Every October, when the colors of autumn start to show, my creativity seems to wake from a long summer slumber. I think the seeds of my creativity were sown in my childhood in New England. Huge maples, beeches, and oaks lined the streets of my little town. Every fall they caught fire, with colors from the keenest yellows to deepest coppers to richest reds. For a New Englander, autumn was payoff season. It was the time of year when you were rewarded for enduring the snows of winter, the rains of spring, and the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes of summer. I remember wanting to bottle up all that color and keep it all year.
This fall, when the chinaberry tree in the backyard started to turn, I started thinking about watercolors. I grabbed my purse and was just about to drive to the nearest art-supply store when my hubby Pat, always a penny pincher, questioned why I was thinking of buying from an artist-supply shop.
“Wouldn’t you save some money if you bought from Michaels…or even Walmart?”
Good question. I got an answer from Jason, owner of Visual Art Supply in Normal Heights (619-501-5585). “The cost of your paint,” he explained, “regardless of whether it is acrylic, oil, or watercolor, is all in the pigment. The more expensive, typically, the better the pigment. With a lesser brand, the quality of the pigment is going to fade faster. It may not hold up over time, and it won’t be as bright to begin with.
“There is a new brush called Niji Waterbrush, which I think is really cool,” he added. Small, medium, and large run from $8 to $10 at Visual Art Supply. “It has a reservoir — you put the watercolor in this penlike dispenser, and it has a brush at the tip so you don’t have to keep dipping your brush into the water. The watercolor just flows through the brush like a pen. It has a lot more to work with, so it flows a lot more — you are not having to go back and forth from a palette as much.”
Tracy Ann, assistant manager at Artist & Craftsman Supply in Hillcrest (619-688-1911), gave me further advice.
“I recommend watercolors for anybody who is a beginner — a drawer wanting to move into paint-and-color theory — because the cleanup is very easy. It’s nonpermanent. But when you want to execute a more photo-realistic painting, depending on the subject, watercolor is not as forgiving as most. With acrylic or oil paint, if you make a mistake you can completely cover and paint over it. With watercolors, you use the white of your paper; it’s that light and that brightness that is supposed to shine through the paint. So, you have to be very minimal in what you are applying.
“I really like the Koi Watercolor sets,” she added. “They’re dried in a cake palette, 12 or 24 sets, from $20 to $30. They come with a place to mix the paint, a little back stand for your paper, and a waterbrush, a watercolor brush. It has a reservoir, and you squeeze out the water as you go. So, it’s great for out and about or in class. You don’t need a cup sitting with you.”
For a set of tubes, “A nice set of Windsor Newton tubes runs about $40, and that gets you ten colors and also a palette with a brush.”
Then, of course, there’s the paper. “Watercolor paper comes in cold press, hot press, and rough. Think of hot press as like an iron — it’s going to make things smooth, so those are the smoother surfaces. Most are sold individually because they are not too popular to buy a whole pad of hot press. More of the graphic and designers use the hot press. The fine artist would go with the cold press or even a rough.
“We’ve got great paper closeouts by Fabriano — a cold-pressed sheet of paper for about $1.25. Arches sheets start at $5.15 per sheet for a 140 [pound], cold pressed. We also sell Yupo paper, which is polypropylene. It’s very similar to a drafting film, but it comes in a white, opaque sheet instead of a typical translucent, and it’s really great for watercolor techniques. It lifts amazingly, and it has this neat smooth finish on it, which most watercolor papers wouldn’t have. It’s sold in pads and sheets. An 11-by-14 pad runs about $20 and has ten sheets.”