Wednesday, March 29, 2017

DIY watercolor galaxy

From mid-February to about mid-March, I worked in the Psychiatric ER. Working an entire month of almost exclusively night shifts (mostly 7pm to 7am) meant completely shifting my schedule to a nocturnal one if I wanted to survive the rotation. This included the days that I wasn't scheduled to work. I was initially apprehensive about working through the entire night, and found myself wondering what I would do on the nights I'm off at home and have the whole night to kill. After all, there's only so much Netflix one can watch. So what did I do long after H retired to bed and I was left all by myself? Work on art projects that I almost never get time for anymore!

I've been wanting to create a watercolor galaxy piece for a long time, but had some difficulty finding a good set of instructions on the internet and a final product I liked. Using watercolor to paint a galaxy is a great way to experiment with watercolor and practice using a medium that I have personally found difficult to get better at. One of my favorite things about using watercolor is the ability to control opacity. If you use more water than paint, you can end up with the most gentle, almost-transparent color. Add more paint, and you can end up with something really opaque. Learning what watercolor paint consistency in the pan will translate to what opacity on paper is another part of learning how to use watercolor to it's fullest potential. All of these watercolor basics and more can be found online, but in my opinion, the best way to really learn how to use something is to just play with it. Enter DIY watercolor galaxy. This project is simple, does not require exact techniques to turn out well, and allows you to explore so many of the wonderful things about using watercolor as a medium.

After some trial and error, I came up with my own set of instructions and tips (that are by no means the only way to make this). I apologize in advance for the darker-toned photos. I did this in the middle of the night and had to rely on artificial lighting for the pictures. 

Here's what you'll need (with a few things I forgot to include in the photograph):

It's very important to start out with the right paper- it will make all the difference. Watercolor paper  differs from regular paper (for example, computer paper) in it's absorbency. While computer paper will absorb the paint and cause it to spread everywhere + not blend well + make the paper wavy, watercolor paper lets the paint dry where you paint. Additionally, you can add many layers and the paper doesn't let the watercolor leak through. Since there is a lot of watercolor layering in this project, using computer paper will cause the paint to leak and bleed through, and your paper will probably rip.

I used 5.5" x8.5" cold press 140lb watercolor paper.

Start by dipping your paintbrush in water and painting wet spots all over your paper. This water layer will help the watercolor spread when we add it. When you add the watercolor (next step), it will start to blend with the water and create natural looking clouds of color.

Add your first watercolor to the patch of water. When painting a galaxy, you want to stick to dark colors. I used two different shades of blue, red, (layering the blues and red made a nice purple), and teal. Unfortunately, my watercolor set doesn't come with a black, so I had to use my calligraphy ink to add black in the mix.

Repeat adding patches of water and watercolor on top, alternating among colors.

Adding layers is the part another crucial ingredient comes in: patience. This step is all about the following sequence of events: Add layer of watercolor --> wait for it to dry --> add another layer --> wait for it to dry. Keep repeating until you have achieved the desired opacity for your galaxy. You no longer need to keep adding a layer of water before adding watercolor- that was only for the first layer. Adding a layer of water now would only make your colors more transparent, which is the opposite of what we're trying to achieve.

Over time, the more layers you add, the more vibrant and pigmented you galaxy will become. Doing this project in a room with a ceiling fan is helpful to decrease drying times in between layers.

If your watercolor palette includes black, you can skip this step and just incorporate the black watercolor like with the colors above. However, if your palette, like mine, doesn't come with black, your best bet is a black ink. I used my calligraphy ink (here's a similar ink). It's important the ink is non-waterproof! If it's waterproof, the ink won't blend well. Use a dropper to mix one drop of water and one drop of your black ink. Drop this mixture onto a desired location on your paper. I added about 3 spread out areas of black ink. 

The black ink is really dark, especially in comparison to watercolors. Resist the urge to use the ink without blending it in. Letting the dark ink sit there without blending will cause your galaxy to be unevenly alternating super dark and light, which will make it look unnatural.

After dropping the water and black ink mixture, use your brush (dipped in water) to help spread the black ink.

Like the watercolors, you will need to add multiple layers of black ink just like you are doing with the watercolors. The number will depend on the desired opacity. I added about 2-3 layers of the black since the ink is already pretty opaque.

If you see unnatural lines, rinse your brush and, leaving it wet with a generous amount of water, stipple the edges with water. This will blend out the harsh edges. Another option is to use the dropper to add 1-2 drops of water over the unnatural lines. The water drop will blend the color, creating a more natural look. You can use a brush to blend in the edges of the water drop. To help blend without using a brush, after adding the water drop(s), slightly lift and tilt your paper in different directions. This will cause the water to slowly travel in different directions and blend the watercolors as it moves along (as pictured below).


When you're done making your galaxy as opaque as you want it and have a good balance of colors, let it dry completely before proceeding to the next step: stars. If you didn't already do this prior to starting the project, now would be a great time to lay down newspaper or protective layer underneath your piece so you don't get paint splatters all over your furniture.

There are multiple ways you can go about adding your stars. The 3 I tried are using my finetec metallic watercolors, white acrylic paint, and a white pen. My favorite method ended up being dipping a small-medium sized paint brush into either the acrylic paint or finetec silver watercolor, and flicking the paint randomly all over the piece. This creates varying sizes of stars and creates a more natural, random finish. 

Don't flick the brush too close to the paper, or you will get "comets"

With the pen, the downside can be homogeneity with the stars all looking identical unless you spend time intentionally making each dot different. Additionally, using a pen can take forever. That said, if a white pen is all you have, no need to go out and buy more materials. I used my middle school favorite white Gelly Roll gel pen.

Add as many stars as your heart desires, let it dry (if you used paint), and that's it!

Frame it and use it to decorate your place, write a note on the back and mail it to a friend, or use it as a bookmark!


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