Brent Laycock CSPWC


Since the dawn of time, painting techniques involved a simple but miraculous invention called the brush, a clump of animal hairs tied to a stick.  This tool was dipped into various mixtures of earth pigments and vegetable dyes mixed with water and some sort of binder.  The artist then manipulated the brush with expressive gestures to create an endless variety of evocative images on cave walls, buildings, stone, wooden panels, parchment, fabrics, papyrus and paper.  Over the centuries, artists experimented with many refinements in brushes, paints and substrates (surfaces) with varying degrees of permanence. 


The National Watercolor Society and the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour are among many artistic societies around the world devoted to the preservation and encouragement of watercolour techniques among artists and to encourage enjoyment of their unique creations by the public audience. 


In preparing for the NWS/CSPWC exhibition VISIONS ADJOIN, the artists were invited to use a very broad array of modern water media in addition to the traditional watercolour materials.  Here are some brief explanations to help the viewer understand some of the various water media that go beyond traditional watercolour.  We invite you to enhance your enjoyment of the artwork presented in this exhibition and in this book by seeing if you can detect what techniques, materials and tools were used in their creation.


Water Medium:  any type of paint that is soluble with water.  One advantage for the artist is that cleanup can be done with water rather than more toxic solvents.


Basic Paint:  Almost all paint contains similar particles of pigment that provide the colour.  These coloured particles are held together with some sort of glue called the “binder”.  In oil paint, the binder is linseed oil.  In traditional watercolour, the binder is gum Arabic which is easily dissolved in water.  In acrylic paint, the binder is acrylic polymer plastic emulsion, which is dissolved in water but becomes impermeable when dry.  Other types of paint have other binders, solvents and various other chemicals. In recent decades many new synthetic pigments have added intense new colours to the artist’s palette. 


Traditional Watercolour:  Watercolour paint composed of pigment, gum Arabic and water is usually painted on paper.  Subtle colour tints and shades can be achieved by mixing colours in different proportions.  Brushstrokes can be soft, hard-edged, flat or transparent.  Brushes of many different sizes are used.  Paint can be dried into hard cakes that can then be softened with water.


Transparent Watercolour:  Transparent watercolour has a unique luminosity because the layers of paint are created with a solution of water and pigment without any white pigment.  This mixture is transparent which allows light to go through the layer of colour, bounce off the white paper below and then enter the viewer’s eye.  Variations of light and dark colours are achieved by diluting the paint.  Beautiful “wet-in-wet” colour passages can be achieved by allowing wet brushstrokes of different colours to merge together giving transparent watercolours a unique appearance unavailable through any other technique.  


Opaque Watercolour:  By introducing opaque white pigments, the watercolour paint does covers up whatever is below the brushstroke.  This technique is used for areas of flat colour or for corrections.  Many artists will combine some opaque and transparent watercolour techniques.


Egg Tempera:  This technique of creating paint with pigment combined with a binder egg yolk and water was used since Medieval times for painting on wooden panels.  This beautiful ancient technique is still used today by some artists.


Casein:  This is another traditional old type of paint using pigment mixed with a binder made from milk rennet.


Acrylics:  Many of the traditional paints have been challenged by a new-comer, acrylic paint.  Acrylic paint uses the same colour pigments as all the other paints, but they now employ a new polymer acrylic plastic emulsion that can be thinned with water.  When dry, the paint layer is a flexible layer of plastic that can be very transparent or opaque.  Polymer medium is used for an infinite variety of textures, sheens, and metallic effects.  Acrylic has the advantage of being able to stick to just about any type of surface.


Brushes:  Beautiful brushes that have bristles that come to a fine point were traditionally made from sable or other animal hairs.  There are now good brushes made from nylon and other synthetic fibres. Artists use brushes that are round or flat and have a variety of sizes. 


Watercolour Paper:  Traditionally, watercolour is painted on stiff paper coated with sizing that controls the absorption of water.  The high-quality paper is usually made of cotton fibres rather than wood pulp and is acid-free to prevent deterioration with age.  There are now modern substrates created from plastic such as Yupo or Tyvek that permit artists to achieve effects unavailable with traditional paper. 


Pencils:  Throughout watercolour history, artists have often started the painting with a pencil drawing.  In the modern era, watercolour pencils made with water-soluble hard material allow the artist to then dissolve the pencil marks with brushstrokes of pure water to create unusual effects.


Pens:  Many artists have augmented the loose watercolour brushstrokes with crisp lines drawn by an ink pen.  Modern pen inventions including felt-tip markers, acrylic-filled markers, dye pens and other innovations have expanded the artist’s toolkit. 

Water Media in a Modern Age

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