Monday, September 23, 2013

A Bonanza of A Disaster

Detail of a work in progress.
I've been experimenting with different watercolor papers lately. This time I tried hot press paper. It's machine made and quite smooth, whereas my usual cold press paper has a bit of tooth. I wanted to try a smoother paper because my work of late has been very detailed and I thought less texture might be easier to work with. Wrong. I spent about a week drawing and putting down the first layer of color. It seemed a little gummy in spots, but not too bad. So far so good. Then calamity struck. When I began to apply the next layer of color even the most staining pigments lifted right up. Now I'm almost two weeks into this painting and nothin' is working the way it should! I'm not one to give up easily so for me these periods of doubt and struggle are pretty interesting. First I wondered if maybe I didn't soak the paper long enough to break down the sizing. Then I wondered if this paper contains extraordinary amounts of sizing. Then I wondered if my pigments were so old they were separating from their gum arabic base. I wanted a solution to this gummy mess of brush strokes, and after trying several different brands and styles of brushes, from the softest squirrel to the stiffest synthetic, I finally settled on an old Cheap Joe's Golden Fleece. The brush gave me a smidgeon of hope that kept me from throwing the painting away and starting over. I'm pretty good at determining when to "put the brush down and step away from the paper!" This definitely was the time. So I sat still with my smidgeon of hope and my frustration and disappointment. And I sat still some more— until I realized I had found a bonanza of fun and potential. This confounding paper had set me on a new path and was forcing me to learn new ways to paint. I know this sounds silly to those of you who are wild and crazy experimenters playing with new materials all day every day. I'm usually focused on content and the most expedient way to express its message. This paper seems to be pushing me toward a more graphic, flattened style of communicating. We shall see where it takes me. I still have my cold press waiting...


  1. My experiments with hot press paper have been less than successful and I experienced many of the same emotions as you while working on it. Since then, I've been working on a surface that's totally nonabsorbent (TerraSkin) and have found new ways to deal with the paint lifting when more layers are applied. I agree with you that these frustrating moments when our supplies don't behave are actually great lessons.

    1. Nancy— Thanks for your comment! I'd love to hear more about what you've found to deal with paint lifting under layers.