Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Nine ways to increase your creativity

Whether you want to be more creative at home or in the office, these tips are for you! These are a few of the ways that I find are conducive to developing new ideas and creative thinking.

1. Do something physical

Ideally something that doesn’t allow you to multi-task or think about anything else. Think exercise, such as strength training, yoga, Feldenkrais, etc.

2. Do chores

Monotonous chores that allow the mind to roam are just the thing. Cleaning, ironing, picking berries, weeding the garden, you get the idea.

3. Start crafting

Crafts such as knitting and crocheting, quilting and doing crossword puzzles, drawing and baking, also affect the brain positively.

4. Switch gears

That’s right. Instead of sitting hours on end in front of the computer, switch it up with a different type of task.

5. Learn something new

Math, chemistry, a new language. When the left brain is occupied, the right brain has room to roam. I was never as creative as when I studied chemistry in high school or attended a lecture at the university! In fact, why not attend a lecture now?

6. Use the other side of the body

If you are right-handed, pick up that pot or brush your hair with the left hand instead, and vice versa if you are left-handed. Also consider cross-lateral movements, where arms and legs cross over the midline as in touching the right elbow to the left knee and reverse.

7. Do nothing

Aka sit-in-the-shade-watching-the-clouds-go-by. Self-explanatory.

8. Change environments and go someplace new

This can be done on a smaller scale as in taking a different route to work or visit a different part of town, or on a larger scale as in traveling someplace new. One gets a new perspective on things while sitting poolside in Florida or walking the cobblestone streets of Europe instead of driving to work back home in the Midwest.

9. Travel by plane, train, or bus

Not as the driver, but as a passenger looking out the window enjoying the view.

You may notice that most of these tips build on allowing the left brain to rest from constant input and the right brain to roam freely, more important than ever in today's world of ever increasing streams of information.

However, if you are used to always being connected, you may need a period of digital detox before you can comfortably harness the creative energy gained from these tasks. And no, there’s not an app for that!

More reading
Scientific American. Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime. Oct 15, 2013.
CNN, This is your brain on crafting. Updated Jan 5, 2015.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

What is granulation?

Granulation, flocculation, sedimentary pigments, textured pigments, there are many terms used to describe the textured effects that some watercolors exhibit. As I regularly mention granulation, and it is one of my favorite watercolor properties, I thought I would explain the different terms here.

What are textured pigments?

Watercolors get their color from color pigments, tiny color particles that can be natural or synthetic. The term textured pigments simply refers to any pigment whose particles create a pattern or texture on the paper when dry.

There are granulating and flocculating pigments, as well as several different pigment properties that can cause a color to have a textured appearance.

What is granulation?

Granulation is the textured or grainy effect that is caused by pigment particles settling in the indentations of the paper. Granulation, as all textured effects, is more noticeable in juicy washes (when more water is used).

One example of a granulating color is Cobalt Blue, PB28.

Granulation - Cobalt Blue, PB28
© 2017 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Note that granulation may vary between brands. I am using Winsor & Newton Professional watercolors in these examples, unless noted otherwise.

What is flocculation?

Flocculation is the textured, speckled, effect that is caused by certain fine pigment particles that group themselves together on the paper and form a pattern mostly independent of the indentations of the paper. This phenomenon is usually caused by electrical effects as the particles become electrically charged and clump together.

One example of a flocculating color is French Ultramarine, PB29.

Flocculation - French Ultramarine, PB 29
© 2017 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Another example is Prussian Blue, PB27. If you look closely at this wash, you can see tiny black iron particles settling out from the color.

Prussian Blue, PB27
© 2017 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

The pigment particles of Mars Black, PBk11, take the action one step further and literally start to move around as soon as you put your brush to paper. The swirls formed are easily visible!

Mars Black, PBk11
© 2017 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

What are sedimentary pigments?

Sedimentary pigments are very heavy and/or very large pigment particles that sink in a water solution, especially noticeable on your palette or in your water jar.

Pigment particle size

Most pigments are manufactured in a range of particle sizes depending on the use of the pigment. Within each color is a range of pigment particle sizes, which means that both the average pigment particle size and the distribution of sizes also affect color properties.

The larger the pigment particle size, the more textured the resulting wash.

Among the largest pigment particles are cobalts, manganese, cerulean blue, iron oxides, and cadmiums.

Note that these colors may or may not be labeled granulating, but they may still be textured, especially when used with plenty of water.

Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Turquoise Light, Cobalt Turquoise
© 2017 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Red iron oxides: Burnt Sienna, Venetian Red, Indian Red, Caput Mortuum Violet
© 2017 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Pigment particle weight

Specific gravity is the weight of the pigment in water and is independent of particle size. Heavy pigments have a specific gravity (much) heavier than water (which has a specific gravity of one) and therefore sink in water.

Among the heaviest pigment particles are chromiums, cadmiums, and cobalts. Note that the sedimentary qualities can vary between brands.

When pigments with a contrast in specific gravity are used together (heavier pigments together with lighter pigments), separation between pigments forms interesting textured effects on the paper.

Separation and texture

Some premixed colors contain one pigment that is granulating and one pigment that is not. In that case, you may notice a separation of pigments within that color, the granulating pigment creating a textured effect.

Premixed green with a granulating blue and a non-granulating yellow
(Prussian Green by Daniel Smith)
© 2017 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Similarly, if you mix a granulating color with a non-granulating color, you will get a beautifully textured effect!

Granulating colors mixed with non-granulating colors
© 2017 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

In addition, two non-granulating colors that are mixed, either premixed in a tube or mixed directly on the paper, may separate on the paper causing a textured effect.

Two pre-mixed non-granulating greens
© 2017 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Smooth pigments and texture

All pigment particles group themselves together to some extent, something that is counteracted by additives to the paint. Particle clusters are called aggregates, whereas aggregate clusters are called agglomerates.  

In certain smooth pigments that are fully saturated, a contrast between these clusters or clumps create a textured effect despite being listed as non-granulating.

Smooth pigment that shows a textured effect
© 2017 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Can any pigment be made to look textured?

Well, I would say that, under the right conditions, it is possible to make several, although not all, non-granulating pigments to look textured to some degree. In fact, by using a textured watercolor paper such as a cold press or rough paper, watercolors by default get a textured look. 

Test it out for yourself by using the color first with plenty of water on a cold press or rough watercolor paper. Another option is to use the color almost completely saturated. In both cases, the color will almost completely fill the indentations and more color will be deposited there, giving it a more textured look.

Non-granulating, saturated color with a textured look
(Perylene Maroon by Daniel Smith)
© 2017 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

If you want to learn more about pigment properties, check out Handprint's website, especially the pages on How watercolor paints are made, The material attributes of paints, and Guide to watercolor pigments.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Watercolor charts

I have painted many watercolor charts over the years, from color wheels and mixing charts to explorations of various qualities, such as granulation, value ranges, and diffusion.

The main benefit of doing color charts is to get to know your colors and pigments in-depth. It is also a great way to get reacquainted with your colors after a period away from painting.

There are no hard rules for how to set up your charts as long as you learn something from them. I have experimented with numerous kinds over the years and keep trying out new formats.

As I recently purchased a few new colors, I decided to do drawdown charts of all of my colors, listing and comparing their characteristics.

Color chart
© 2017 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

My color chart

I first wrote down the color name (for example Cobalt Blue), Color Index Generic Name (for example PB28, Pigment Blue 28), and chemical name (for example cobalt aluminate).

I then painted a square with the color as saturated as possible, to get a feeling for what value it represents. After that, I painted a drawdown sample where I kept diluting the color

Below that, I listed characteristics of each color that I found especially interesting:


W&N rates their colors as follows:
  • AA  Extremely permanent
  • Permanent
  • Moderately durable
  • Fugitive

Colors rated B or C should generally be avoided if you are concerned about durability.

The also have additions in roman numerals:
  • (i) ‘A' rated in full strength may fade in thin washes
  • (ii) Cannot be relied upon to withstand damp
  • (iii) Bleached by acids, acidic atmospheres
  • (iv) Fluctuating color; fades in light, recovers in dark
  • (v) Should not be prepared in pale tints with Flake White, as these will fade (not applicable to watercolors)
  • (vi) ‘A' rated with a coating of fixative (n/a)


ASTM rating, from I to V, both I and II are considered permanent for artists’ use.


Transparent, semi-transparent, semi-opaque, or opaque.


Does it create a textured effect on the paper.


Can it be lifted without staining the paper.

Color temperature

Warm or cool, does the color lean toward blue/green or red/yellow.

Drying shift

How much does the color change in appearance when drying, in percent.

Active in wet 

Takes into account:
  • Backruns/blossoming, if the pigment particles move when rewetted.
  • Diffusion, if the pigment particles move when added to a wet sheet of paper, depends on pigment particle size and especially dispersants added to the paint.

Value range 

On a scale of 0-100, from white to black.


Includes any other interesting facts that I have found about the color!

Information sources

So where do you find all this information?

1) Well, begin with the watercolor tube itself! Here you can find the color name, color index name, and information on permanence, lightfastness, and transparency (as a graphic symbol).

2) The W&N Composition and Permanence Table includes information on color name, color index name, permanence, lightfastness and transparency, but lacks the chemical names and information on granulating and staining colors. Here is an explanatory key.

3) The W&N Color Chart includes the same information minus the color index name.

4) This W&N Artists’ Water Colour Leaflet dating back to 2005 can only be found if you search for it or have a direct link, but it is still one of my most important go-to sources! Download it before it is too late! However, I do wish they would update it.

Here your can find a lot of information, including lists of transparent and opaque colors, warm and cool colors, granulating colors, and last but not least, a chart listing the chemical name(s) of each pigment!

5) For more in-depth information, Handprint’s website on watercolors is worth a visit, especially his Guide to Watercolor Pigments, where he has listed pigments based on their color index name, then including chemical name, color name, and manufacturer.

He has rated thousands of colors based on his own tests, including transparency, staining, value range, granulation, blossom, diffusion, hue angle, hue shift, and lightfastness. In the text he also mentions chroma and drying shift. His ratings are explained here. Take the time to explore the rest of his site. You can easily spend hours here exploring all the in-depth information.

Your turn!

Off you go to have fun creating your own charts! Good luck!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Do watercolors expire?

Do watercolor tubes and pans expire, and what to do about it? In my experience, the two most common ways that the paint in watercolor tubes or pans deteriorate are drying and separating. Paint may also mold or change texture.

What about other art supplies, such as watercolor brushes or paper? In this post, I will go over a few of the ways that art supplies may deteriorate and what to do about it.

Watercolor tubes and pans 

1. Drying

What is it? Watercolor paint dries out in watercolor tubes or cracks in pans.

Despite having some tubes that are getting on in age, this only rarely happens to me, and then usually with small 5 ml tubes that have been left unused for a while (read years!)

In pans, I have found that certain colors are more prone to drying, such as the Umbers, Prussians, and Viridian.

What to do? If only a little paint has dried out in the tube, I generally squeeze it out and keep going. If the problem is more widespread, prod a bit inside the tube with a straightened-out paper clip.

If paint in a pan has dried up into crumbles, I generally use paint straight out of a tube instead.

I also know that some artists, as a last resort, cut the tube open and reconstitute the paint with a drop of gum arabic or water, alternatively add a drop of distilled water and a drop of glycerin to the pan.

How to avoid? Keep the tubes tightly closed and store them in zip-lock bags if not used for a while. Use colors more prone to drying straight out of the tube instead of in pans.

Also, if you fill pans from tubes, only fill them halfway at first, let dry for a few days (can take a week depending on humidity!), and then fill them again to minimize cracking.

2. Separating

What is it? The watercolor separates into an oily part and a color part in the tube. The pigment and vehicle (usually gum arabic, the binder) are separating in the tube. When you squeeze the tube, only the oily part comes out – and it may be a lot of it as the pigment only constitutes 5%-50% of the volume (see Handprint).

This is unfortunately becoming much more common now than it used to be and happens to every few of my brand-new tubes as I open them up for the first time.

What to do? Sometimes I just squeeze the oily part out and keep going (but the paint risks drying up and you will get less paint left). You can also try to mix it back in with a straightened-out paper clip.

How to avoid? I don’t have any good advice here, but suspect it has more to do with manufacturing quality…

3. Texture change

What is it? The paint turns textured and “pebbly” instead of smooth inside the tube.

This has happened to me with black colors, earths, and sepia, for example, after having been stored for a while.

What to do? Toss it!

How to avoid? Don’t keep your watercolors for too long!

4. Mold

What is it? The mouth of the tube or the top of the pan turns moldy.

Strangely enough, this has only happened to two colors that I have used, Viridian (on repeated occasions, both pans and tube) and Winsor Green blue shade (once or twice).

What to do? I toss the tube or pan and often mix my own greens from blue and yellow!

How to avoid? Keep your tubes and pans dry, but in my case I really could not tell what brought it on…

5. Air bubbles in the tube

What is it? As you squeeze the tube, only air comes out, sometimes filling as much as half the tube or more!

This is, together with separation, another thing that is becoming more common now than it used to be, and it can be costly, as there is nothing you can do about it.

What to do? Squeeze the air bubble out and hope it isn't too big so you don't lose too much paint.

How to avoid? This is directly related to quality control in the manufacturing, so there is nothing the customer can do except let the manufacturer know this is an issue.

Watercolor paper

A few of the ways you can tell paper is aging are yellowing and stains becoming visible.

1. Yellowing

What is it? A wood-based paper turns yellow and brittle with time. (There are more factors at play than that, see link below for more.)

What to do? Toss it.

How to avoid? Buy 100% cotton, acid free paper. Use water that is not acidic(!) Also be aware of additives, such as whitening agents, that may affect the quality of the paper but that are not taken into account in the paper standards. See this post for more about archival papers.

2. Stains

What is it? With time, stains such as fingerprints due to the oils on the fingers of anyone who has handled the paper will become visible.

What to do? Cut off the stained part and use the rest, if not damaged, but be aware that more stains will show up with time...

How to avoid? Keep your hands dry and clean (no lotions, etc) or use cotton gloves, don’t touch the paper surface, purchase paper in larger, pre-packaged units instead of only a few at a time, check the paper already in the store.

3. Texture variation

What is it? Globs of sizing are visible as smooth areas on the paper surface. This is a manufacturing defect, hopefully more common with cheaper papers(?)

What to do? Cut away or toss.

How to avoid? Can’t really do much to avoid it, but avoid papers where this is a common occurrence. I check each paper prior to using it and only use the parts that have the correct grain.

Watercolor brushes

Brushes tend to lose their sharp point over time and hairs may fall off or break. The handle may also crack and the ferrule come loose.

1. Hairs that break off or fall off

How to prevent? Wet the brush tip prior to use to soften it, especially important with the fragile squirrel hairs, which easily break.

2. The wood handle and its painted surface cracks

How to prevent? Never let the brush stand in water and only let the water touch the brush hairs, not the shaft.

3. The brush point loses its sharpness

How to prevent? Treat especially sable brushes gently, don’t rough up dry paint in pans with the brush (use a nylon brush and a few drops of water for this purpose), clean the brush gently and reshape its tip with your fingers.

If you use rough papers, or brands with a rougher surface, your brushes may also wear out faster.

In short, to answer the question if watercolor paints, papers, and brushes expire with time, I would say that good quality art supplies can last a lifetime

However, it is hard to know beforehand just how a brush or tube will fare. It varies with quality, and quality varies not only with the brand but also with brands over time.

I have brushes that I bought many years ago that are still in good shape, as well as brushes that cracked within a year. Ditto paint tubes or pans or paper.

What is your experience?