Watercolours: Butterfly on Milkweed (demonstration)

Every now and then I ask my friends on Twitter or Facebook to give me photos of birds or flowers or other stuff I can use as a reference for a painting or drawing, and I usually end up with some nice pictures to add to my collection. The painting in this demonstration is based on a few photos submitted by Blaze O’Rama, of different types of Milkweed and some Monarch butterflies.

Da Vinci Watercolours
-Viridian Green

Dick Blick Watercolours
-Lemon Yellow

M Graham Watercolours
-Quinacridone Rose

Winsor & Newton Watercolours
-Permanent Magenta
-Payne’s Grey

Art Spectrum Gouache

Silver Black Velvet Wash size 1.5 inch
Jackson’s Sky Wash size XL
Alvaro Castagnet NEEF Mop size 2
Silver Black Velvet Round size 10
Creative Mark Rhapsody Kolinsky Sable Round size 4
Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 3/0

Schmincke Masking Fluid
Masking Tape
Salt (small but slightly varied sized grains or flakes are best) (NB: Some artists have said that salt can increase the rate at which the paper degrades. This is the first time I have used it in a piece of art so I haven’t tested this theory myself. However if this is something that worries you, perhaps try just dropping in some clean droplets of water (or even using a fine mist sprayer) while the background paint is drying to achieve a similar effect.)

Arches Watercolour Paper – 300gsm Hot (180X260mm)

Step 1
After working out the composition, transfer the lines to your watercolour paper. Apply masking fluid to the flower, leaf and butterfly, and let it dry. Wet the entire sheet of paper using a large soft brush and clean water, then drop in Viridian Green and Permanent Magenta in various areas in the background. Try to ensure the area within the flower petals is mostly Permanent Magenta. Let this dry completely, and then add a bit of Paynes Grey to both the colours you used above and go over the background again, dropping some Quinacridone Rose into the flower area. While the paper is still wet, scatter some salt over some areas of the background. Let the paper dry thoroughly, and then brush the salt away and remove the masking fluid.

Step 2
Once you remove the masking fluid, you may need to straighten the lines of the stem (as I did). Using a slightly wet small flat brush on its side, run it along the outer edge of the stem, picking up some of the dark grey background colour and spreading it along until the stem looks straight and even.

In the dark pink area inside the flower, use a wet brush with stiff bristles and a clean, dry tissue to lift paint in straight lines, radiating from the centre of the flower outwards. This will help create the impression of stalks within the flower but you don’t want them to stand out too much, so if they’re a bit faint or blurry, so much the better. Using a very pale wash of Quinacridone Rose, colour in the petals, leaving some white highlights here and there. Add a darker wash of this in a few places to show the shadows on the other side of the petals, but make sure that even the darkest shadows are still lighter than the interior of the flower. Don’t worry about making the petals too accurate or detailed as we want the focus to be on the butterfly.

With a light mix of Viridian Green and Lemon Yellow, paint the stem of the flower and the leaf and let it dry. Add more Viridian Green to make a darker green and paint another layer over the leaf, leaving the main vein as a lighter colour. For a little variation, while this is still wet, drop small amounts of Burnt Sienna and pure Lemon Yellow into a spot or two to create speckles on the leaf’s surface. Once this dries, use the stiff bristled brush scrub out a few smaller, more faint veins on the leaf and then dab with a clean tissue to make the veins more pronounced.

Step 3
Draw in the details on the butterfly’s wings. When I originally traced the butterfly’s outline onto the paper, I had already drawn the details on the tracing paper, so I just lined up the outline and went over the rest of the details to get the stripes and spots. Make sure you dab it gently with a kneadable eraser to lift any loose, excess bits of graphite, as you don’t want it to muddy the watercolours. You may want to apply masking fluid to the white areas of the butterfly’s wings, but I didn’t bother; I just painted around them where I could, and decided I’d apply white gouache later if I needed to. Using a pale mix of Lemon Yellow and Quinacridone Rose, paint most of the butterfly’s wings in a light orange, going over it in a few places with a darker mix of the same colour. Wait for this to dry, and then paint the black areas of the wings and the butterfly’s body using a very small brush (something smaller than a size 1 would be ideal). If you have black watercolour, you could use that here, but I just used Payne’s Grey. Once this dries, look at the white spots on the butterfly; if you discover you accidentally covered some of them up, as I did, use the same small brush to repaint the white spots using White gouache. Finally, mix a little white gouache with some leftover greenish or purplish grey from the background and sign your name in the lower corner.

I hope you enjoyed this watercolour demonstration and learned some useful new techniques. Until next time, happy painting 🙂

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artdragon86 now has an Etsy Store!

I have now set up an Etsy store in order to sell some of my paintings and drawings. At this stage, I can only ship to addresses within Australia, but I hope to expand that in the future if I can determine a safe and reasonably-priced international shipping method.

So far I only have a few pieces listed but I’m hoping to expand that soon. To start with, I will mostly be selling small pieces (artists’ trading cards and post cards) but if those do well, I’ll start adding larger pieces to the listings.

To check out my Etsy store, visit the link below.


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Paper: Arches Watercolour Blocks (review)

Back when the Australian dollar was at parity with the US dollar, one of the American art supply retailers had some sort of ‘buy two, get one free’ deal on Arches watercolour blocks, and since I was putting in an order for a bunch of other stuff anyway, I picked up one of each; hot press, cold press and rough press.

You can buy Arches paper in pads or blocks, or in single sheets, and in various sizes and weights. It’s an off-white colour but it’s not as yellowish as some other watercolour papers I’ve tried. The rough paper has a nice, uneven texture that lends itself well to favoured watercolour techniques like dry-brushing, while the hot press paper is incredibly smooth. I feel like the hot press paper lends itself well to pen-and-ink style illustrations or works done in coloured pencil more than to straight watercolour paintings; while I know some artists do use hot press for their watercolour paintings, it is harder to layer paint without previous layers lifting.

I used the rough press paper in my first sample painting and used a number of techniques, including scrubbing and lifting and applying heavy washes. Even when I soaked the whole sheet, the 100% cotton paper hardly buckled; often on blocks the gummed edges prevent significant buckling but you usually still get some in the middle of the page, but Arches remained almost completely flat. It also didn’t pill or fall to bits when I had to scrub at an area where I’d made a mistake. Some watercolour papers can get damaged when you remove masking fluid from them – even if you’ve only left it on a short time – but I had masking fluid that had been on the paper for nearly two days and even though it was a pain in the backside to remove, it did not damage the paper at all.

My second sample painting was done on Arches hot press paper, and though it buckled quite severely when I applied heavy washes, it dried flat. It didn’t seem quite as robust when it came to scrubbing and lifting techniques and fixing mistakes, though, as when I took the masking fluid off the paper and painted the leaf, there was some pilling. As I mentioned above, I think it is more suitable for detailed, ultra-realistic work.

Arches is one of the most expensive watercolour papers I have come across, possibly even the most expensive, although you do get 20 sheets in a block (a lot of brands only give you 12 sheets in a block). That being said, you do get what you pay for, as Arches is a high quality paper.

Here’s a painting I did on Arches rough press paper…

And here’s one I did on Arches hot press paper.

If you like to do a lot of heavy washes or are tough on your watercolour paper, it’s worth trying out some Arches cold or rough press paper. Yes, it’s pretty dear compared to other watercolour papers, but it stands up well to a lot of abuse, and it’s just a joy to paint on. The hot press paper isn’t as sturdy but would still be good for those who do hyper-realistic drawing and paintings, or who also like to use pencils in their watercolour pieces. If you see it on sale, I’d recommend getting a pad or block of it to try.

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Brushes: Jackson’s Pure Squirrel Brushes (review)

Sable brushes have always been one of those things where I thought it’d be nice to have one, but couldn’t justify spending the money on one. One day I saw an advertisement on the Jackson’s UK website for their new Squirrel Mop brushes and decided to check them out. They had a large number of squirrel hair brushes available, which were meant to be closer to sable hair brushes than synthetic but much more affordable. Though I look after my brushes, I had always been reluctant to buy a sable brush in case I lost it or accidentally ruined it somehow, but I was quite happy to take a chance on the cheaper squirrel hair brushes.

The first Jackson’s Pure Squirrel brush I bought was the Mop (pale handle at the top of the picture), but a few months later I acquired a few more in my next art supplies order; the XL English Oval Wash (Sky Wash), the Medium Stippler Fan and the little One Stroke which doesn’t seem to be available on the site anymore.

Jackson's Pure Squirrel Brushes

The Squirrel Mop I got was a size 8 and cost about $18 AUD. It’s a good size and holds a lot of water, yet it still comes to a fairly fine point when wet. Performance-wise, it’s comparable to other squirrel mops I’ve used, though it does shed a hair or two occasionally.

The Sky Wash was $27 and it holds a huge amount of water. Almost too much; I found that I often ended up with too much water on my paper in the first painting I used this brush for, as I wasn’t used to such a thirsty brush. In theory, this should make it an excellent brush for large areas and for loose, wet-in-wet effects, but unfortunately I had a pretty big problem with this brush that meant the first time I used it was also the last time I used it. Over the course of doing the background for one painting, I ended up having to pick at least 6 hairs out of my washes. When I reviewed the Princeton Neptune brushes, I joked that some of my older synthetic brushes had shed worse than my German Shepherd, but it wasn’t much of a surprise coming from such cheap brushes. It is, however, disappointing to have such severe shedding in a brush I paid close to $30 for. Almost all brushes will drop the odd hair (which is tolerable and which most artists expect anyway), but this Sky Wash takes the cake.

The Stippler Fan brush uses slightly shorter and thicker hair than the other brushes. This means it is stiffer than the other brushes (which are all very soft) and can be used to create either subtle stippled effects or more pronounced textures. It’s actually hog bristle, so technically it shouldn’t be included in this review as the others are all squirrel, but I figure I might as well just review all my Jackson’s brushes in one post. It still feels softer than other hog bristle brushes I’ve used, so I wonder if there’s at least some of the squirrel hair mixed in. At only about $9 (AUD) it’s still competitively priced compared to cheap synthetic fan brushes bought locally. I find it handy for creating clumps of foliage with thicker mixtures of watercolour paint.

The One Stroke is a sort of ‘flat’ with a long but narrow point. From memory it was quite cheap but I don’t know the exact price since this type appears to have been discontinued. It almost feels like a weird balance between a flat and a round brush, but unlike the other Jackson’s brushes reviewed here, I never used it much (I prefer to just use a round or a flat, whichever the occasion calls for). I ended up giving it to my father to use for various painting/varnishing purposes in his garage, but apparently it kept shedding on him.

Jackson’s squirrel hair brushes are, for the most part, reasonably priced compared to natural hair brushes from other brands. However be prepared for the possibility of having to keep picking hairs out of your watercolour paintings more frequently than you might have to while using other brushes. I do like a lot of Jackson’s other products, and it’s possible that I was just unlucky and got a few duds, but I don’t think I’d buy more of their brushes.

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Brushes: Alvaro Castagnet NEEF Squirrel Mop Brush (review)

Every now and then, one of my local art supply stores runs promotions where you get a free brush or pad of paper or whatever when you spend a certain amount on watercolours, and last year some time the offer was for a free Alvaro Castagnet Squirrel Mop brush.

At the time I’d been looking to get a new mop brush and I wanted some new Daniel Smith watercolours, so I took advantage of the deal and ended up with a nice new brush.

The Alvaro Castagnet brushes are made by NEEF and are good quality. The wooden handles are painted in a nice red with metallic blue text embossed on them, while the ferrule is bound with silver wire. The bristles are soft genuine squirrel hair and they hold a lot of water. This allows you to cover a lot of paper with one stroke, but the brush also comes to a very fine point, more so than many of the other squirrel mops I have.

Price-wise, they’re a bit dearer than other squirrel mops in the same size, though if you find them on sale or can get them in promotions the way I got mine, you can get them for a good price.

Whether or not the Alvaro Castagnet NEEF brush is good value or not will depend on how good you are at hunting down bargains and special offers, but they are a solid line of watercolour brushes. The fine point on an otherwise chunky brush allows for plenty of flexibility with line width within a single stroke, so it’s worth adding one of these to your brush collection if you can.

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artdragon86 now has a Ko-Fi!

Taking a break from your (ir)regularly scheduled art supply reviews and demonstrations to let folks know I’ve created a Ko-Fi account for artdragon86. For those not familiar with Ko-Fi, it allows people to give small donations to creators whose work they follow and enjoy.

I love playing with art supplies, so I’ll keep doing it no matter what. Any donations I do receive will go towards purchasing new art supplies and also help compensate me a little for the time I spend writing up reviews and demos. When I finish my PhD (hopefully by mid-2019) I also hope to start doing video reviews and demonstrations.

If you enjoy my art supply reviews and painting and drawing demonstrations and you feel like flinging money at some random person on the internet, check out my Ko-Fi profile 🙂

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Watercolours: Birches in Autumn (demonstration)

I haven’t done much painting for a month or two since uni started up again, as I’ve been pretty busy with teaching and research. Now that I’m settling in for the semester and am waiting for the last touches on my system to be complete so I can start user testing, I decided I had the time and energy to attempt a watercolour of some birch trees in an autumn forest. It came out quite well and it gave me a chance to properly test the Arches watercolour paper I’ve been hoarding for a while (I was hesitant to use it because it’s more expensive than my other watercolour paper), and I thought it would also make a fun demo. As always, you don’t need to use the exact brands and colours I used; I’ve provided them as a guide so you can just find something similar in your preferred brand.

Schmincke Watercolours:
-Cadmium Orange Deep
-Ruby Red Deep
-Ultramarine Finest
-Burnt Umber

Daniel Smith Watercolours:
-Hansa Yellow Light
-Quinacridone Gold
-Burnt Sienna

Winsor & Newton Watercolours:
-Cobalt Blue
-Winsor Violet (Dioxazine Purple)

Daler-Rowney Watercolours:
-Cadmium Red Pale

Art Spectrum Gouache:

Princeton Neptune Quill size 6
Silver Black Velvet Round size 10
Creative Mark Rhapsody Kolinsky Sable Round size 4
Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 1
Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 3/0

Schmincke Masking Fluid (NB: masking fluid is a bugger to get off the paper if it’s left on for more than 24 hours, so if possible, make sure you don’t apply it until you know you’ll have enough uninterrupted time to finish all the background so you can remove it.)
Masking Tape

Arches Watercolour Paper – 300gsm Rough (180X260mm)

Step 1
After working out the composition, transfer the lines of the trees to your watercolour paper. Apply masking fluid to the tree trunks and branches and let it dry. Wet the whole surface of the paper, then wash in Hansa Yellow Light with a little Quinacridone Gold mixed in. Leave a patch in the mid right a bit lighter than the rest; this will represent the light showing through the trees in the background. While this is still wet, dilute a little Cadmium Orange Deep and lay this in along the other areas of the paper, leaving some of the yellow visible. Do the same with Burnt Sienna just on the outer edges of the paper and along the bottom to show the tree foliage and the forest floor, respectively. Allow this to dry completely.

Step 2
Carefully wet the whole surface again, being careful not to go over the same area with your brush too much (this could risk lifting or muddying some of your first layer). Using the same colours as in Step 1, build up another layer, keeping the colours darker towards the outer edge. Using sharp flicking motions with your brush, add hints of leaf and branch texture along the upper edge with Burnt Sienna. With a very diluted Burnt Sienna, put in a few curved horizontal strokes under the light patch to represent a rough path, making it darker as you get lower (ie. closer to the viewer). Create the floor shrubbery in the foreground with Burnt Umber, adding a little of this to the upper right and left corners. With a diluted mix of Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber, suggest the shapes of some distant tree trunks in the background. Make them slightly darker as you move from the patch of light towards the outer edges.

Step 3
Mix some Dioxazine Purple and Burnt Umber together to create a violet brown and lay in some more shrub texture along the bottom to create depth. You might want to build this up in a few layers, letting each layer dry and using a successively darker mixture. Use a small round brush to flick in some grass and a few little twiggy plants. Add another tree silhouette in the same colour on the right side of the page.

Now for the foliage. You want a variety of warm autumn colours, so make a few separate mixtures: a light yellow-orange from Quinacridone Gold and a hint of Cadmium Orange Deep; a reddish brown from Burnt Sienna and a bit of Cadmium Red Pale; a darker brown from Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber; and a more vibrant red from Cadmium Red Pale and Ruby Red Deep. Using a dabbing motion with your brush (and different brush sizes for variety), dot in some leaves along the top edge, bringing them down further at the outer edges of the page. While most of the leaves should for, the canopy at the top, it would be good to add a few randomly among the trees to give the impression of falling leaves. If you have any old brushes that are a bit ratty, they would be useful here as they will help you make different and random leaf shapes. Keep the darkest brown leaves mostly in the corners, and the pale yellow-orange leaves in the area where the light shows through to help create a sense of depth. The vibrant red should be used relatively sparingly. You can also use a spattering technique to create more foliage texture, but this should be done carefully; practice it on a bit of scrap paper first so you know what consistency to make the paint, and cover any parts of your painting you don’t want spatter on with bits of scrap paper.

Step 4
At this point I decided the darkest tree silhouette on the right wasn’t dark enough, so I went over it again with another layer of the violet brown from the previous step. Wait until the painting is completely dry, then remove the masking fluid from the trees and branches. Mix a dull greyed violet-blue from Cobalt Blue and a little Burnt Umber and Dioxazine Violet. Using an extremely watered down wash of this, lay in the shadows down the left sides of the tree trunks (cover roughly the left two thirds of the trunks) and the underside of the branches, adding a ‘stripe’ of clear water down the right edge of the shadow to help it blend smoothly into the lighter areas of the trees. Let this dry completely and then use a slightly stronger mix to add a darker shadow down the left of the trees, scuffing it across with your brush to create a slightly rough transition between the dark and medium shadows.

Make two mixtures of bluish-grey; one using Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna, and a darker one using Ultramarine Finest and Burnt Umber. With a small round brush (1 or smaller), draw in the dark textured lines of the tree bark, using both mixtures (try to use more of the darker mixture on the sides of the tree in shadow and the lighter grey on the highlighted side of the tree). Start at the base of the branches to show where they connect to the tree, then work your way along the branch, making sure the lines follow the contours and adding a few rough patches of ‘scribble’ for texture variety. With a strong mix of Ultramarine Finest and Burnt Umber, add a couple of thin, dark branches growing from the birch trunks, and a couple of little dark twigs on the end of some branches. Using a diluted White gouache, add in a few feathered highlights along the right side of these dark branches. Finally, use some of your red, orange and brown foliage mixtures from Step 3 (or mix up some more if you ran out) and dab in another few leaves at the top of the trunks. All that’s left to do now is sign your name in the corner, with a mix of Burnt Umber and a little White gouache.

Time for the best bit; removing the masking tape! Remember to do this slowly and carefully as otherwise you can risk tearing the paper, which is hard to cover up with paint. With the crisp white border revealed, the painting is now finished. Hope you enjoyed this demonstration 🙂

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