I have a small file cabinet where I keep my watercolors organized.  Looking through it the other day, I discovered an incomplete watercolor landscape of red poppies from 5 years ago that I filed away:

I liked what I started, but it just needed some extra work to make it complete.  To improve it, I softened the hard edge where the poppy field meets the sky:

I added the rest of the poppies.

When I didn’t see anything else to change, I signed it using a dip pen loaded with the same turquoise colored paint I used to paint the poppy stems.
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I like signing my watercolors with watercolor paint now instead of using a sketching pencil because the pencil always seemed a little out of place.

To flatten the watercolor painting, I tried to take a shortcut by steam ironing it. It flattened it, but it was warped at the edges so I ended up having to flatten it the traditional way with the board and gummed paper tape which worked very well!

Since I stink at painting in a straight line, the borders of the watercolor were pretty skewed. I used the poppy field horizon line as an anchor to level the painting and then drew guidelines to trim the painting down so that it can easily be framed in the future:

The finished watercolor which is now listed on Etsy:
Painted using Windsor blue, permanent rose, cadmium yellow and burnt sienna on 140 pound coldpressed paper.

Art Calendar

My friend Pauline dropped off a 2016 calendar over the weekend.  It is a collection of collage art that she put together from different contributors.  I signed up for the month of April.

I used my twice stretched (1st with the iron and the 2nd time taped to a board) yellow warbler watercolor as the base of the collage.  I cut up my flying Twinkie watercolor and used parts of it to create the collage.  I also did a few pieces with colored pencil.

Here is how April turned out.  The colors and detail show nicely:

January has gorgeous watery landscapes:


I really like the October art, because it is spooky and weird:

Pauline’s beautiful collage for November.  All photos of stuff she grew in her garden!


Watercolors can be an unforgiving medium.  In oil painting and acrylic painting, if you make a mistake you can paint over it, but with watercolors it’s different.  This makes it intimidating at times.

I have heard that some artists have found ways to correct mistakes in watercolors.  Some are able to completely wash off the painting from the watercolor paper.  Others say that you can use a firm brush and water to work the pigment off of the paper.

This week I was inspired to fix a watercolor study that I made over 6 years ago.  I took a photo of the original watercolor and you can see the sloppiness:

Using a small round brush loaded with some water, I used it to work the dark edge on top of the bear’s head.  It took a few minutes for the water to properly soak into the pigment and I was able to lift off the color.

Fixing the white space gaps between the bear and the sky was not simply a matter of filling it in with blue paint.  Doing that would create an obvious patch.  To fix it, I went over it with water to loosen the dry pigment and then dropped in some paint for a smooth and soft effect.

I also felt that the edges of the watercolor needed to be cleaned up:

Again, I used a wet paintbrush to reactivate the pigment and dropped in new paint to fill in where was missing.  Then I rinsed and squeezed the moisture from the paintbrush and used it to blend the wet edge into the dry section of the painting.  This prevents hard edges and other strange and distracting watercolor effects.

Finally, since the watercolor was pretty wrinkled I smoothed it out by moistening the back of the watercolor (a process that took about 8 min. to get the water properly soaked in) and then used my steam iron on it.

Here is the final scanned version:

I’m glad that I was able to salvage this watercolor and it gives me more confidence to know that watercolors can be fixed.

Earlier I flattened out watercolor paintings using an iron, which gave mixed results.  It did not flatten the artwork as much as I wanted it to for certain types of paper.

So I decided to try stretching the watercolor FACE DOWN on the board.  There was just one big question:
Was the painting going to be transferred to the board I was stretching it on?

Different pigments have different levels of permanence.  Sometimes when a dried pigment is re-wet, they can be lifted off of the paper with a paintbrush or blotting paper.

I chose artwork with a big border around it, since I would lose about 1/4-1/2″ of the edges when it bonded to the gummed paper tape.  I also chose artwork that I wasn’t attached to, in case it failed.  Here you can see this watercolor was a perfect candidate with all of the buckles and large border:

Note: For artwork that barely has enough border around it, it is helpful to mark the back of the paper with guidelines/arrows that show where to place the edge of the tape during a later step:
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Instead of soaking the entire watercolor paper in a sink filled with water, I placed the artwork facedown on the board and used a 2 inch flat brush to gently paint layers of water over the back of the watercolor.  I was trying to get the paper completely soaked without affecting the painted part of it.  For the very lightweight paper I was using, it only took a few minutes (for 90 pound paper, it takes at least 7 min.) for the watercolor to expand fully and become flat.  (Note: For thicker 140 lb paper, you can paint a layer of water over the back every 2-3 minutes until the paper gets mostly flat.  It can take around 15-20 minutes total for for it to get sufficiently flat).  To remove excess water and flatten any remaining ripples, I placed a clean cloth rag over the paper and used my hands to smooth it out starting from the center to the edges of the paper.

Next, I used the 2 inch flat brush to moisten strips of gummed paper tape to secure the watercolor to the board and hammered in thumbtacks.  (I found flat brushes are better than sponges for moistening gummed paper tape because you can apply the water much more evenly without taking too much of the adhesive away).

The next morning I cut the watercolor off the board and was happy to see it worked beautifully!  Here you can see a comparison of before and after:

The other day I stretched some watercolor paper that already had a sketch on it.

I learned that this makes it harder to erase the pencil marks.  I think the water softens the sizing on the paper and it solidifies over the pencil making it hard to reach by the eraser.

On the stretched paper I painted a second (more vibrant) version of the yellow warbler (using Windsor blue, cadmium yellow and burnt sienna).  Lately I have been trying to paint watercolors without fear and without holding my breath :).

Two paintbrushes are better than one


For each feather I painted a narrow strip of dark paint along the edge and then used my .75 inch flat brush partly loaded with lighter paint to drag paint to the other edge.  To prevent everything from blending together, I painted every other feather:

For the darker parts of the tail, I used two paintbrushes again: I painted a thin line of dark paint on the right and and then used a 2nd paintbrush loaded with lighter paint to draw the rest of the line and have it fade into the rest of the bird.  Using a 2nd paintbrush with lighter paint helps create nicer gradients that fade gently into the rest of the picture.

Comparison of second warbler watercolor (top) and the first version (bottom):

Keith says it looks like a flying twinkie.

(I also should mention that the watercolor is based on a photo that I found on a Google search, but I was unable to find the photographer’s name to give them credit.  Since I am not using this for commercial purposes I figured it would be ok.  So, I am sending a “thank you” into the Internet ether to the unknown photographer.)

A challenge of watercolor painting is the buckling and warping of the watercolor paper.  I try to paint on pre-stretched watercolor paper, but I don’t always have it available especially when I paint spontaneously.  This was the case a couple of weeks ago when I painted this yellow warbler:


I scanned the watercolor and as you can see, the ripples in the paper are distracting.  Sometimes you can use image editing software like Photoshop or GIMP to remove the shadows created by the warped paper, but that is not always  the case.

There are a couple of ways to smooth out watercolor paintings.

The 1st method involves using a spray bottle, clamps and weights to flatten the artwork.  This method is probably the safest, but I didn’t have the right tools:

The 2nd method is way more risky since it involves a steam iron:

I tested the iron method on 2 types of paper: paper made from cotton (140 lb. coldpressed) and paper made from trees (90 lb. Canson paper).  Not surprisingly, the iron method worked the best on the cotton rag paper.  The tree-based paper was a lot more stubborn and took intensive ironing to get it somewhat flat.  Even then, the tree-based paper still retained some ripples.

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Since I painted yellow warbler on a tree-based paper, I wasn’t able to get all the wrinkles out but it improved a lot:

Accidentally on purpose

Last year when I was creating my polar bear Christmas card artwork, I originally wanted to use watercolors.  But, I messed up the background colors and the Northern lights.

So I went back to the medium that I was most comfortable with: colored pencils.  I was happy with how turned out and used it as the artwork for my 2014 Christmas cards.

Then something funny happened.  Over the months I would walk by the failed watercolor painting and occasionally glance at it.  The parts that I previously viewed as “mistakes” started to become interesting effects.

I began to like the watercolor!

This week I cut the watercolor free from the board and finished the artwork using colored pencils to bring the polar bear to life.  I used Spectrum Blue for the shading on the polar bear.  Then I thought it would be fun to add Crimson Lake (a rose pink color) and Grass Green to match the Northern lights to create harmony between the watercolor and colored pencils.  I like the effect of combining watercolor with colored pencil.


If you look closely at the bear and the iceberg you can see bits of red and green.

Here are the two illustrations side by side for comparison:


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