Beginner watercolor artists are hesitant to use their "expensive" watercolor paper to practice brush strokes. Good quality watercolor paper can be expensive and I can understand the reluctance to use a costly paper to only practice strokes. However, learning the different stokes a watercolor brush can make is important for the execution of a good watercolor painting. And, the quality of the paper does make a difference in helping an artist to produce a good finished product. Thus, the dilemma of paper vs. price.
I have found a good compromise for the beginning artist. I recommend Strathmore Watercolor paper - Skills level. This paper is 140# weight, cold press and is heavy enough to practice stokes and even a light wash. Although it does not work well for a really wet wash, it is perfect for practice work including lifting with light wet techniques. It comes in a pad of 30 sheets sized 9" x 12". This paper can be purchased at local craft and hobby stores and usually sells from under $5 for the pad. See photo below of pad.
Beginning artists will build confidence when practicing brush stokes to be used in future paintings. Practice provides confidence and builds good habits for brush control. Here are a few basics on brush strokes:
- A brush is not always held like a pen or pencil. You need to be able to grip the brush loosely so that you can roll it around in your hand when needed.
- The tip of the brush is not the only part that is used. Often the sides as well as the end or tip is needed to provide that certain look.
- Brush stokes tell a story. They can indicate texture and shape.
- Pressure is important. The lighter the pressure the less area you will fill with paint. The heavier the pressure, the more paint will come off of the brush and fill the area.
- Pressure is often both light and heavy in the same stroke.
In this practice exercise, we will be using the brushes shown below:
The brush stokes illustrated in the example below will be discussed in this blog.
Flat Brush Stokes:
Using a flat, dry brush, the above techniques can be achieved. A dry brush means just that - DRY. That does not mean that you have to have different brushes when you change colors or that you have to wait until the brush dries. Simply have a dry towel and remove excess moisture from the brush. Remove as much of the water from the brush as possible before loading the brush with paint. Once loaded with paint, practice the following:
- Push the brush up to paint the grasses moving the brush up and to either side.
- Pull the brush down from the top of the waterfall to the bottom.
- Move the brush from left to right and right to left to paint the sparkling water.
- Push and pull the brush up and down and move slight from side to side to create woodgrain.
- Push and pull the brush up and down and use both the flat side and edge to create fur or hair.
Tree shapes can be achieved by using a round, liner or rigger. These brushes can also be used for bushes or tall grasses.
- Starting at the base of the tree, push down on the brush and as you move up towards the top of the tree decrease the pressure on the brush. This will make a thicker stroke at the beginning and a thinner line at the end of the stroke. Angle the brush to make the branches of the trees.
- This method works for the round, liner and the rigger brushes.
Brush Strokes comparisons: Flat and Round
Play around the a flat brush and a round brush to see how many different strokes you can make with each brush. Apply light pressure, heavy pressure and vary the pressure in the same stroke. Use the side of the flat brush as well as. Twist and turn the brush as you move across the paper. The stokes above were made with the same size brush - from thin lines to wide heavy lines.
So, take the time to practice using practice paper and you will be confidence in your painting!