24 November 2014

How to Begin Watercolor Painting for Under $35

Dear Lissy,

So you've decided you want to take up watercolor, but ay-yai-yi!  $45 for three tubes of artist quality paint?  $50 for ONE brush???  And the paper...don't even get me started.  Who pays $5 or more for a single piece of paper?  Never fear, my dear...  

I've got just the kit to get you on your way for under $35.

Hit the right sales at an art store, and you might even escape for under $30.  Instruction is abundant and free online, and most libraries have half a dozen or more watercolor technique books.  Don't pay for instruction when you first start out.

Two important things before we begin:
  • My beginner's kit is designed to give you the tools to teach yourself basic watercolor skills using free books, videos, and tutorials. 
  • You will be able to keep using everything in this kit as you improve and "graduate" to quality supplies.  On the flip side, this kit will also make a great hand-me-down or yard sale item if you decide to find another hobby.

Paper ($5)

I'll keep this short and sweet:  buy one sheet (22" x 30") of Arches (roughly pronounced Ar'sheh) 140# cold press watercolor paper.  Transform it into a no-sew meandering journal with 27 - 30 pages.  

Here's why...
  • Paper is the single most important supply you use in watercolor painting.  You can make do with student grade paints and travel brushes, but you NEED artist grade paper.  I made the mistake of purchasing a clearance watercolor journal with 140# paper from an online art supplier for my first kit.  Once I made the switch to good quality watercolor paper, my painting kicked up several notches overnight.
  • Most of the instruction in books and on the web assumes a rugged, workable watercolor paper like Arches.  Yes, a book of watercolor paper from the local box store is cheap and thick, but it can't be worked like artist grade paper, and you'll get frustrated.  Once you've learned how to paint, order a sample pack with all the different varieties of artist grade paper from an online art supplier and find your favorite.
  • To start inexpensively, you need to start small.  The other supplies we'll be adding to our kit assume a max page size of 8 x 10.  Working in a 5 x 7 homemade journal allows us to buy smaller brushes and paint quantities that are much more economical.   Don't worry:   these supplies will become a part of your regular travel kit if you graduate up to studio sized work -- they won't go to waste.
  • You'll probably make and use these books for the rest of your life.  The journals are that good, and they can be made in any size page. They also make wonderful gifts for all of your new-found watercoloring buddies.
  • Watercolor journals don't need the paper to be stretched, tacked, soaked, or otherwise manipulated before you begin painting.  They'll ripple a bit, but that just adds to the character of the book.  (You will need to use bulldog or binder clips to keep the edges of the paper from curling when you do a heavy wash.  Use heavy enough cover boards to accommodate a clip.)

Paintbrush ($6)

Traditionally, three expensive brushes are required to start watercolor painting:  a round brush, a flat brush, and a script liner (rigger) brush.  Cheap brushes are a frustrating waste of time and money.  

We're going to turn our attention to the humble aqua brush.

The aqua brush has a refillable water reservoir in the handle that feeds through the brush tips, eliminating the need for containers of water.  To change colors, you simply squeeze the sides of the handle and brush across a paper towel.  Here's why I've chosen this brush over a standard brush for beginners...
  • Artists of all levels and abilities now carry aqua brushes for field work and quick sketching:  owning and learning how to put a waterbrush through its paces is quickly becoming an important skill in the art community.  
  • Both the time and money spent to learn the aqua brush are a great investment for a beginning watercolorist.  If you continue your watercolor journey, your artist's journal & aqua brush will become valuable tools.
  • The techniques learned with an aqua brush convert fairly easily to standard brushes.  For some techniques, like a graded wash, you'll wish your sable brushes were aqua brushes.  Once you're ready for traditional brushes, ask around to find out the best quality synthetic.  They usually sell for $5 - $15 each and will last many years. The Loew Cornell, 7020-10, Ultra Round- Golden Taklon is a favorite of many watercolor artists and won't break the bank.
  • The Pentel brush is a favorite worldwide, and so inexpensive it's an add-on item for Amazon.  You can also pick them up for a song with a Michael's or Jo-ann Fabric coupon.
  • A new line of brushes has just been introduced that combines fine sable brush tips with a water reservoir in the handle.  I expect this trend will grow in the coming years.
  • Many watercolor painting techniques use household objects:  sponges, sticks, atomizers, etc. that don't require any kind of brush at all.
Note:  If you end up pursuing watercolor, you'll want to invest in a flat brush, or you'll be missing out on some great techniques. The Connoisseur Gold Taklon Mix Brush, 1-Inch Flat is my favorite.

  Paint ($20)

Colors painted out

For a self-teaching beginner, color variety is king.  
  • Each book, tutorial, video, and web page will feature different colors.  Being able to choose between cerulean, or cobalt, or ultramarine, or prussian blue to learn is important. When you watch that video on painting leaves and the teacher mixes a little transparent orange with sap green to get the perfect color, you're on it.  Need jaune brilliant or venetian red for a quick urban sketch?  It's there.   You'll always be missing a color here and there unless you buy a full flight of colors from an art supply store, but with a 24 pack, there's a much better chance of having the color the teacher is using in the tutorial.
  • As you progress and refine your own style, certain colors will become favorites that you reach for time and again.  Artist color is amazing and worth the investment, once you know what colors you want to use in your own palette.  
  • The Koi 24 has enough color choices to try out a wide variety of limited palettes.  The ability to experiment with limited palettes is actually my favorite aspect of working with the Koi set. Pretty quickly into watercolor work, you'll figure out that a limited palette is the key to artistic work.  The challenge is finding the limited colors that work with your style and subject.
  • The Koi palette is ideal for learning color theory.  Using several analagous colors in one area instead of a single flat wash creates unbelievable glow.  Popping in a complement creates shadows or sparkle depending on how well the color is blended.
  • The Koi adds Chinese white so you can experiment a bit with gouache.  The Lamp black color is rarely used for painting, but is nice for lettering and page frames.
Koi paints are bright, transparent, and mixable.   
  • Koi paint sets are a favorite of travel artists not just for their convenient design, but also for the vivid colors.
  •  The paper quality -- and you've bought the best -- will help the colors flow and give them a bit of glow.  
  •  Koi paints mix well with themselves and other artist quality paint.  They also create some lovely, lively neutrals.
  • The paints aren't particularly color fast according to users.  If you create a piece you love, scan it into the computer for safekeeping.
  • Koi paints work well with ink sketching.
The Koi sketching set is designed for easy use.
  • You won't require studio space while using the Koi and a sketchbook.  Set up at the picnic table, the kitchen table, or even a quiet cafe.
  • You only need enough extra water to refill the brush.
  • The paintbox and journal both fit in a small pouch or handbag. Diane Gessler, a popular travel artist, reuses the vinyl case pillowcases are packaged in.
 That's it!  Just a handmade journal made with high quality paper, a basic set of paints, and an aquabrush will give you a good start on learning watercolor painting. 

You put the color in my life!


Disclaimer:  I am an Amazon Associate and will receive a small percentage of sales through the links above.  All Amazon bucks we earn go directly to Lissy's education

Linked up at Titus 2 Tuesday 

13 October 2014

One Quick Tip: Crispy Pie Crust

Dear Lissy,

No more soggy crusts -- even in puddin' pies.  Want to know my secret???  It's an oldie (c. 1939) but a goodie.

Roll out your favorite pie crust recipe on graham cracker crumbs instead of flour.  

That's it.  Really. The graham crumbs that get smooshed onto the outside of the crust don't add any flavor or weird gritty texture, but they keep the crust crisp.

You're my little puddin' pie,


07 October 2014

The Secret Ingredient for My Chicken Soup

Dear Lissy,

Forget the herbs and spices, the only ingredient you need for kickin' chicken soup is (drumroll, please)...

I add a couple of  Tbsp of rice vinegar to deglaze the pan after sauteing the soffritto.   If you've  got a good quality stock and a well done soffrito, rice vinegar provides all the extra flavor you'll ever want or need. 


03 October 2014

Bible Marking Tutorial Series, A Marking System for Professor Horner's Bible Reading System

Dear Lissy,

I have loved and used Professor Horner's Bible Reading system for several years.  One of the strengths of this system is how it interconnects parts of the Bible.  Once you read Ecclesiastes and 2 Corinthians together chapter for chapter, it will forever change how you view both books.

Professor Horner advocates reading fairly quickly, which doesn't leave a lot of time for contemplation or note-taking.  I recently found a super-simple three color marking system that is fantastic for use with the Horner system.
Col-Erase Colored Pencils are hands down my favorite Bible marking tools.  Designed to be used in under-drawings for graphic artists, the color is light enough to shade or underline without showthrough, rub-off, or ghosting.  Practice underlining, shading, and erasing on a page in your concordance before using in the text.  In my experience when color is laid down with the side of the pencil lead, it erases almost completely.  If I've used the point directly on the Bible page, it doesn't erase as well.  It is fairly easy to teach yourself to underline using the side of the point instead of the tip. 
Use a yellow pencil to indicate importance.
I frequently remember a verse from my reading when listening to a sermon or talking with a friend.  I get very frustrated if I can't find it quickly, but when I've been reading 60 or 70 chapters a week, I need the verse marked in some way.

A red pencil indicates repeated content within a book.
When I read a book rapidly, I notice repetitions that bring out meaning or reveal the character of God.  While these can be marked with a pencil symbol, the red underline is easy to find when flipping back through the book.
Blue pencil highlights inter-textual allusions.
Again, inter-textual allusions are the strength of the Horner system.  I've faithfully put cross references in the margin with pencil, but having a blue highlight on the verse reminds me of a treasure I've already found.

Remember:  Make the smallest mark possible to preserve the readability of the text and allow room for future marking.  
  • Circle the verse number instead of underlining or coloring the whole verse.  
  • Run a vertical line in the margin beside a passage you want to highlight.
  • Underline just a word or phrase that brings out the meaning of the verse.
This highlighting system is simple and intuitive enough that it doesn't slow down my reading at all. I hope that you will immerse yourself in God's Word every day when you are grown, just as we do now!


P.S.  Find the first letter in the Bible marking series here.