Thursday, February 12, 2015

Watercolor: Understanding Opaque & Transparent Paints

I've had a lot of questions about this topic. I'm going to put on my teacher’s hat and talk about watercolor paints and their particular characteristics. The reason I am spending time on this topic is that I want to share information about "negative" painting, and it is necessary to understand opaque and transparent for this technique to work.

Transparent: permits light to penetrate. Allowing the white surface of the paper or underpainting to show through. These pigments are fine in texture. When multiple glazes of transparent colors are painted on top of each other (when dry) the color beneath will show through changing its appearance. 


Opaque: impenetrable to light; not allowing light to pass through. These paints are relatively chalky in appearance when dry. All cadmiums are opaque. 
Semi-Opaque or Semi-Transparent: These paints are “middle of the road”. These paints are generally safe for glazing techniques.

Opaque or Transparent how do you know?This information is available from manufactures and can be accessed in catalogs, art supply stores and the internet. I have spent a sizable amount of time collecting manufacture information. Not everyone has time or interest to do this research. The quickest and best way to determine if your paints are opaque or transparent is to do a simple test. With a permanent marker (Sharpie Chisel tip) draw a bold line across a piece of 2x2 inch watercolor paper. With paint the consistency of whole milk paint over the line. If the black line is obscured (chalky looking) it is opaque. On the paint swatch I write information (brand, color name, index code). I keep all my color swatches in a binder for future reference. Over the years I have built an extensive binder of color swatches. I am amazed how often I refer to this information.  

I don’t want to give the impression I am against using opaque paints… I like them but I don’t keep them on my palette as a main color. When I need an opaque color I squirt out some fresh paint. I do a lot of “negative” painting built up with glazes, and glazes get “muddy” with opaque paint. Opaque are great for accent marks at the end, but not for glazing. Glazing is when you paint a transparent layer on top of a dry layer. Opaque paints will look chalky or muddy if used for glazing. If you have a tendency to get “muddy” colors chances are you have an opaque paint on your palette.Look closely at the paint swatches below. Look at the top row and notice how the paint seems to be sitting on top of the line=this means opaque.
Look at the bottom row, notice how the paint does not effect the black line=this means transparent. 


I encourage you to try this with your current palette. 


Happy Painting!
Brenda




13 comments:

  1. Thank you so much Brenda, I'm not someone who studies the rules before I do anything.
    But that info is so important and I've never really understood why I don't get the wash I want.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Barbara, Glad to be of help. I don't think of it as "rules" but more like the personality traits of paints.
      Happy Painting!

      Delete
  2. Thanks for the info! I would not have known this! Being new at watercolor I frequently wonder why different artist chose the colors and brands of paint that they do. This definitely gives me some insight into the why of color choices! Thank you !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Colleen, Definitely! Some painters work with mostly opaques and others lean towards transparent colors. Knowledge is a wonderful thing!

      Delete
  3. Brenda thanks for this important information. I am off to prepare my 2 x 2 swatches. It will be most helpful. By the way I love your new studio. You so deserve it!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Watercolors are interesting because they're so complex. Thanks for the reminder that opaques don't work well for layering. I've been layering with my watercolors lately. Usually I apply paint wet into wet without layers. I'll rethink some of the colors in my palette.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wow, what a great idea! So inspiring. I sat down last night with my travel box of half pans from various supplier, and started just to paint swatches. I have not used some of the colors, and I was surprised at the difference between the color in the box and the color on the paper! I didn't have a Sharpie handy, but I am going to make swatches as you suggest, since I spotted a few opaque colors, and I like working with transparent colors. Your idea is a great technique for creating some layering and mixing swatches to get some of my favorite colors, like lavenders. It appears you use slide storage sleeves to hold your swatches?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad to hear the information was so helpful! Yes, I use slide storage sleeves.

      Delete
  6. Thank you Brenda...I have avoided watercolors because of the 'chalky look" and use oils or pastels...but now I'm anxious to try the transparent watercolors. Again, thanks for the information and your work is absolutely stunning!
    DonMaRi

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yup this is what I'm looking for, thanks so much Brenda for spending the time figuring out the details of how we get out what we put in. I love glazing techniques and have used them almost always, but you give it all a whole new dimension. Now I'm off to cut paper, or look for your views on warm vs cool colors. I try to use that concept but don't quite get it I guess.
    peace,
    CheyAnne
    www.cheyannesexton.etsy.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. CheyAnne, Glad you found this page. When you have a bunch of paint swatches lay them side by side. It is a lot easier to see warm and cools when you can compare against other colors. I also had a hard time understanding warm vs cool. Have fun!

      Delete
  8. Brenda, your binder pages for your color swatches were made for photographic slide storage, no? Honestly, you are so clever! You constantly make me say to myself, Why didn’t I think of that? Thank you so much for sharing your brilliant ideas.

    ReplyDelete