Touching on Texture

Texture describes the surface finish on paper. The type of paper you choose gives you different effects with the paint. You may want a smooth paper for lots of detail or a textured surface to make sparkling reflections on water.

You can choose from three main surface textures:

Hot press: This texture is even and smooth, and makes a nice surface for prints and drawings. The paper has a slicker finish that you can use to create some interesting results. It’s more difficult to make soft transitions when using this paper, so you may have more hard edges than you want.

Cold press: This slightly bumpy texture is the most popular texture for watercolorists. The texture allows paint to settle into the texture pockets or sit on top and skip over the pockets, creating some different technique options.

Rough: Rough texture has an even bumpier surface than cold press. This surface is good for exaggerated rough texture techniques.

Paint is made up of a couple of elements. Pigment is either chemical or natural coloring that has been ground to a fine powder. The powder is added to a binder that makes it sticky and allows it to be used as paint. The binder for oil paint is oil. The binder for milk paint is milk. Now, what’s the binder for watercolor? That’s right, it’s gum arabic! Okay, it was a trick question.

Gum arabic is a water-soluble, sticky, clear goo that when added to pigment makes watercolor. Powdered pigment can’t be used without a binder, which is already in the paint when you buy it. Most watercolorists just use plain water to dilute their paints and for cleanup, but you can purchase a little jar of gum arabic and use it to thin your paint if you want. It makes the paint shiny and makes it flow nicely.

Grading pigments

You can purchase pigment in two grades:

Student-grade paint has less pigment and more filler and is easily identified by its lower cost. You can still produce a nice painting using it, so I recommend starting with this grade if you’re on a budget. One disadvantage of cheaper paint is its lack of lightfastness, meaning the color can fade.

Professional-grade paint costs about twice that of student-grade because it has a higher quality of pigment, finer grinding, and less filler.

Does the grade make a difference in the painting? Yes, so upgrade to professional paint when you’re ready. How can you tell the difference between student-grade and professional-grade paint? Price. A tube of student-grade paint ranges in price from $1 to $5 per tube. Professional-grade paint ranges from $9 to $30 per tube.

Higher grades of paint are usually more permanent or lightfast. Permanent, as applied to pigment, means that the color won’t fade in light. Fugitive means that light will cause the color to fade (sometimes completely). Some pigments rate very high in lightfastness. For example, earth colors in the brown family, like yellow ochre and burnt sienna, get the highest rating for lightfastness, even in a student-grade pigment. Bright colors, reds, and purples tend to be more fugitive.

Check for a star rating on your paint labels. More stars (the highest is four stars) means the pigment is more permanent.

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