Aquapasto II August 27, 2021 20:19

Back in early 2018, I wrote a blog post about aquapasto. It's been my most popular blog post. People still come to read it. 

I hadn't done much with aquapasto  until recently, when I began experimenting with it again.

I first tried adding some to some paint to see if I could get lines to stand up. That didn't work.

I thought maybe I didn't add enough. Thing is that I noticed the more I added, the less brilliance the paint had--because, of course, there was less pigment per inch. It was spread out. What to do? Layers.

So I thought maybe it might be usable as some kind of transparent glaze, and I added much more aquapasto to each glob of paint, so that they were 50/50. I mixed them up with a very small palette knife I use with my watercolors, usually just to mix some tube paint with a bit of water and end up with something creamy. After mixing the paint and aquapasto, I added one spray of water so it wasn't so sticky.

This time I ended up with something much thicker than cream. More like limp toothpaste. This consistency allowed me to build some actual texture with the paint. Have a look. This is tube paint + aquapasto painted over DS watercolor ground on a gessoed canvas.

For most of this painting, I used a type of brush I discovered through oil painting. It's usually used for painting grasses in landscapes and is called a grainer. It doesn't work that well for painting grass, but it's really interesting for building up texture. They are pretty cheap, but you could just as easily use an old flat brush in bad condition that's gotten splayed. 

I've experimented on and off with using watercolor paint almost straight from the tube to do drybrush work. This is the kind of painting that leaves a thick (for watercolor) layer of paint on the support, rather than the kind of scratchy drybrush you often see used for depicting Western or desert scenes--at least, that's what I associate that type of drybrush with. The kind of drybrush that leaves a thick, brilliant layer that never has the chance to sink into the paper and thus dilute its brilliance by coloring paper fibers below the surface is very rarely done, from my experience. One thing that seems to prevent watercolorists is the expense of the paint. But you really don't need to use that much, in my experience.

Drybrush does allow for glazing if you really careful to have very little water on the brush, use brights instead of rounds (which tend to dig up the lower layer of any kind of paint), and hold the brush at an angle quite close to the surface of the support, so you are basically skimming along. Adding aquapasto to the mix means not only can you do a drybrush glaze more easily, but you can build multiple layers and you can create texture that is unobtainable any other way.

You can see how thick the buildup of paint and aquapasto is here--thick enough to fill the dips in the canvas weave. This has about 7 layers of paint/aquapasto to it. It will seem even more filled when I finish the painting with cold wax, which I have been doing for the past couple of years. This will make it very water-resistant (I have tested it with a kitchen sink sprayer--beads right up). The painting can then be hung not only without glass but without a frame. If you do use cold wax, you might have to call it mixed media if you enter shows. But if you don't use cold wax and only the aquapasto, you are still allowed to call it watercolor, no matter how much texture you achieve with it, because aquapasto is a gel made from water, gum arabic, and some fumed (safe) silica and has been used by watercolorists for more than a century.

When I first tried aquapasto back in 2018 and posted about my experiences on a now mostly defunct art forum, I thught other painters would be glad to hear how you could add texture to watercolor. Not so much. And worse, another poster scolded me for not sticking to "real" watercolor. Why didn't I just use acrylics or something, they asked with a sniff, the implication being that then the "real" watercolorists wouldn't have to deal with misfits such as myself. 

Thing is I wanted to paint with watercolor, but I wanted to push the envelope, to see how much it could actually do. And what's more, aquapasto was invented by 19th-century British watercolorists, and you don't get much more "real" watercolorists than them. 

So give it a try. Play with it and see what it can do for you. We need more misfits in the art world.