January Q&A

January Q&A

Welcome to the first monthly Q&A! Submit your questions and/or requests for in depth posts on Discord or by email. Ps. The monthly Q&As are typically part of the paid tiers, but this month's is going out to everyone. Enjoy!

Question: I noticed the intentional use of the word "mark" for painting/drawing/etc and was wondering what your thought process was behind that.

I love this question! I started using "mark" gradually over time, as I wanted a noun for the thing that I had made other than "art" or "a painting" or "a drawing" since all of those carried some sense of value expectation. When I heard artist Louise Fletcher encourage her students to focus on painting (verb) not making a painting (noun) it clicked even more. When I thought I should paint something, I'd think of the end result, whereas if I thought I'll make some marks it felt easier. I could take the next step without going to the end, like I illustrated in this diagram I shared last week.

There's also a real lack of process oriented words for some kinds of art, and I think "making marks" is a helpful contribution. I'm writing about this right now for the February Monthly Guide. Here's an excerpt:

Every time I go to play the guitar I don't feel like I have to write a new, beautiful song. I don't even have to play a pre-existing song! I can strum, doodle around. I can write a few phrases, a bit of melody. I can look up a new chord and just try to get my hand to do that shape. I play through scales. But there isn't the same language/expectation for making like there is with other kinds of art. So I like to find it myself: I can paint something I've painted a thousand times, I can doodle around, I can put my hand in a new shape and find in there a mark or two that I particularly like.

I also like "marks" because it doesn't specify a certain medium, and I decided a while ago it's not better or more serious of me to make a large oil painting than it is to make a diagram in colored pencil: a mark is a mark, and it's mine, and that's what matters to me. Even a refined, complicated piece is still just a bunch of marks. The way you make your marks is a major part of what gives your art its "style" and spending time finding the kinds of marks you like to make will give you a sense of self when you go into painting something larger, anything from an abstract to a portrait.

One's marks are a kind of handwriting, and it's so satisfying to go from copying the letters on a worksheet to writing a sentence that anyone who loves you will recognize right away as yours.

Q: Is hot press or cold press sketchbook paper better for what we will be doing (let's say the first year)?

This is totally a personal preference thing, and my strong personal preference is for cold press! Cold press (CP) has texture and hot press (HP) doesn't and with my love for granulation I'm committed to CP, as it barely shows up on HP.

But this is a style thing. If you like really flat, graphic pieces, or using a lot of pen, HP might be perfect. It feels about like painting on cardstock. The flatness also gives you a tiny bit more control. I know some people who work primarily in gouache prefer HP, though I still use gouache on CP.

Here are some photos to illustrate what I mean:

Here is watercolor and gouache on CP:

cold press

Even with the texture I was satisfied with the amount of detail I was able to get in. You can see though how the white on the mask, which was less watery, catches on the texture. When you're just learning, this can happen unintentionally and feel frustrating, like you can't get a clean line. You can see this a little bit in some of the eyelashes.

Here are some abstract marks in ink, watercolor and acrylic on HP. It's very clean and smooth. The edges tend to dry with more obvious blooms, as you can see in the yellow.

hot press

Q: My watercolor paper soaks the liquid from my paints almost instantly so I can’t get nice even washes. I’ve tried doing wet on wet but the paper doesn’t hold much water and it dries super fast. What are others using who seem to have so long to blend their paints?

100% cotton paper, and in most cases, Arches brand. It's expensive and exquisite. To try it, get a pad, and if you are patient and check often, you'll be able to find it on sale. If you want it to feel less precious and you have the money to spend up front and the time for a bit of a project, you can buy it in large sheets (22"x30") like I do and cut/tear it down to a bunch of 5.5" x 7.5" pieces and keep them in a stack on your desk and use them freely.

There are other quality brands that make 100% cotton paper: Fabriano, Fluid, L'Aquarelle Canson, Hahnemühle, Saunders Waterford, etc. They're all fine in terms of quality, but their textures vary and I like Arches best by far. Bee makes a 100% cotton paper that is fairly cheap and feels more like student grade paper than the rest (and to me, it smells kinda weird). I learned about paper by buying lots of different things, ordering samples and going into art stores and physically looking at and touching papers. I've since realized that touching high quality paper leaves a tiny bit of oil residue behind that can later resist watercolors and make a weird spot in a painting, so I shouldn't recommend that you do this, though it's a common way to learn about products.

The only 100% cotton sketchbook that I've found that I like is made by Etchr. I get their CP in landscape and have enjoyed all the different sizes. I've tried their "perfect sketchbook" which is indeed perfect, but their white covered regular sketchbooks are cheaper and also basically perfect, so that's what I go for.

Notes on buying paper: I'd recommend getting 140 lb or heavier. I use cold press. Hot press will be smoother and Rough and handmade papers will be very textured. Aside from the giant sheets/rolls, you can buy it as a pad or a block. A pad has gum adhesive on one side of the paper and you tear it off like a note pad. A block has that gum adhesive on all four sides and will be a lot more expensive though the paper is the same. The idea with the block is that if you paint on it and let it dry, the paper will warp less. To get your sheet off you have to cut it off with a knife. I would recommend skipping the blocks for now and getting either the regular pads or cutting down large sheets to start.

There's actually quite a bit more to say on this topic and why some papers behave differently than others (if you're anxious to know, google "sizing") and I plan to do a full materials post on paper soon!

Q: I have Daniel Smith watercolor tubes and am thinking of buying this palette for portability. Would I squeeze the watercolor into this pan, and then let it dry for future use?


Yes! Most quality tube watercolors will dry nicely and rewet. In fact, drying them first is the most common way to use them since they are so goopy straight out of the tube. (Though, if you have low quality paints, they might dry into these kind of brick-like clumps that don't rewet well.)

To do this, you would squeeze paint into the pan and let it dry. I like to stir it with a toothpick to get the bubbles out and smooth it out a bit. You'll then let it dry 1-4+ days depending on the paint and the temp/humidity where you are. You can use it in the meantime but it's a weird goopy/half dry consistency. When the paint dries it will sink down. If you want a very beautiful dried pan you could do it the professional way and fill it in three layers.

me going at it with a toothpick in 2018, one of the first times I did this. I had the right idea! If I were doing this today I'd put a lot more paint in the pan.

I've heard some pretty meh-reviews of Daniel Smith's palette box. It might work out better in the long run to buy a palette you like and then buy the paint colors you really want in tubes.

Here are alternatives if you want to buy a blank palette:

  • Personally I love the ArtToolkit pocket palettes and after trying lots of options have settled on this.
  • The Portable Painter palette is well loved and highly regarded as a good travel palette. I somehow have never bought one but feel like I know them from having seen so many others use them.
  • If you don't plan to travel with it, a larger palette like this one is what I used for a long time, and still do sometimes. I like the wider, slanted palette spots so you can sop up paint with a larger brush.

Q: What colors do you use for your flesh tones? I find human skin is the hardest palette to create.

I mostly work from a yellow/red/blue primary palette and skin colors are a mix of these three. From the DS mixing set I mentioned, I use new gamboge, pyrrol scarlet and ultramarine blue. I think in this piece I mostly used soup off my old dirty palette from swatching.

The important thing with skin colors is not as much the actual color but the many variations of color within the color which make it look realistic. It's like how you can put a filter on a photo of a face which changes the color but it will still look real because it shifts all the color in a cohesive way and their internal color proportions are intact. It’s the proportions that have the biggest effect.  Another way to think about it is that it is more about tone and temperature than actual color. I'll be writing so much more about this down the road.

One good starting point is to try out the Zorn palette. It’s like what I mentioned above, but actually uses black instead of blue. It’s a great way to get a handle on skin tones. If you google it you’ll find a lot of resources on it as it’s a classic approach.

Q: What are the differences between alcohol-based vs water-based markers? I heard the alcohol ones are fumey - is that a real thing?

More detailed info on markers down the road hopefully, but here's the quick run down:

Alcohol markers will bleed through your paper (and the paper below it) unless you use marker paper. It has a slight bit of blending give - if you fill in an area with these, partially going over the previous line as you fill it in, it will smooth out and there won't be such obvious edges/overlaps between the strokes, though this is affected a lot by the paper. They come in tons of colors, some fancy tip options, can be more expensive, and you will be able to smell the alcohol solvent. They will be drier on your paper, meaning less likely to soak your paper and make it ball up and tear (remember coloring books as kids? That's water based markers on low quality paper). These are also "permanent" à la sharpies - they don't wash off, but they will fade over time.

Water based markers should smell like nothing/water, and they will rewet with water, so if your art gets wet the ink will bleed all over. Done on purpose this makes them a bit blendable with water. Sometimes they're even marketed as "watercolor markers." They will be wetter on the paper and potentially make the paper likely to ball up or tear if you really scribble it in. If you fill in an area you're likely to see the overlap/edge between the strokes. They won't bleed through your paper excessively though and so can be nicer to use in sketchbooks and journals. They are also often cheaper.

Ask your questions about art, philosophical, personal or practical - all are welcome. If you're an EDI member you can post them on Discord to get a short answer right away. Otherwise everyone is welcome to email me at brit at britchida dot com.