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Watercolor is a painting on paper or cardboard with colors diluted in water. It is also the name of the technique used in this type of painting, and the colors with which it is done.
The colours used are more or less transparent depending on the amount of water with which it is mixed, and sometimes they show the background of the paper, which is usually white and acts as a real shade.
The product used for painting is composed of pigments bound with gum arabic or honey. Watercolour is used by painting in transparent layers, in order to achieve maximum brilliance and ease in the composition being made.
History of watercolor
Everything suggests that watercolour painting followed the invention of paper in China (attributed to the eunuch Cai Lun, advisor to Emperor He of the Eastern Han dynasty), in the 2nd century AD. Already in the 13th century the Arabs introduced papermaking in Spain and the technology spread to Italy decades later. Some of the oldest paper manufacturers include Fabriano (in Italy), opened in 1276, and Arches (in France), opened in 1492.
The predecessor of watercolour in Europe was fresco – wall painting using pigments in an aqueous medium on wet lime mortar. A good example of a fresco is the Sistine Chapel, begun in 1508 and completed in 1514. The first known use of watercolor in Europe is by the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520), who painted on large cardboards as sketches for tapestries. In Germany, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) painted watercolors in the 15th century. The first watercolor school in Europe was led by Hans Bol (1534-1593), who was influenced by Dürer’s creations. Among the British masters who used watercolor can be cited including Van Dyck, Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, Paul Sandby and Joseph Mallord William Turner, considered by some authors as a precursor of the techniques that would later develop the avant-garde. In the Spanish painting of the 20th century, artists such as Julio Quesada Guilabert, Ceferino Olivé, Francisco Bonnín Guerín, José Comas Quesada or Alberto Manrique can be mentioned.
In Japan, the watercolor executed with ink is called “Sumi-e”. In Chinese, Korean and Japanese painting it has been a dominant pictorial medium, often executed in monochromatic black or sepia tones.
Composition and techniques
Watercolour, a transparent painting technique (unlike gouache, which is more opaque) uses fine pigments or inks, mixed with gum arabic to give it body and glycerine or honey to give it viscosity and to bind the dye to the painting surface. All watercolors pale when exposed to the sun, the colors remain the better the quality of the pigments. It is possible to find the colors in tubes or tablets, in both forms the differences between pigments are appreciated, for example with manganese blue a granulation is obtained.
The watercolour technique is based on the superimposition of transparent layers -washes-, using the whiteness of the paper to obtain effects and touches of light. As more washes are superimposed, the color becomes deeper. The colour of the watercolour can be modified by adding or removing water, using brushes, sponges or rags.
The washing technique allows for the creation of gradients or uniform washings, even overlapping colours. With the wet on wet technique, the watercolor is painted on the previously wet support, obtaining a different effect. Pigment washings can also be performed once dry, depending on the paper, pigment and water temperature. Cleaning with a sponge or other absorbent element, scraping, are some examples of the wide possibilities offered by watercolour. The colours used can only be used if they are transparent (depending on the amount of water in the mixture) and sometimes allow the background of the paper to be seen (white), which acts as another true shade.
Types of media
The most common support for this technique is paper, there is a great variety of textures, thicknesses, weights and colors, your choice depends on the style of the artist. The watercolor paper is classified according to the number of grams per square meter, this varies between 190 and 800 grams, the higher the weight, the more the paper will resist the pigment and water. The weight of the paper is the second consideration for your choice, it will depend on how much water you use, since the pigment should not run and the paper should not curl. To prevent the paper from curling, it is pre-wetted and glued to a wooden fence, thus tightening it.
Another less used support is fabric or woven. There are three standard types of paper:
The choice of grain is based on your needs.
Satin grain: offers a very smooth surface, which is perfectly suited to fine lines and treatment of details.
Fine grain: this is the most frequently used texture. Its surface, neither too smooth nor too marked, slightly rougher than the satin grain, is easy to use and adapts to (almost) all situations.
The coarse grain: with its more pronounced texture, which tends to attenuate details, it demands a certain technical mastery. Not very well suited to themes rich in detail, it is suitable for colour or relief effects.