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Aquapasto II August 27, 2021 20:19

Back in early 2018, I wrote a blog post about aquapasto. It's been my most popular blog post. People still come to read it. 

I hadn't done much with aquapasto  until recently, when I began experimenting with it again.

I first tried adding some to some paint to see if I could get lines to stand up. That didn't work.

I thought maybe I didn't add enough. Thing is that I noticed the more I added, the less brilliance the paint had--because, of course, there was less pigment per inch. It was spread out. What to do? Layers.

So I thought maybe it might be usable as some kind of transparent glaze, and I added much more aquapasto to each glob of paint, so that they were 50/50. I mixed them up with a very small palette knife I use with my watercolors, usually just to mix some tube paint with a bit of water and end up with something creamy. After mixing the paint and aquapasto, I added one spray of water so it wasn't so sticky.

This time I ended up with something much thicker than cream. More like limp toothpaste. This consistency allowed me to build some actual texture with the paint. Have a look. This is tube paint + aquapasto painted over DS watercolor ground on a gessoed canvas.
 

For most of this painting, I used a type of brush I discovered through oil painting. It's usually used for painting grasses in landscapes and is called a grainer. It doesn't work that well for painting grass, but it's really interesting for building up texture. They are pretty cheap, but you could just as easily use an old flat brush in bad condition that's gotten splayed. 

I've experimented on and off with using watercolor paint almost straight from the tube to do drybrush work. This is the kind of painting that leaves a thick (for watercolor) layer of paint on the support, rather than the kind of scratchy drybrush you often see used for depicting Western or desert scenes--at least, that's what I associate that type of drybrush with. The kind of drybrush that leaves a thick, brilliant layer that never has the chance to sink into the paper and thus dilute its brilliance by coloring paper fibers below the surface is very rarely done, from my experience. One thing that seems to prevent watercolorists is the expense of the paint. But you really don't need to use that much, in my experience.

Drybrush does allow for glazing if you really careful to have very little water on the brush, use brights instead of rounds (which tend to dig up the lower layer of any kind of paint), and hold the brush at an angle quite close to the surface of the support, so you are basically skimming along. Adding aquapasto to the mix means not only can you do a drybrush glaze more easily, but you can build multiple layers and you can create texture that is unobtainable any other way.

You can see how thick the buildup of paint and aquapasto is here--thick enough to fill the dips in the canvas weave. This has about 7 layers of paint/aquapasto to it. It will seem even more filled when I finish the painting with cold wax, which I have been doing for the past couple of years. This will make it very water-resistant (I have tested it with a kitchen sink sprayer--beads right up). The painting can then be hung not only without glass but without a frame. If you do use cold wax, you might have to call it mixed media if you enter shows. But if you don't use cold wax and only the aquapasto, you are still allowed to call it watercolor, no matter how much texture you achieve with it, because aquapasto is a gel made from water, gum arabic, and some fumed (safe) silica and has been used by watercolorists for more than a century.

When I first tried aquapasto back in 2018 and posted about my experiences on a now mostly defunct art forum, I thught other painters would be glad to hear how you could add texture to watercolor. Not so much. And worse, another poster scolded me for not sticking to "real" watercolor. Why didn't I just use acrylics or something, they asked with a sniff, the implication being that then the "real" watercolorists wouldn't have to deal with misfits such as myself. 

Thing is I wanted to paint with watercolor, but I wanted to push the envelope, to see how much it could actually do. And what's more, aquapasto was invented by 19th-century British watercolorists, and you don't get much more "real" watercolorists than them. 

So give it a try. Play with it and see what it can do for you. We need more misfits in the art world.  


Light Dimensional Ground on Canvas September 19, 2020 12:34

Canvas with light dimensional ground

I got some of QoR's Light Dimensional Ground and applied it to a couple of 12 x 12" canvases I had sitting around. The stuff was easy to spread with a big palette knife, but I used up 2/3s of the little jar on two canvases. I don't know if I just used too much or what. I like oil paintings with a lot of texture, and I thought I might be able to capture that effect with this stuff, so I went to town. You can see the amount of texture I ended up with.

This stuff is not as smelly as the regular watercolor ground, but I still let it dry out in the hall during the day, and since we have hooligans coming into our building at night to fuck around, I took the canvases in and put them in my window to complete drying overnight. As long as it doesn't rain or freeze, I think that's going to be a good place to let stuff dry. 

Detail of tree work in progress

Today I could hardly wait to try out these supports. One technique I use a lot in watercolor is apply some paint and then mist with a hair mister to get it to run and to encourage particles of pigment to settle in the texture of the paper. I find a hair mister works many times better than a regular sprayer. You can do tiny puffs of mist just where you want them or quickly mist the whole thing to encourage granulation. I was hoping that I could do that with this ground, but I wasn't sure, since I kept reading about how it was spongy. A spongy surface might just sop up the pigment and not allow it to run. In fact, at least one review said that. 

But that's not what happened with my paint. I used Daniel Smith's Green Apatite, Winsor Newtown's Prussian Blue, Daniel Smith's New Gamboge, and Winsor Orange. The apatite settled out a dark purplish brown color different from the green that dominates it. It fell into a lot of the creases and rumples and showed up as wonderful specks. It doesn't photograph well, but the photo above shows a detail. 

Tree watercolor on light dimensional ground on canvas

Here's the whole painting. When you get close to the support, it does have the look of grainy paper, but the texture reminds me of acrylic, like modeling paste. The paint isn't shiny in any way. It's completely matte. I didn't feel much of a difference between this and painting on CP except that it lifts much more easily. I tried using that to my advantage to create limbs and trees in the background, but they ended up being overworked. I also tried some highlights that way, but it looked like too-vigorous lifting. So I think I might try lifting and then painting another color over the lift area, like zinc. 

I'm not sure if I will add more to this. It might look better with some blue added, especially my beloved cobalt, but OTOH, I'm eager to go ahead and seal it with cold wax and see what happens. I asked the manufacturer if they thought it would be okay to use cold wax on this, because of the spongy thing. They said they didn't know but sounded kind of doubtful. That might be because no one has tried it yet. 

This stuff has a lot of possibilities, but I am not sure how much I am going to use it because it is pretty expensive in terms of how far it goes. They produce it only in a small 4 oz jar. :( However, it might be possible to use Golden's molding paste and then either use watercolor on it or spread some of the regular watercolor ground over it. 

However, I did just order some of Golden's Crackle Paste to try for texture as well. I didn't realize it could be used with watercolor, but on a hunch, I thought if light dimensional ground could be used that way, so might crackle paste. I can hardly wait to get my hands on it.

I am sensitive to acrylic, but I did okay with these grounds and I don't anticipate hovering over the stuff like I used to do with my paints. I will also allow the supports to dry out in the hall and/or in the window, so I think I will be okay.

I know some people might say, "Why are you trying to get texture with watercolor?" I know it's not "traditional," although in the 19th century, British watercolorists used aquapasto in their watercolors, which can produce low dimensionality with watercolors and is made from gum arabic and silica gel (that is treated in a way that makes it safe).  I've used that in the past. It can give you brushstrokes similar to a not-too-heavy Impressionist style. I still need to play with that more. 

But as for why insert texture into a watercolor painting, why not? There is no reason why oils and acrylics should get to have all the fun. Texture really expands watercolor and doesn't change its fundamental nature. 

Lots of possibilities!


Aquapasto February 4, 2018 19:59 2 Comments

A couple weeks ago I bought a medium made by Winsor Newton and others called "Aquapasto." This medium is meant to give a small amount of texture to watercolor brush strokes. It's based on a 19th-century formula and consists of gum arabic and fumed silica, so it does not take the user out of the watercolor category.