Working With Opaque Watercolor Pigments, pt. 2


After I finished the last post, I found a number of other paintings that used additional "opaque" techniques.  I wanted to share them this week to fully flesh out the value of these types of pigments.  On that note- I know a lot of people keep 12 color palettes, but if you're interested in achieving effects beyond a good gamut of hues, the properties of the pigments themselves matter.  Generally, I'm not really very finicky about which hues a person exactly uses.  This blue or that blue.  This red or that red, etc. It doesn't matter that much to me as long as I can mix the hue I want.  But if you want an opaque, pale green, it's hard to get by without Cad Yellow and Cobalt Turquoise Light (PG 50).  If you want the rivulets and organic textures, my experiments have shown you pretty much need WN Raw Umber.  Looking for a pale, natural, opaque yellow?  Yellow Ochre is a good choice.  Same goes for Jaune Brilliant No. 1.  So, for this sort of stuff, the pigment matters more than normal.

First, opaque pigments tend to be thicker and less mobile than their transparent brothers and sisters.  Much like last week, when I shared what happens when we drop Chinese White into an existing wash, this allows us to achieve certain effects when we work wet into wet.  In this painting from Kauai, I wanted that bright, sherbert-y orange color for those clouds.  I mixed some purple with Jaune Brilliant No. 1 and got that muted, opaque purple you see for the darker foreground clouds.  Then I mixed up some Jaune Brilliant No. 1 with Cadmium Orange, and did a few quick strokes for the orange clouds, wet into wet. You can see the sorts of effects I got.  Very very mild blooming and a soft "finger-like" diffusion of one pigment into the other.  This is very different than what you get with more finely ground transparent paints, which reveal a different kind of beauty when we play with them wet into wet.

Yes, I also used a bit of Chinese White for the crest of the wave, where it breaks the horizon line.  As before, these sort of goopy drybrush applications of white, where preserving that bit of paper-white works against the spontaneity of an earlier wash, is just the sort of place I like to lay down an opaque after the fact.

In this next painting, I used Cadmium Yellow and WN Cobalt Turquoise Light (PG 50) for my greens.  These two mixed together create interesting greens.  Why?  Because they're both pale valued with a clean hue, and both are relatively opaque to boot.  Mixed together, we can achieve something normally pretty difficult- relatively bright, pale, opaque greens! 


Here you can see where I splattered and dabbed them into the existing tree.  I laid most (but not all!) of the branches down first, but the limey greens slowly began to dominate the branch structure.  The background and trunks were still damp, so I got some bleeding and movement of pigment.  As the greens began to pool up, you can also get little accumulations of extra pigment which can create interesting effects!


For this final painting, I wanted to touch on using WN Raw Umber.  I did a whole series of posts about working with Raw Umber a year or two ago.  If you're interested in the process, you'll need to look them up in the search bar.  I also did a number on Bjorn Bernstrom, who uses this technique.  You can find those posts under Blog> Workshop Reviews> Bjorn Bernstrom.  For today, I'll just say that WN Raw Umber (and ONLY WN Raw Umber) when applied very thickly, is goopy and "sticks" to itself.  If you lay it into a passage thick enough, and then apply another pigment just above it, it will hold it's own as the new pigment marches downwards. 

Here you can see what it looks like when the two pigments mix.  I like to use Yellow Ochre and drop it in from above, because it's ALSO opaque and thick, but is relatively pale valued to boot.  The Raw Umber must be thick and goopy, but wet.  The "top" pigment must be slightly wetter, to allow for movement and "travel" down the canvas.  When it mixes organically, through gravity, wet into wet, you can get lovely rivulets.  This is a technique that can produce a wonderful sense of organic greenery- an effect that's not quite reproducible with brushstrokes, IMO.  It takes practice, but can be learned!


In the end, if you're looking for opaque pigments to try out, below is a list of those I've used most often.  Good luck in your experiments!

For pale values- Jaune Brilliant No. 1, Yellow Ochre, Cad Yellow, Cobalt Turquoise Light (PG 50), Chinese or Titanium White

For Darker Values- Chromium Oxide, Raw Umber, VanDyke Brown/ Burnt Umber (some sort of dark brown)