watercolor on tissue paper

I’ve been thinking about making some videos to share, and I remembered that I had a couple that I made back in September. I never wrote about the experiments I did with watercolor and tissue paper, but I took some video of the process. It’s not the most exciting video, but they are relatively short, and pretty in a meditative way, so I hope you will enjoy them.

I was inspired after watching a short video about one-fold origami. I was captivated by the simplicity of the technique and by the beautiful shapes that could result.

My interest was piqued enough to try out an experiment. The idea I started with was to fold a piece of tissue paper once, drop watercolor along the fold with the help of a water brush, and see what would happen. I knew that the results couldn’t be predicted which appealed to my interest in chance operations.

I tried it a few times, and took photos of the result.

Watercolor on Tissue Paper

Watercolor on Tissue Paper

I was happy with the final look, but the photos couldn’t capture the best part–actually watching as the paint dropped, spilled, and spread along the fold and across the paper. On a whim I took a couple videos.

I was holding the camera while I was painting, so it’s a little wiggly, but I think they are neat to watch.

As I worked, I layered the pieces of tissue paper on top of each other, so in the end I had a small arrangement of different sheets of painted, once-folded paper.

Watercolor on Tissue Paper, Wet

Layering the tissue paper had the added benefit of the different colors soaking through the top papers, adding to the unexpected look of the final papers.

tissue paper & watercolor 1

tissue paper & watercolor 2

tissue paper & watercolor 3

tissue paper & watercolor 4

I haven’t done more with this technique since then, but it’s definitely fun to play around with, and there are infinite variations.

What do you think of the videos? Would you be interested in me posting more video content in the future, possibly with me talking, and if I’m feeling very brave, maybe with me on camera?

new watercolors

I just realized that I haven’t written anything about the new Daniel Smith watercolors that I got. I was anticipating them so much, and then they arrived, and I had a busy weekend, and the moment of excitement passed. But that’s not to say that I haven’t been fully enjoying all my new colors! So far they have been great.

I had plans to do very scientific color charts with mixes and tints and shades, and when I first got the paint I took the time to paint a circle of each color on a big piece of bristol, but that’s as far as I got.

Last night I worked on a little drawing and used a lot of the new colors. I experimented a bit by layering certain colors over others to see what they’d look like.


Click on the image above to go to the flickr page where I added notes to indicate which colors I paired together.

Although I was really happy with the color, I was a little disappointed by the lines I added. They are growing on me, and at this point I even kinda like them. I think it’s one of those cases where it didn’t turn out how I expected, so in my mind that equaled bad–at least until I had a chance to not look at it for a while and reexamine it later. After considering some options, I added more spiraling lines with a pencil, and then painted those in with a light wash of the top color.

bigger swirls

I like both versions, but I really enjoy the overlap and transparency of the now larger circles. So far the Daniel Smith watercolors have really impressed me. The colors are rich and bright, and they seem to interact with each other very well.

Now to rewind a little bit; before I got my Daniel Smith shipment, I’d been experimenting with some other watercolors that I rediscovered. My nephew was over one day while I was finishing up some painting, and he was curious about what I was doing. I had a kids set of watercolors for him to use, but he wanted me to show him how to paint with them first.

I drew a few shapes and showed him some of the basics of what I know–how to do a simple wash, build intensity with layers of color, first paint with water and then drop in different colors and let them mix, get interesting textures with salt or alcohol, dry brush, and lift up wet paint with a dry brush or towel.

petri dish

He was pretty fascinated, and the alcohol technique was quickly declared his favorite, I think because the results were so dramatic.

Once I’d shown him everything, we got out his supplies, and he and his sisters sat for at least an hour, happily watercoloring away.

I forgot about the little sampler I’d made until I was flipping through my sketchbook last night. Since it was just a spur of the moment exercise it hadn’t sunk in as, “ok, i’m painting. this is important. this is art!” but instead it was just a part of that day. It’s pretty neat how making art can seep into daily life.


Almost a year ago I bought more than a dozen skeins of yarn when a local art store was going out of business. They were only $1 per skein, and I just couldn’t resist the rainbow of colors they had available, so I bought one of each. In my mind I had planned to make a multi-color ripple afghan, but then I saw a beautiful pattern called an African Flower that my friend Francesca is working on.

Making blocks is a little more time consuming than doing a ripple afghan because there is more stop-start-stop-start involved, but I couldn’t resist the charm of the African Flower. I filed the inspiration away in my “someday” to-do list, and now that the weather has turned and the evenings are chilly, I decided to get started.

lots of ends

You can see that some of the blocks have a lot more loose ends than the one that’s on the bottom, center. I’ve been researching ways to switch colors and tie in ends as I’ve been honing the process of making the hexagons. After making 4 African Flowers, I’ve improved my skills at getting them done efficiently and neatly thanks to several videos and blogged tutorials.

One flickr tutorial was particularly great for the instruction it offers for changing colors in a really seamless, secure manner. The most useful video I found teaches a really good way to weave in the loose end as you crochet, which I repeat several times until I’m sure it’s not going anywhere. At this point, I’ve gotten pretty good at crocheting in the ends as I work, which is evident in that bottom center block. In fact, I probably could have snipped off the red end in the center right away, so when completed, I should only have that one final end of the last color to weave in.

I spent well over an hour cleaning up the 4 African Flowers, but once the ends are secure, the flowers really look sharp.

cleaned up african flower crochet blocks

loose ends

The ends them self don’t look half bad either.

In my research I came across a very different style of crochet, called “hyperbolic crochet”. It’s based on mathematical equations, and there is a crazy detailed explanation that made my eyes cross from overwhelm almost immediately. Luckily I found some instructions that cut to the chase and discovered that it really couldn’t be easier.

Hyperbolic Crochet

Basically you just chain 2, then go into the first chain (2 away from where your hook is) and make 2 SC and then chain one and turn it around to go back the other way, and then make 2 SC in each SC, and just keep going. At the end of each row you chain one and turn to go back, but basically you just keep making 2SC in each SC of the row you are working on.

The instructions that I used to get started might make a lot more sense. They instruct you to stop after a certain number or rows, but I plan to keep going. Eventually I should end up with a tighter spherical shape made of lots of undulating ripples–the perfect toy for my 6 month old niece since it’s soft, easy to grab on to, and made of cotton, so it’s ok if it ends up in her mouth.

The hyperbolic style of crochet appeals to the part of me that just wants to get into that repetitive, meditative rhythm and not think too much. I like the fact that it’s not as involved as making a full sized throw, but I’m happy that I’ll end up with something that I hope will be enjoyed by my niece.

I plan to mix up the two projects to suit my mood–when I have some down time, but am otherwise energetic, I’ll work on African Flowers, but for the evenings when I’m worn out but still want to do something creative, I think the hyperbolic crocheting will be perfect.

wet watercolor & alcohol

The other day I was searching through the basement, looking for paint brushes, and I stumbled upon an old palette box that was filled with watercolor paint. I’d completely forgotten about the set that I’d purchased in Saipan about 7 years ago. The entire set of Pentel watercolors cost about $18. Probably not the best quality, but they still work.

watercolors in metal palette box

The Daniel Smith watercolors I ordered won’t be here before Wednesday, and after having so-so results with my last alcohol and watercolor test, I was itching to try out alcohol with wet watercolors. I found the forgotten paints at the perfect time!

Some of the names of the colors are very basic: purple, red, and orange. Others have more commonly used paint names: vermillion, naples yellow, and cobalt blue.

I squirted a few colors onto the palette side of the box and got started.

alcohol and watercolor paint, take 2

For each color, the stripe on the left is the straight alcohol mixed with paint. The next stripe to the right is watercolor and pure water, and the smaller stripe (an afterthought, so I didn’t leave enough room to properly experiment) is a combination of alcohol and water.

When I mixed in the alcohol, the smooth wet paint almost immediately curdled into small particles. When I painted the mixture onto the paper, it felt very waxy. Because the watercolor paint was wet, I was able to gather up more pigment on my brush to smear on the paper than when I tried to lift up pigment from the dry Daniel Smith sample dots. The resulting texture is very streaky and gritty.

As with the dried paint dots, some of the colors seemed more willing to mix with alcohol than others. The red was very stubborn about the whole thing, but red purple (second from left) almost seemed to like the alcohol. The prussian blue (far right) also mixed relatively well with the alcohol, and the purple and ultramarine fell somewhere in the middle.

I finally realize that watercolor paint isn’t made to be used with straight alcohol. It pretty much doesn’t like it at all, but that’s what makes the effect of adding drops of alcohol to watery watercolor interesting–the watercolor practically runs away from the alcohol.

However, just because watercolors weren’t made to mix with alcohol doesn’t mean the effect isn’t interesting. Although I’m sure some watercolor purists would probably disagree, it could have some applications in future paintings where a rough texture is in order.

watercolor & alcohol

I’m sure that some day I’ll stop writing about all the experiments and studies I do with watercolors, but today is not that day.

I’ve been reading up on watercolor and came across the techniques where you sprinkle salt or drops of alcohol on wet paint to create texture-rich effects. I read an article about alternative watercolor mediums that suggested adding some alcohol to painting water to lower the freezing point for artists who paint outside in very cold weather. This got me thinking about the alcohol-based prismacolor markers that I’ve used for years. The markers produce very smooth color and the alcohol evaporates quickly enough that the paper doesn’t wrinkle or buckle. I wondered what it would be like to use straight-alcohol instead of water with watercolors. I wasn’t sure if it would work at all, but I love experimenting, so I gave it a try.


Still working from the 66 color try it sheet, I tried to pull up paint from the dried watercolor paint dots and had varying success.

Suprisingly, some of the colors wouldn’t budge at all, while others seemed not to mind the alcohol and mixed with it readily. Some of the stubborn ones were English Red Ochre, Burnt Tiger’s Eye Genuine, and Zoisite Genuine, and the easiest to mix were the cadmiums. Many fell somewhere in between including most of the Quinacridones. The one that surprised me the most was Cascade Green which is a mix of two pigments, one blue and one green. The green stayed put while the blue soaked into my brush!

Painting with the watercolor-alcohol mix was, in a word, weird. It feels almost like dry brushing, but with a wet brush.The alcohol soaked into the paper very quickly, along with whatever pigment I managed to scrape up. There was a little bit of working time, but not much, and overall no matter how easy or difficult it was to get color on my brush, the results were relatively light and washed out. Some of the colors that appear more saturated are a result of overlapping and repainting some areas. When I added a little more alcohol to paint that was on the paper, it might spread out a little more, but not as much as I could achieve if I’d been using water.

I wasn’t expecting the result to be the same as working with water, but it felt a lot stranger to work with alcohol than I thought it would. I was most surprised that I had such difficulty lifting the dried paint samples in the first place.

There might be scientific reasons that are unknown to me to explain why alcohol and watercolor don’t work together, or don’t work well, but in any case, I’ll have to try out using alcohol as a painting medium again when I get my tubes of paint. Maybe I’ll have more luck starting with wet watercolors?

impossible origami instructions

In the quest that continued for days to pick out just the right watercolors to order from Daniel Smith, I painted a few simple geometric compositions to compare similar hues.

I started with the red and pink Quinacridone colors. My favorite by far was the Quinacridone Coral–it is so vibrant that it borders on florescent and really seems to glow.

pink & red origami

The scan doesn’t show the colors accurately, especially the darker pinks and the brightness of the Coral. As I was playing with the color balance in Photoshop, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to adjust it to be accurate, so instead I came up with a couple of “super-charged” color variations.

origami instructions

To get the final look, I traced the lines of the triangles in Illustrator, and then swapped them so that the overlap was more abstract.

A friend suggested the name, “impossible origami instructions” and I really liked it, so that’s what I’m calling the series.

The next color I studied was blue. Some of the Daniel Smith colors were really light and subtle like the Lapis Lazuli Genuine, and others were richer and darker like Mayan Blue Genuine. My favorite of these is Kyanite Genuine, a rich gray-blue.

blue origami

Although some of the lightest blues are a lost, the scan is pretty accurate for the colors. I decided to amp up the colors as I’d done for the reds and pinks, just for fun. I followed the same steps for the outlines.

blue & pink origami instructions

Next up were the Greens. Daniel Smith has some great ones! My favorite was the Serpentine Genuine, a bright yellow green. Fuchsite Genuine is also a pretty, sparkly light green.

green origami

The scanner also seemed to be able to process the greens pretty accurately, but to complete the series, I altered the colors and added the outlines using Photoshop and Illustrator as I’d done for the previous two pieces.

cyan & green origami instructions

I don’t often use the computer to alter the art I make, aside from basic cropping and color balancing, but I must admit that it seems to have it’s place! I would not have been able to explore so many variations on this theme without the aid of Photoshop and Illustrator, and honestly, probably never would have gotten the end results without using a computer.

One of the things that I really like about using watercolor for images like these is the texture and depth it lends to relatively simple geometric forms. It’s really neat that the texture is still apparent, even after I’d adjusted the colors dramatically.

This series would look awesome at a large scale, perhaps lined up next to each other, taking up most of a wall. It’s been a while since I’ve completed a series of paintings, so maybe I’ll work my enlargement magic and make the bigger versions. Just have to find the time!

testing colors

Hey Everyone! Sorry I’ve been M.I.A. for a couple weeks now. The jet lag after getting back from Kauai threw me for a total loop!

Before I left for my trip, I ordered a couple of Daniel Smith watercolor try-it sheets. It’s a sheet of watercolor paper that comes with 66 dabs of different watercolors with selections from their various lines.

As I’ve been working more and more with watercolor, I realized that more often than not, the colors I mix get muddy really quickly. This might be a result of impatience or of my tiny palette, but I suddenly had the idea that it might actually be the colors themselves. I know that some colors and paints are better for mixing than others, and I’m not even sure what brand I’m using (I’ve been painting with a box of old watercolors that were my grandmother’s), and often I end up mixing more than just a couple in an attempt to achieve the color I want. Because of the way that I usually use watercolor (broad areas of color, not as much mixing or shading on the paper), I figure it’ll probably be easier to get the colors I want if I have a greater variety of “pure” colors, so I can just mix two or three to get what I want.

Since the paints I’ve been using are running low, I thought I might as well go ahead and try something new.

Daniel Smith came to my attention while I was in art school, and I guess their email marketing worked, because that’s how I found out about their watercolors. I love samples of stuff in general, so I was thrilled to discover their test sheets.

One of the first things I did when I got back from my trip was to try out all the colors.

I started with the Primatek colors which are all made from genuine ground up rocks and minerals.


Some of my favorites were the greens: jadeite, diopside, serpentine, fuchsite, and green apatite. They have some really dreamy blues, and a surprising variety of grays/blacks. All the reds were really earthy. A few of the colors even have some sparkle–of those my favorite is sugilite, a light lavender. I could go on and on, so suffice it to say i was very pleased with the colors. Very rich with some beautiful granulation.

Next I tried out some of their more vibrant, less granulating colors including the quinacrodones, cadmium and more.

bright dots

I’m very excited about the quinacrodone colors, especially the coral. It’s hard to tell from the scan, but they are very bright colors, and the coral borders on florescent.

The final group was the iridescent colors. I’m not sure I’ll order any of these, as I’m not sure they really fit with my style at this point, but they were fun to play around with.


Of these my favorite was the iridescent electric blue. It’s a very vivid blue and the shimmer is much more subtle. Maybe I’ll have to add that to my basket after all.

Since I’ve been back, that’s all I’ve been working on–testing out the colors and trying to narrow down what I want to actually order in tubes. I think I’m going to start out with a mixing set of ten pre-selected colors that they offer, and then supplement with some of the other favorites I’ve zeroed in on.

I have a coupon for 30% off which makes everything they offer even more tempting. I’ll have to make my final decision by tomorrow, and then I’ll have to wait for everything to arrive, but even now I’m looking forward to trying out some new colors!