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Experimenting with Watermedia(1)

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In my art-drawer I have a number of media that have hardly been used. They were purchased at the time with firm intentions to test them out and include them in my paintings....but as is the way of things, time was taken up with other demands and testing never happened in earnest.

During this busy post-Bank holiday week, I have been unable to get any new paintings started with a degree of commitment; twenty minutes into a lay-out and I get called away to do something else. So instead, I fished out a tin of Caran d'Ache Neocolor 2, which has lain dormant for about three years under a cupboard.

My tin of 30 colours includes, unfortunately, six that are rated one-star or fugitive. More on that later. I decided that although my efforts were not likely to be exhibition-worthy, I would put aside the low-rated colours and focus on the remainder.

Neocolor 2 sticks are water-soluble wax. I hesitate to label them as "crayons" due to the association with children's art...and quite frankly when you consider the price of Caran d'Ache materials, the last person I'd give them to is a small child. But, onward... these sticks can be used wet or dry, and on a variety of surfaces. I chose to use a sheet of very pale grey PastelMat (actually I thought it was white when I extracted it from the paper pile, but I was wrong).

PastelMat surface can take a certain amount of water-wash, something that isn't often advertised. I've used it for coloured pencil, pastel pencil, graphite and watercolour in recent times. The tooth is low-profile but sufficient for all these media (soft pastel goes on well too, but does appreciate a little more tooth than offered by these pale colours).

Without an actual subject to work from, I decided to make small pieces in square or rectangular format. This one below is a misty sunset. Starting with a dry surface, I scribbled colours across the horizon line and further upwards, in a rough hatched manner; working according to the spectrum red, orange, yellow (left the green out) then pale blue. Having done that, I gingerly stroked a wet brush across the red and orange section, from left to right. These colours began to bleed upwards and downwards on the PastelMat. The grainy texture of PastelMat permits some very delicate washed effects to be created; the washes diffuse as if on rough watercolour paper but I think there is a difference in the way those washes move. Having allowed my red and orange sections to settle, I then did the same again, very carefully, with the yellow and blue parts. These were left to dry and mingle without further interference.

Below the darker red band, I then had to work out how to do a supporting shadowy landscape. I picked a dark blue, dark green and worked them dry on the lower section. On top of that I decided to add a deeper purple and a little black. Again, some careful wet-brush was applied. The spreading of wet colour on this surface is pretty fast and tricky to control; it's often best to let it do its own thing and correct it when dried, using a dry colour-stick.

Having left the whole picture for twenty minutes to settle and start drying, I returned to the upper sky area with a little more yellow, plus white. Now, the white stick is really not all that strong in effect....when dry. To get more power into it, it needs to be wetted, or applied to a damp surface. The sky here was still damp, so I pressed the white in, to create some pale lighting effects and try to indicate where the sun might be. The white does dry back to a more subtle appearance, but more can be added.

Eventually I felt enough had been done. I had learned several things from this; that (a) the diffusion of wet wash was very quick on this surface and difficult to control; (b) Colour could be encouraged to spread and mingle with very careful application of a wet brush; (c) wet colour was vibrant but would eventually dry back to a more subtle look.

With these points in mind, I moved on to do another subject, again without any reference; to test out layering the colours in both and wet dry format, in a small still life. Next post shortly.

Caran d'Ache generally claim their colours to be lightfast. However, a few have been pointed out by other artists as being lower-grade; and the company's rating chart apparently states the following to be either one-star rating or "/" (fugitive or similar): Ochre, Raw Umber, Light Olive, Olive, Red Ruby, Saffron, Brown, Russett, Carmine, Pink, Periwinkle Blue, Dark Ultramarine. My tin of 30 contained Ochre, Olive,Brown, Russett, Carmine and Pink. Bit unfortunate, but something to remember when and if I buy any more.

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