifted and may need to be reestablished anyway with more watercolor.

I only use masking when I really have to as it slows down the whole painting process rather than letting me get right into the painting – but there are times when it just must be used.

Hopefully this information will allow you to use art masking fluid successfully with your future watercolor and acrylic paintings.

Watercolor Brushes and Paint for Beginners

Watercolor Brushes

Brushes used when painting with watercolor come in many forms and quality levels.

Some of the most common types are:

  • Round Brushes
  • Flat Brushes
  • Mop Brushes
  • Fan Brushes
  • Rigger Brushes

I use round brushes for 95% of my work, but also use all the others as I need them.

For beginners Round Brushes are the best way to go so will concentrate on these for this article.

When selecting a round brush the key thing to look for is a brush which comes to a good point when it is wet and you tap the ferule (the metal part that holds the brush hairs on the wood handle) on the side of something hard like your water container. The brush must also hold a lot of water. You can see an image of good round watercolor brushes below.

Round Watercolor Brushes hold lots of paint and bounce back to a point
Good quality round watercolor brushes have a good point and hold lots of water

In the past the standard recommendation was to buy the most expensive brush you could afford (usually this meant one made from sable – if you could afford it). These days there are brushes which are much less expensive and still do an excellent job.  The ones I use are a mixture of squirrel hair and manmade fibers.

Why do you want such a brush?  Well if it has a good point it means you can use it to paint both broad and fine areas without having to change brushes.  And why is this important you say? Well each time you have to change brushes you lose valuable time during which your painting will be drying (remember the water in watercolor) and if it dries too much you may not be able to produce the particular effect you are after.  Understanding what the water is doing on your paper, in your brushes, and in your palette is critical to painting good watercolor paintings.

Key points for watercolor round brush selection for beginners: Comes to a good point and holds lots of water.

Artist’s Quality Watercolor Paint

Artists quality paints often appear excessively expensive when you first start out however as in most things in life you get what you pay for.

Why Artist’s quality paint should be used instead of student grade watercolor paint?

Artist’s quality paints generally use purer pigments. Usually the student grade paints use pigments that are the “hue of” some color or pigment rather than the real thing. This means the colors are different. This is mainly a problem if you are taking a class and you have different paints than what your teacher is using and you ask him what paints he used to create a particular color.

Artists’ watercolors have much less filler (used to alter the way the paint behaves out of the tube) than student paints. This means you get more pigment per volume of paint tube. The colors will look cleaner and more transparent as often, in my experience, the fillers make the paint look more opaque.

Student watercolor paints also have more gum Arabic, the glue which allows the paint to stick to your paper, again reducing the amount of pigment which you are actually purchasing for your money.

So now that you have the correct materials and you have decided you want to paint a particular subject matter how you should tackle your painting.

For now we will assume that you have a good design, I will be talking about the importance of good design in another article.

After doing a light drawing on your paper, begin by mixing your starting colors in your pallet before you touch the paint. I often have three of more colors already mixed before I ever touch the paper with my brush. Test you colors on a scrap piece of watercolor paper to make sure each mix is correct color you are after and is of the right consistency.

Usually you will start with the large shapes in your painting e.g. the sky and the ground, so use your largest brushes for these. As these shapes are often the lightest tones, you will have more water in your mixes than later on.  Then as your painting progresses, you will work with smaller brushes and thicker paint (less water) as you work on smaller and smaller shapes. You can read more about this in my article on watercolor painting steps and my watercolor progression chart.

Remember, it is very important to observe what the water is doing. So keep an eye on it, on your paper, brush and palette.  The more in tune you are to it the better and more confident your work will become.

Watercolor Painting for Beginners

When discussing watercolor painting for beginners, you generally start with what materials you will need and why.

Painting with Watercolor can be a little daunting for beginners starting out with this wonderful medium but there are steps you can take to make learning it as easy as possible.  These steps will also ensure you develop good habits which will make your watercolor painting much more fruitful in the years to come.

Watercolor (watercolour) is a great medium as it is very portable, does not give off fumes (its relatively clean) and can be fast to paint with. Also your paint generally will not go off, even after it has been allowed to dry, you can rewet it and continue painting.  Once you have developed a level of proficiency it will help you paint your paintings in a way no other medium can.

Your first step is to start with the correct materials.  While a good tradesman can do a reasonable job with poor tools, it is also true that a beginner will have a very difficult time with those same tools. The same applies when you start out with watercolor.

Watercolor Materials

The correct watercolor materials in order of importance are: watercolor paper, brushes and artist’s quality paints. In addition to these you will need a white palette which has large mixing areas and big wells to hold lots of watercolor paint, a backing board (sealed light plywood would be fine for starters), a simple easel (or you just use a book or something to hold you board at an angle), old towel to adjust the moisture content of your brush, tissues, HB pencil (I use a .7 mm clutch pencil as its point is predicable and I can store a lot of leads within the body of the pencil) and a knead able eraser.

I will devote my time talking about the first three materials as they are the most important of the above list, though there is one material I have not listed which is actually the most important – water! But I will discuss that on its own in a later article.

Watercolor Paper

There are many good watercolor paper brands on the market, Arches and Saunders Waterford are the main ones I use but there are many others. They each have different textures and properties which you should try out to find which best suit your particular interest in painting.  You want paper with good sizing (this is like glue that is used to stop the paper from acting like blotting paper which would be very bad for most watercolor techniques).  The sizing also makes the paper tougher, so it minimizes the damage to the paper as you work and lift color from it.

Watercolor paper come is various weights (think thicknesses) and usually when you start out you want to use paper of around 300gsm (140lb) weight.  If you select paper that is too thin it will very easily cockle (buckle) as it absorbs moisture. This will happen anyway but the thinner the paper the more this will happen faster making it difficult for you to paint.

Textures on watercolor paper vary from supplier to supplier, however there are some terms you should know which can help you in your selection within a particular suppliers range.

The three surface textures used when talking about watercolor paper are: Hot Press or Smooth, Cold Press or Medium (also known as NOT – Not Hot Press, though is not so common) and Rough.

The smoother the paper the faster the paint will dry. The reason for this is that the texture of Rough Paper has lots of little troughs which hold water, hence keeping the paper wet longer. Cold Press has smaller troughs so dries faster and smooth dries the fastest.

As your skill level develops you will be able to use smoother paper but when just starting out the Rough Paper is your best choice, especially for doing landscapes. Obviously if you are doing very detailed work like botanical art then you will need to start with Smooth watercolor paper right from the start.

Key points for Watercolor Paper selection: 1. Not too absorbent (good sizing). 2. 3oo gsm weight. 3. Rough texture.

Continue to: Watercolor Materials for Beginners