Watercolor – Basic Brush Strokes
When I went to photograph the sheet of paper with my demo strokes on it, I realized that I really need to do some that were a bit more organized but this demo will have to do for now and I will have to make up and "official" catalog later. I will try my best to describe what I did but you will learn better by doing.
While there are a lot of brushes on the market having a few well-made brushes in various sizes will leave you better off in the long run because you become familiar with these brushes and you don't have to think about how you will use them, you just will and that will come with practice. The more you paint, the more familiar you become with your brushes, your paints and your paper, they are your tools just like a carpenter or plumber or mechanic has their own unique set of tools of their trade, so does the artist. Each has a job to do and your goal as an artist is to not have to think about the tools you use but to think about the job – your painting – and how you are going to accomplish that goal. That comes with practice, the more you practice the sooner you won't be thinking of your tools and you will start looking for more challenging subjects to conquer.
The first notion you need to forget about your brush is it is not a pencil or pen, nor is it a brush you paint walls with, it can and should move in your hand so you can use all parts of the bristles whether it is a flat, a round or an angle brush, learn to twist and move the brush around in your hand and to use your whole arm and wrist to get the effect you want.
Here are some basic moves for the different brushes:
Round Brushes – They should come to a nice sharp point when wet. You can make fine lines with the tip of the brush, thick line if you push down on it or a combination will give you thick and thin lines. This combination comes in handy when doing grasses or leaves. If you start at the tip and as you start to draw it across the paper, press and lift, you can create leaves or if you draw in longer it can be grasses or thick leaves like iris leaves. If you start out thick and pull and twist as you go up to the tip, you can create tree trunks. Experiment to see what you can do with each brush.
Flat/Angle brushes – While these brushes are similar, the angle is a bit more versatile than a flat brush you will have to decide which is best suited for your needs.
The angle brush is sometimes called an angled shader because it can give you a very nice graded brush stroke which is good for shading. (Graded means a color goes from dark to almost nothing in value), the key is just to load the tip with color, work the color in just a bit on your palette then place the whole end of the brush on paper, not just the tip with the color and draw it across. This comes n handy when you are doing shadows, or if you want to do some quick little flowers or anywhere where you need the color to fade off.
You can also make thick and thin lines with it just like the round brush, start on the edge of the brush and pull in the direction of the edge then twist the brush as you pull to fatten the line then twist back to make it thin again. Again, this brush is good for leaves and grasses.
I like this brush because I can use the tip or the side or however I need to use it and not have to change brushes all the time. I can do detail work with my 1" brush if I need to, it is because I know how this brush works from years of using them.
Flat brushes work similar but I find them a bit awkward for detail work.
Liner Brushes – I love my liner brush! This little brush can make grasses and trees or do detail that is almost impossible with any other brush. It does take some practice though so you will want to have some scratch paper or cards or something to practice on until you get a feel for this brush.
One important key to this brush is loading it with paint, this is the one time I will encourage you to use a lot of water. The paint should be the consistency of ink so it will flow off the brush. Next important is loading the paint on the brush. You need to roll the entire length of the bristles in the paint and as you lift it up, roll it between your fingers so it comes to a nice point.
You want to hold this brush at the back of the handle not near the metal ferrule, hold it in the center between your thumb, index and middle fingers like you are pinching it not like a pencil. Hold the brush slightly downward at the tip so the paint flow off it.
This brush is called a liner or a rigger or script liner because it is great for making long, consistent lines without reloading too often. The long bristles hold a lot of paint. If you press harder you get a thicker line, if you barely touch you can get long thin lines.
For grasses start by making a circular motion with the brush before you get to your paper then just touch the paper on the upstroke of that circle and lift as soon as you touch. Small circles make short grass, big circles make tall grass.
For trees, bushes and tree limbs – you are still holding like I described above – start at the bottom of the tree/branch, pressing harder creates a thicker line, and with a jerky motion pull up and lift off. You should get an unsmooth line that tapers off. To make more branches start back in where you just painted and as you pull change direction as you make a new branch. Practice will make perfect so give yourself some time to master this little brush.
There are many specialty brushes on the market like fans and rakes and stippling brushes, most of them are just made to sell, you can do the same thing and better with the brushes I've mentioned above so you can spend you money on something you will use. There are some exceptions and you may find you like certain brushes for certain things such as fan brushes, you do need to be aware of some inherent problems with these brushes and that is they usually leave a definite pattern, which is why they were made in the first place.
Fan brushes are popular and if you know what to look for you can see where an artist used a fan especially if they don't know how to disguise it. Fans will leave the image of their shape on everything you do. If you are making pint trees with them, they can look like fish bones, if you are making grass they can leave little fan shaped clumps, be aware of this when you use them.
Rake brushes or grass brushes can be used to create textures for wood or, as the name implies, grass. Again, be aware that they can leave a too consistent pattern so try to break that pattern up.
The one brush I do use occasionally besides my angle brushes is a filbert. It looks like a flat brush with rounded corners. I use this more with my acrylics than my watercolor but I do like it for certain things.
Next class I will be going over creating textures and effects with watercolor and will go over a few things I did cover in class but they are worth repeating. See you in class.