Watercolor painting

Watercolor is a painting technique using water-soluble pigments, that are either transparent or opaque, mixed with the addition of gum to bond the pigment to the paper. While the grounds for watercolor painting are varied, the most common is paper. Others, less used, include plastics, leather, fabric, wood, and canvas.

History of Watercolor

Watercolor technique started evolving with the invention of paper by the Chinese shortly after 100 AD. Papermaking was introduced to Spain by the conquering Moors in the 12th century and spread to Italy decades later. Some of the earliest paper manufactures include Fabriano, Italy, opened in 1276 and Arches, France, opened in 1492.

The forerunner of watercolor painting was buon fresco painting: wall-painting using watercolor paints on wet plaster. The most famous example of buon fresco is the Sistine Chapel, begun in 1508 and completed in 1514.

The earliest known use of this technique was by the Italian Renaissance painter Raffaello Santi (1483-1520) who painted some full-scale cartoons as precursors for some tapestry designs.

In Germany, Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) was painting in watercolor in the 15th century. The first school of watercolor painting in Europe was led by Hans Bol (1534-1593) as was influenced a lot by Durer's creations.

Other famous artists have used watercolor painting to supplement their skills with oil paint, including Van Dyke (1599-1641), Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) and John Constable (1776-1837).

In 18th century England Paul Sandby (1725-1809) was called the father of English watercolor.

Someone, having better knowledge of art, has to write about watercolor evolution after the 18th century

Watercolor Paint

The broader term for water-based painting media is "watermedia". The term "watercolor" still seems most often to refer to traditional transparent watercolor, or gouache, an opaque form of the same paint. These are specific types of watermedia.

Watercolor paint is made of color pigment mixed with gum arabic for body and glycerin or honey for viscosity. Gouache has an added body of unpigmented filler to lend opacity to the paint, and oil of clove to prevent mold.

Traditionally, watercolor is applied with brushes, but may be mixed with other materials (usually acrylic and collage), and applied with other implements for experimental approaches. In traditional technique dating from at least the early 20th Century, the white of the paper is the only white used with transparent watercolor. The paint is thinned when applied to allow for lighter passages within the painting. Opaque paint is seldom used for whites, or to "overpaint". This lack of opacity provides watercolor its peculiar characteristics of brightness, "sparkle", freshness, and clarity of color, since the light from a watercolor has passed through the film of paint, and is reflected back to us again through the film.

Technique in watercolor is quite demanding, though not more so than in other mediums. Maintaining a high quality of value difference and color clarity are typically the most difficult qualities to achieve and maintain.

The medium is equally effective in portraiture, figurative, and abstract work, both objective and non-objective. (Kandinsky produced the first non-objective abstract paintings in transparent watercolor around 1913) It is prized by its proponents as a studio medium for its lack of smell and ease of cleanup, and also as a plein air medium for its portability and quick drying.

Fingerpainting originated in China with watercolor paint.


"The Christmas Eve" (1904-05), a watercolor painting by the Swedish painter Carl Larsson (1853-1919)



copyright © 2004 FactsAbout.com