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  • Writer's pictureVishakha

The Fundamentals, Benefits, and Drawbacks of Watercolors

For most of us, watercolors are one of the first colors we learned to use as kids. You can call them a child’s stepping stone into the fascinating world of art. Watercolor paintings have also been stealing the hearts of artists and art viewers alike. These colors are considered a great art medium for various reasons. However, just because a type of paint is good, doesn’t mean it works for every artwork.

a watercolor painting of sea waves

With every new piece, artists may have different results in mind, and this can only be achieved with the correct art supplies. For any serious artist, it is imperative to know what would work best for them. In this blog today, we will take an in-depth look at watercolors and the benefits of using them for your craft. So, if you haven’t yet tapped deeper into this mesmerizing world of watercolor painting, this is your chance. 

How is Watercolor Made?

Watercolor is a finely ground pigment of colors bound in gum arabic — a water-soluble binder.  Some color brands also use synthetic binders to create the paint. The binder is used in making paints so that the pigment “binds” to the watercolor paper.  Gum arabic enhances the transparency of the pigment and makes it look more vibrant and glossy upon application. You need to dilute your color with water, the quantity of which will alter the translucency of your paint. 

Finally, the paint also includes a moisturizer and a plasticizer, which prevents the paint from drying to a hard block. The two ingredients also extend the life of the color and make it easier to dissolve. The moisturizers are generally a type of glucose like corn syrup or honey and plasticizers are mainly glycerin.

Brief History of Using Watercolor

Watercolor has been around for a long time. Its initial use can be traced back to the European-Paleolithic times, in the form of animal and human pictures in caves. However, it only gained recognition during the Renaissance era. Some of the first artists who used it for their art are Claude Lorrain, Van Dyck, and Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione among other Dutch and Flemish artists.

The Benefits of Using Watercolor in Art

Anyone who has used watercolors doesn’t need to be told about the luminosity and translucency of the colors. It has a vibrant, glossy finish and is also quite versatile. You can use this color with other mixed media artworks like ink and gouache to create beautiful paintings. Let’s see the other benefits of this paint.

1. Watercolors are non-toxic

Watercolors are one of the safest colors available in the market. They carry some mildly toxic content but not enough to harm the human body – unless you consume it of course. Even then, if you accidentally consume a small amount it won’t affect you in any way. This means these colors are safe if they come in contact with your skin. 

2. Easy setup and cleaning

Unlike some other paints that require a closet full of supplies, watercolors need just the basics. If you have gathered colors, some water, the necessary brushes, a mixing palette, and watercolor papers, you’re good to go. Since the paint is water-soluble, it can easily be washed off with water as well. To clean your supplies, simply put them under running water and viola! It is easy as a breeze to set up and clean this color!

3. Affordable art supply

These colors are one of the most affordable options available out there. Of course, there are expensive alternatives too, but you do not necessarily need to spend a fortune on them. The only material that may slightly incline to the costlier side is watercolor paper. These papers are specially designed to ensure they do not tear with the application of water. Depending upon the quality of paper and raw material used, the price may vary.

4. Quick-drying paint

Every paint takes its own time to dry and watercolors barely need a few minutes. As soon as the water in the paint evaporates, the color dries and leaves its stain on the paper. So once you apply a layer of paint, it will dry up very quickly. If you are still impatient, you can use a blow dryer to speed up the drying. The drying speed of the paint allows you to apply additional layers without ruining the previous ones.

5. Alterable opacity

The foundation of watercolor painting is dependent on its opacity and this comes from its dilution with water. In other words, you can easily alter its translucency by altering the quantity of water. If you add more water to your pigment, it becomes more translucent. However, if you want it opaque, just reduce the quantity of water because heavy colors are more opaque.

6. The paint is fragrance-free

While this may sound like an unconventional benefit, it is a huge relief for artists who are sensitive to smell. Unlike many other colors, watercolors do not have any odor which makes them suitable to be used by everyone. Its non-toxic and odorless formula makes it a safe choice for both kids and adults alike.

7. Easy to rewet

Some paints cannot be used if they have dried. However, you won’t face this problem with watercolors. Once you add more water to the dried color, it will easily mix again. This not only allows you to work at your own pace but also reduces the wastage of color.

8. The mesmerizing effects

The playful nature of water is an opportunity for you to explore a magnitude of beautiful effects while painting. Once you gain a better grip on the different painting techniques of watercolors, it will become much easier for you to play with these effects. The versatility of the paint makes it quite compatible with various other mediums to alter its texture, drying time, etc. 

The Drawbacks of Using Watercolors 

The unique nature of watercolors is also what leads to some of its major disadvantages. We all know that water is not easy to control and requires some skills to manipulate the results. This may make it slightly difficult for beginners to master this art. What adds more to the disadvantage is the translucency.  While it is a major factor in enhancing the beauty of watercolor paintings, it also makes it quite unforgiving at the same time. The fact that the paint dries too quickly also doesn’t help.

Owing to all these reasons, if you make a mistake in your painting, it becomes almost impossible to rectify it. You may add more layers of paint to cover your mistakes, but you won’t be able to completely hide them. If you end up adding too many layers, the color will also lose its luminosity, and get darker and messy. This color also dries lighter. It means if you have applied a darker shade, it will dry a few tones lighter. The color will also fade very quickly if it is exposed to direct sunlight. 

How to Pick the Right Watercolor Paint

With so many brands available to choose from, it can become confusing to find a good set of watercolors. Beginners in art can use some parameters to find a good quality set. 

1. Lightfastness 

It is the resistance of the color when it is exposed to light and how fast it fades. Hence, the lightfastness defines the longevity of your watercolor paintings. It can be assessed based on the universal parameters set by the American Society for Testing and Materials Standard (ASTM). It has three different ratings — ASTM I, ASTM II, and ASTM III. ASTM I signifies the highest lightfastness of a color and ASTM III signifies the lowest. You can easily find this information on the packaging of the paintbox. 

3. Transparency

There are four different levels of transparency in watercolors i.e. transparent, semi-transparent, semi-opaque, and opaque. Colors that are more transparent are also more luminous and bright because they allow the light to pass through. For best results, professional artists always recommend using transparent colors. However, if you want a more chalky appearance in your paint, opaque colors are a better choice. 

4. Color quality

Even if two brands share the same pigment name, remember their tones can still be different. It is because of the difference in their pigment concentrations and their proportion to other ingredients in the paint. A single pigment paint is much livelier than a paint that has been made with a mixed pigment concentration. This is also a reason why your paint may get dull if you mix together a lot of watercolors. 

Keep Practicing to Master Waterartistry

Now that you have become familiar with watercolors, what is stopping you from getting started? It is a unique art medium that gives you immense liberty to explore your craft. Painting with these colors is always fun and quite relaxing. 

Even if you generally use a different paint for your art, there is no harm in expanding your creative horizons and exploring a new medium. It can fuel your imagination and let you explore a new side of your paintings. Surely its results are somewhat unpredictable, but it is actually the enigma that makes watercolor a bag full of wonders!


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