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.

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!


I set up this new blog, and now I’ve hardly been posting any entries! Well, I suppose that’s because I’ve been busy lately. Isn’t that always the case? Not only that, but I feel like I’ve been in a state of creative block. I haven’t had as many ideas for new work lately, and overall I’ve been lacking creative direction in my work.

That said, I did find the time late one night to doodle and little something, and then found the time late the next night to add watercolor to the doodle.


For some reason this watercolor makes me feel a little odd. I always think of an ill fitting shirt when I look at it. To set myself at ease, I also created a cropped version.


Does the first image make anyone else feel a little strange, or is it just me? Which version do you prefer?

This will be my last post before I leave for Kauai! I’m leaving bright and early in the morning. Before it’s the least bit bright actually, and I plan to purely enjoy myself on this vacation. I’m not even bringing my laptop along with me!

I’m sure I’ll have photos and hopefully some art to share when I get back, after the 28th of September.

new watercolor texture

Have you ever been inspired by your own work before?

Honestly I don’t think it’s ever happened to me until the other day when my twitter background was peeking out behind a couple of other computer windows while I was working on some non-art related stuff. My attention focused on a part of the pattern that I use as my background, and I thought it would look neat on a larger scale. I also liked the potential to play with transparency in the overlapping shapes, so I pulled out my watercolor sketchbook and drew the shapes I had in mind.

dragon fly

I used various colors because I wanted to see how they would look when overlapped.

I liked the result, but i wanted more overlapping, so I then drew a more random composition using the same basic shapes.


Because the drawing itself was a little on the chaotic side, I limited my use of colors to three. When it was finished, I realized I’d been a little messier than I thought, so I went back and added some thicker black lines to some of the shapes where I’d painted way outside the lines. The thicker lines helped smooth out the look and adds some extra visual interest in the contrast between the bold lines and the thinner lines and watery color washes.

The bold lines help anchor the previous painting, but for the next piece I wanted to include many overlapping shapes with more order, less chaos. I ended up drawing a pillar-like composition.


When I painted one of the first petals, there was too much pigment and water on the brush, and it ended up as a big glop on the paper. Watercolor is wonderfully forgiving if you catch a mistake before the paint has started to dry, so I used a paper towel to blot up the excess. I was surprised to see that it left a distinctive pattern in the paint. Although not what I was after for this particular painting, my interest was piqued, so of course I had to do another quick painting to see if I could reproduce the effect.

watercolor with texture


The resulting texture is very cool. Kind of pebbly, kind of lacy; it even reminds me a bit of hammered metal. This texture will definitely be making a repeat appearance or two in my future work.

shell prints

After experimenting with stone prints, I tried something similar with a big piece of shell.

shell with holes

The surface was very uneven, and there was a big hole going right through. I wasn’t sure how well it would make contact with the surface of the paper, but decided to try it out.

I painted a water wash over a section of bristol, saturating it well, and then slathered the surface of one side of the shell with watercolor paint. I pressed the painted shell down on the wet paper and dropped some blue watercolor through the hole in the stone.

shell print, heart

Because the paper was so wet, pigment was pulled away from the center of the image to create a halo affect around the resulting shape. Upon drying, the paper was quite rippled, so the scanner picked up several shadows that created a radiating pattern around the painting.

I got some advice that if I wet the whole paper, and not just part of it, the paper won’t dry with such uneven warping. I’ll have to try that when I do the next round of prints, but before learning that helpful tidbit, I followed the same technique with the opposite side of the shell.

shell print, vertical

I painted the shell mostly blue, with a little red mixed in on some areas. This was the concave side of the shell, so it didn’t make as much contact with the paper. I printed the shell twice to get a little more paint over the surface of the paper. The red paint that I dropped through the hole spread out smoothly and filled a lot of the empty space.

I enjoy this technique very much. I’m impressed with the colors in these two images. They are very rich, and I think it’s beautiful how the colors spread in organic, unexpected ways. I appreciate the randomness of the process. I can make certain choices, like whether to use a shell or a stone and what colors to apply, but ultimately the resulting print will be a total surprise–a result of the choices I’ve made interacting with the water and paper. It’s very satisfying work.

Stay tuned for my next post where I take the second shell print one step further using a copier and some doodles.