Barbara Nechis: Floating Watercolors into Clear Water

I developed this method as a result of observing the sometimes fluid interconnection of forms in nature. I apply it in combination with other methods—as an initial layer, on top of an underpainting, or as part of a many-layered painting. The process is undetectable in the finished painting, so it won’t camouflage an artist’s personal style. Complete control is not possible, and the occasional spills force creative solutions! Colors merge in differing proportions, ensuring that no two paintings will be alike.

This technique is useful for quickly laying in subject matter on location, linking forms for better design and building up simple layers into complex paintings. It works well with all sorts of subjects such as trees, figures, cities, flowers and abstract shapes.

NECHIS.2Load the brush with water and draw a shape
1. Load the brush with water and draw a shape, making sure that it is continuous and touches at least one edge of the paper. Fill in the entire shape with water and use as much water as this “trough” will hold without spilling out. Next, drop transparent pigments onto the water surface.
With this technique, I paint a continuous group of shapes with a brush loaded with clear water, then touch the water surface with a brush filled with transparent pigment. By carefully tipping the paper back and forth before pouring off the excess liquid, I can depict my subject with clean color mixes.

NECHIS.3Tip the paper to allow paints to merge
2. Tip the paper to allow paints to merge. Refine shapes and pour off excess water. Be sure to extend the water and pigment into pleasing, useful rather than arbitrary forms before dumping the excess liquid.

Refine the shapes
3. Dry thoroughly, then build subsequent layers or complete the painting using your own techniques.
Paint: I constantly play with new combinations to keep my work fresh and unpredictable. Transparent pigments merge and float on the water surface better than opaques, so they’re more suitable for painting with clear water. DANIEL SMITH Watercolors: Anthraquinoid Red, Bordeaux, Carbazole Violet, New Gamboge, Phthalo Turquoise, Rose of Ultramarine, Sap Green and the Quinacridones; Burnt Orange, Coral, Gold, Magenta and Violet, are some of the less traditional colors I keep on my supplemental palette.

Brushes: Synthetic flat brushes with good edges are preferable for carrying paint to the edge of the water shape. The point of a round brush can break through the water surface and produce annoying dots of color on the paper.

Paper: 140 lb. CP, unstretched with sizing intact, is particularly receptive for maximum retention of water in the “trough” you create with your water.

Barbara Nechis

Barbara Nechis has taught at Parsons School of Design, and at workshops throughout North America and abroad. She has served as a juror and a director of the American Watercolor Society, and currently lives in Northern California.