Monday Art: Playtime with watercolors

Welcome to a new Monday Art! (What’s that? Read this!) If you read last week’s post on the Sketchbook Project, I’ve added two new pages here and here.

Alonzo King quotation

Calligraphy with an inexpensive "liner" brush (long, thin, pointed bristles)

Last week on my artist date, I stopped by an art store and bought a new pad of watercolor paper and some brushes. This action was a demonstration of my new commitment to learning to paint. Prior to this, I always used to say painting is one of those things I’ll never have the time to tackle in this lifetime (also on the list: quilting and knitting). But after attempting an ink-wash drawing a month ago, I realized I owe it to myself to try it sooner rather than later. I love color so much, and my drawing style seems to lend itself well to brushes and watercolor. Maybe it won’t take as long to learn as I feared.

Einstein quotation

Calligraphy with my new round 2 brush (I think... or else it was the rigger 2. I should have kept track!)

Since I’d never taken painting seriously in the past, the only brushes I had were those I’d picked up in cheap “starter kit”-type packets for beginning art classes. This time I wanted to get nicer brushes, and wow, they were not cheap! The best one I could bring myself to buy was $28 on sale ($40 regular), and that was an accident — I misread the label on the bin and didn’t figure it out till after I was away from the store. I guess it should be no surprise that art brushes are expensive; after all, it’s beauty gospel that makeup brushes are an investment, and surely art brushes should be no different. I paid quite a lot for my Philosophy brush set back in the day when I wore makeup, and those are now 10 years old and still going strong.

Brush chart

The chart I made

The trouble is, though I know all my makeup brushes inside and out, the brush display at the art store confused me. What’s the difference between a round brush and a rigger, a filbert and a bright? I picked up a small selection and then went home to test them out. If I’m going to have $20 brushes around, I need to know what they can do. I took out my old cheapie brushes and my new fancy brushes, squeezed a little bit of color into a palette (believe it or not, this particular set of watercolors is even older than my makeup brushes — it’s from a class I took in elementary school), and gave each brush a whirl.

Color chart

Color chart

Unsurprisingly, some of the cheapest brushes didn’t perform well, but it might not be the price. Like I said, I bought those brushes for art classes (some of them long ago), and the brush tips were damaged by misuse or improper storage. A useful reminder not to abuse my new brushes! And surprisingly, the brushes I liked most were not the expensive new ones, but the mid-range Princeton brushes I bought a few years ago for a class. But maybe it’s just because I’ve spent more time with them. Brushes seem to be like shoes: you don’t really know which are the most comfortable until you’ve used them for a while. The test chart above was a good first step, but I didn’t get to know the brushes better until I did some calligraphy with them. And their stroke quality isn’t the only attribute that might make costly brushes better; there’s also water and paint absorption and stuff like that, which I’m sure I’ll learn as I keep on painting. To speed the process, I’ve registered for a watercolor class at the RAC, which starts in mid-September.

Finally, after spending some time with the brushes, I decided to tackle colors. My elementary-school paint set has kind of a strange assortment of colors, but it made a good starting point. I mixed and mixed, making a rough chart (above). To close the session, I planted a tiny little garden from these new colors, then gave my shoulders, neck, and hands a rest.

Fairy garden

Fairy garden

I’ll see you tomorrow after an East Bay artist date!