Returning to Watercolor: Materials Matter

I love water media like watercolor and gouache. Thanks to parenthood and a long list of other excuses, it has been almost 5 years since I’ve spent any time seriously painting. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about flowers and have been drawing them a lot more in my sketchbook. Flowers cry out for color so returning to watercolor seems like a natural next step.

I bought myself flowers to inspire me and excite my creative impulse. Despite my daughters insistence that I purchase dyed blue roses, I chose the flowers based on textures and colors that I love right now.

When I first sat down to paint, my 10 year old wanted to paint with me so I brought out her paints and brushes and used these in my own creations – as I generally do. One thing I notice when painting with Katie is my natural inclination to use her materials instead of my own. I hate saying “these are grown up paints” or needing to explain why I’m not sharing good quality paints with her. It’s in direct opposition to the whole “sharing is caring” mentality we are trying to teach her. But paint is bloody expensive right now, right?!

Paintings created with a cheaper dry watercolor set from Target and acrylic paint.

I realized quickly that the materials I was using and my goals for the painting didn’t align. I added in some acrylic paint to help sculpt the forms in a way that the cheaper set of watercolors – that were heavily amended with chalk – did not allow me to do. In the end I was able to create a couple of works that I appreciated for various reasons but neither one match with the idea of these flowers in my head.

The next time I set down I used a different set of paint. Cognizant of the poor experience with the chalkier paints my daughter and I were using previously, I pulled out a semi-wet set of Kuretake Gansai Tambi watercolors that was gifted to Katie and me some time ago (non-affiliate link).

When used more opaquely they mimic creamy gouache but leave a sticky looking shine when dry. These watercolors are rich and creamy but easy to thin down and use more transparently in a more traditional fashion as well.

The transparency of a higher quality paint allows for better wet-in-wet techniques.

These watercolors were much more successful when playing with forms. They could be layered. They weren’t chalky. I immediately thought “Why isn’t Katie using these too?” When I returned to paint with Katie we definitely used the Kuretake watercolors. She loved the brighter colors and the range of color choices. She was as enthusiastic about the change as I was.

I am enjoying myself a lot more with the Kuretake watercolors and I like that I can invite Katie to paint with me if I’m trying to carve out some painting time when she’s home. The paint quality makes for a much less frustrating experience. I will continue to explore watercolors again and will move on to my professional tubed watercolors soon. For now, the lower stakes feeling that comes with the Kuretake watercolor set liberates me to just let go and not worry about feeling like I’m wasting supplies as I try to get my sea legs again while still having fun.

I’m eager to purchase more fresh flowers soon and suspect that the coming year just might be the year of flowers for me.

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