Lately I’ve been experimenting with using plain old crayola crayons with watercolor. The crayon sort of gets a bad rap- they’re childish, cheap, and used to be racist. But, I always thought, and continue to think, that a box of crayons is one of the more beautiful things one can own. Seeing them all lined up in the box, the tips sharpened to that vaguely conical point, certainly feels warmly nostalgic to me (they were also my favorite “how it’s made” segment of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.) But, of course, I now find myself working with them in a more “serious” manner:
All paintings by Megan Koth, 2013.
Using crayons with watercolor like this is a great way to do a quick resist, and/or to add interesting linear effects. The crayon marks “blend in” pretty well with the watercolor- I was afraid it may look too garish. I’m even starting to enjoy doing sketches in my sketchbook with them. There’s something very relaxing about using crayons for me, and I’m sure the same is true for a lot of people. They make me want to work more freely and directly- probably because that’s how we all worked with them as children. As artists, sometimes our biggest challenge is trying to grasp that sense of confidence and spontaneity again. After all, as Picasso famously said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
It doesn’t happen very often that I use an art material I’ve never heard of before. However, I recently was introduced to yupo paper. There are plenty of fancy papers out there, but this one is pretty unique: it’s made out of plastic. Yupo watercolor paper is made of polypropylene, is water resistant, and very durable.
This is a quick self-portrait I did on the stuff. I used watercolor and acrylic, and as you can see, the paper retains the integrity of your brushstrokes sharply. The paper, before being sealed with a sealant, can also be wiped clean as many times as you want. It makes painting something like a self-portrait, something we have the tendency to nitpick over, with watercolor a little less daunting
I think Yupo is great because it combines the need for intelligent working with materials/decision making with the option of completely erasing what you’ve done and starting over. A great way to practice with watercolor! Although, the paper isn’t absorbent AT ALL. The paint just lies on the surface. But, for all you paper fetishists out there, or water media aficionados, it’s definitely worth trying out.
Watercolor is a difficult, temperamental medium, as anyone who has had the pleasure (or displeasure) of working with it knows. I’ve only pretty recently started to use watercolor, and transcending the frustration can be hard sometimes. I find that when I’m working representationally I tend to become the most frustrated. I realize that every mark I make will be on the page forever- never to be undone. I feel anxious and inhibited- the opposite of how I feel working with acrylic or oils. I’ve found that I can overcome this anxiety by working freely and abstractly with watercolor. Here are a few of the experiments that I’ve done recently that I think turned out pretty well:
Here, I started with just thin glazes and gradually built up the form in the middle, then I had a little fun adding the thin lines with a squeeze bottle (using watered down acrylic paint.) I made the dotted brown lines by soaking a textured yarn in some pretty highly saturated watercolor, and simply laying it down on the paper until it dried. Using golden fluid acrylics like watercolor also works as a great substitute, and takes away some of the anxiety that people like me have with the combination of permanence and translucency of watercolor.
Here, I scored the paper beforehand with an ExActo blade. I then worked with some light washes, letting them gradually settle into the gashes. I then used the marks that emerged to inform my next decisions. I chose to further emphasize them with the orange marks.
This one didn’t turn out so well. One has to be careful when working with watercolor that, since it’s translucent, every layer builds upon the last, rather than cutting through or covering the previous layers. Unfortunately, the result of not being careful is getting mud. There’s always acrylic to fix the problem, which I think is my next move on this one.
I think that so many art students have anxiety about watercolor mostly because their only real experience working with it was in a studio class, with all the restrictions that that experience usually brings (in mine, we weren’t allowed to use any opaque medium, including gouache.) Unfortunately, many of these students leave that classroom with absolutely no desire to use watercolor again. Revisiting watercolor on my own has been a great decision, and one I think that more students should consider doing as well. Who knows, it might be fun!