Questions About Commissioning A Painting? Read This!

Commissions, watercolor, Wedding Art

There are all sorts of amazing reasons to commission a painting from an artist you love, but if it’s the first time you’re considering custom artwork you might have some questions! Requesting a custom painting is actually a lot easier than you might imagine, but the process can be a little intimidating if you haven’t done it before. Below, I’m going to walk you through how commissions work, and if you’re interested in commissioning a painting or would like to request more information, please reach out to me at hello@alexsgardenstudio.com

Hydrangeas commissioned as a Christmas gift for someone.

Why commission a painting?

Clients usually commission paintings from me for one of two reasons: they want the perfect piece for a space in their home OR they are giving a very thoughtful gift to a loved one. I’ve included lots of photos in the post below so you can see the range of commissions that I’ve worked on in the last couple years. Birthdays, weddings, house-warmings, going-away gifts, moving-home gifts, anniversaries, celebrations, memorials, Christmas presents, nursery decor, and more!!

This commission involved painting five different flowers that each had a special and significant meaning to the clients. We chatted back and forth a few times to make sure that our vision for the project was the same, and it was a very fun project for me to work on because of the complexity!

A few reasons I’ve received commission requests before:

You’re looking for the perfect gift for someone in your life. Many times, there is a certain flower that has a specific meaning to your friend or family member, and a painting that incorporates those symbols is a gift that has layers of thoughtfulness and is treasured for years to come.

I painted this Scottish Thistle for Mary, who wanted a special way to remember her father and their shared Scottish ancestry.

You know what you want for a specific area of your home, but can’t find exactly what you’re looking for. This is especially true if you’re looking to incorporate specific colors or floral elements into your design.

Part of a series of Plant Portraits that I painted–this commission came from a client who wanted a painting of one of her favorite houseplants. It ended up being a good thing, because she told me recently that the plant had not survived for much longer…

You would like to remember something special through a painting–this could be a wedding bouquet painting, or flowers that remind you of a loved one or a special time in your life.

A wedding bouquet commission–these are always so fun because I know that I’m painting something that has an incredible amount of meaning for the recipient.

Since I am a botanical artist, I get lots of requests for special flower paintings. Did you know that there are flowers for each state and country? For each birth month? Lots of places have a flower that is very special to that region. Custom paintings make beautiful gifts for newborns to celebrate their birth month with something special, or for couples celebrating a milestone anniversary with a painting filled with symbolic flowers.

This painting was commissioned by a woman for a friend of hers. Her friend was from Kansas, had lived in Texas, and was moving to New Mexico and so she asked that I incorporate the state flowers of each place into the painting and unify the piece with Southwestern colors. This was a really fun painting!

Okay, I’d like to commission a painting…what do I do next?

Let’s talk! I believe that beautiful art should be accessible to everyone, and I work hard with my clients to understand their vision and to make it achievable.

Sweet Peas were a significant flower for this client and she asked for an explosion of pink sweet peas to mark their meaning in her life as a birthday present to herself!

Start out by writing to me at hello@alexsgardenstudio.com with a few ideas or details about what you’re looking for. Feel free to include your budget or discuss the price points you’d like to see. I work with all sorts of budgets and strive to always create something special for each customer.

Sometimes people reach out to me with fully-formed ideas for what they’d like their paintings to represent, and sometimes they come with just an idea and we work together to flesh it out. I genuinely love chatting with you all and figuring out the best answer to your artistic needs and some of my favorite paintings have been the result of brainstorming something unique and fun with a client.

These hellebores were commissioned to be a part of the stationery for a wedding invitation suite.

When we’ve hashed out exactly what you’re looking for, I’ll send you a written proposal with all the details expressly laid out. How long will the painting take? When can you expect to receive it? I’ll include a few reference/inspiration photos and may give you a few options about styles and sizes, depending on the project.

Then, when you sign off on the proposal, I get to work! Some people enjoy seeing updates throughout the project, while others like to be surprised by the final painting. Either way, you have a completely unique, one-of-a-kind painting for yourself or someone special that will be treasured for many years.

I painted these transom windows as a very unique kind of commission!

I know the idea of commissioning a painting can be a little intimidating. In fact, there is a lot in the art world that seems mysterious or intimidating, but I like to make art accessible and I am always happy to answer your questions or inquiries!

If you’re interested in talking about a commissioned painting, write to me at hello@alexsgardenstudio.com to get the ball rolling! I’m writing this in early-November 2020, and I have a very limited number of spots opening up for commissioned paintings to be done by Christmas. If you’re interested in reserving one of those slots, I’d encourage you to write to me soon.

This client reached out to me asking for a painting that was similar to one I had already sold. If you see something you love but it isn’t available any longer, reach out and we’ll figure out a special painting for you 🙂

Hopefully, this post has answered any questions you have about requesting a custom painting. You can see from the examples I’ve posted that commissions can be created for all sorts of occasions and purposes. If you see a particular style or something you like, don’t hesitate to reach out.

This little painting was commissioned to hang in the nursery of newborn Olivia 😀

Okay, I’m posting one last example because I can’t help myself…look at these pretty irises!! It’s the last one, I promise!!

This is the initial sketch of the purple irises below. Purple irises were Ella’s favorite flower and so a friend gifted her a commissioned painting of them as a Christmas gift. The finished painting is below!

See? 🙂

Commissioning a Painting of your Wedding Bouquet: Tips for Commissioning!

Original Paintings, Products, watercolor, Wedding Art

You invest time, thought, money, attention, and an incredible amount of significance in the flowers that surround you on your wedding day. If only they could last forever! Commissioning a painting of your bouquet is a meaningful way to honor the work and beauty that went you’re your wedding-day florals, after all, a painting doesn’t fade or crumble as time goes on, and is a lasting and thoughtful memento of one of the most important days of your life.

This week, I’m sharing a few posts about what goes into creating a personalized wedding bouquet, click on the posts below to read more about each stage of the process. Check out a Q&A with a happy customer here, and see behind the scenes of the whole artistic journey here.

Today’s post is all about my top tips for brides looking to commission a painting of their bouquet–whether it is a watercolor painting with me or a different type of painting with another artist. These tips apply to any bouquet commission situation 🙂

  • Communicate exactly what you’re looking for.

Communication is key! Let me know your timeline, your style, the story behind your flowers. Let me know what you like about my style. Send me pictures of your inspiration or paintings that I’ve done that you connected with. Is the painting a gift? Would you like updates? Do you want to see the painting from initial sketch to drawing to finished product, or do you want to be surprised? I like to go above and beyond expectation, but it helps when I know what the expectations are, so remember to communicate.

  • Know the styles of the artist you’re working with.

If you’re looking for a stunning watercolor rendering of your bouquet–I’m your girl! But if you’re looking for a detailed oil painting of your wedding bouquet, I’m going to tell you to look elsewhere. Equally, if you request lots of artistic changes that don’t resonate with my style, it will be difficult for both of us.

I personally paint wedding bouquets in two different styles and I find brides are usually pretty clear on wanting one or the other. Above, you can see the tighter ink-and-watercolor style I offer and below, you can see the looser, more expressive style.

This is the looser style I offer. Still lots of color and details, but no ink outlines and looser, more expressive hand.

Remember, you are approaching the artist because something about their style has resonated with you and attracted you to their work. So, let us do what we do best and that way we’ll both enjoy the process.

Note: This really goes for all commissions. Lots of artists become frustrated when someone approaches them for a commission and then picks apart everything about their unique style and voice or asks them to paint something in the style of a different artist.

  • Great reference pictures:

This one is a game-changer! The better the photos you provide, the better the end product will be. Remember, your bouquet is a 3D real-life object, so the more angles and views the artist can see, the more true the end product will be. When I get sent really great photos I do a little happy dance because it makes the process so much smoother!

Featuring a photo by Bradley Moss
  • Commission the biggest size you can afford:

If an 8″x10″ is in your budget, go for it. It will be beautiful!

But I will say that typically customers regret going small and wish they had gone up a size. Imagine your bouquet framed and hung above a mantel or your bed or as an eye-catching centerpiece of a gallery wall!

  • Follow up after you receive the painting.

Okay, so this one is optional, but I wanted to add it because it makes a huge difference to me (and I’m guessing to other artists!) when we hear what you think after you receive your painting. The truth is, I only hear from clients about 10% of the time after they buy an original painting or commission art from me. I’m guilty of this myself–I don’t always reach out to creators once I receive what I bought, even when I LOVE it.

BUT when something is totally handmade and has so much thought and effort behind it, it makes a world of difference when the client reaches out to say, “thank you I love it!”

SO, any questions about commissioning a painting of your wedding bouquet? I’d love to hear them! Leave a comment, write to me at hello [at] alexsgardenstudio [dot] com or click here to read more about how to purchase your painting.

Commissioning a Painting of your Wedding Bouquet: BTS of the Artistic Process

Creativity, Original Paintings, Products, watercolor, Wedding Art

You invest time, thought, money, attention, and an incredible amount of significance in the flowers that surround you on your wedding day. If only they could last forever! Commissioning a painting of your bouquet is a meaningful way to honor the work and beauty that went you’re your wedding-day florals, after all, a painting doesn’t fade or crumble as time goes on, and is a lasting and thoughtful memento of one of the most important days of your life.

This week, I’m sharing a few posts about what goes into creating a personalized wedding bouquet, and if you didn’t have a chance to read the earlier Q&A with client Laura, hop over to this post to read her take on the commission process.

In today’s post, I’m going to walk you through the actual artistic and creative process that goes into creating a painting of a wedding bouquet using Laura’s bouquet as an example of the step-by-step process.

The finished painting. Let me show you how we get to this point 🙂

The first thing is to communicate quite a bit up front–it’s so important for me to understand what you’re looking for, the style you’re interested in, and what you hope the end product will look like so that I can have those goals in mind while I draw and paint.

I always start by asking for lots of good, clear images of the bouquet. These can be from your photographer or from your own camera, but the more pictures the better!

One of the reference photos I used to create Laura’s painting. This was taken by Bradley Moss, who you can find here.

I don’t ever want to just copy directly from a photograph–the photographer is an artist, too, and no one likes to have their work copied–but I do need lots of reference pictures to get a clear idea of what the bouquet looked like. This is especially true because a bouquet is a 3D object, and a painting is a 2D object, so to translate it beautifully and accurately it’s important for me to see the bouquet as close to realistically as possible.

Once I have an idea of what I’m working with (I know your vision for the piece and I have good reference material–I start to sketch out composition ideas. These are usually big, messy shapes on drawing paper so that I can get an idea of the scale that I’ll be working with.

The very first sketches I do are usually just roughly done big shapes.

Next up? I start to pencil in the details. This can be a bit time-consuming, but it is critical to get this stage right before moving on to adding ink or watercolor. Angles, ruffles, petals and more come under scrutiny as I try to translate their shapes and movement to the page.

The drawing on top is the initial pencil sketch, the one on the bottom is the final sketch transferred to watercolor paper.

I offer two styles of art for the wedding bouquets. One features tightly-detailed ink lines and watercolor washes (like the banner of hellebores here:

Ink and watercolor.

And the other style is a looser more free-handed interpretation consisting of only watercolor, like this:

Depending on which style you’re interested in, I’ll either start inking or I start painting. Here’s what it looks like when the inking starts–lots of tiny lines and details, and the shapes really start to pop off the page. (If your bouquet has lots of white flowers, I typically recommend inking just to give the painting more definition.)

Adding inky detail stroke by stroke and line by line.

And then the best part! Watercolor! Lots of beautiful layers add up to gorgeous watercolor paintings. The layers start with watery, pale washes and build up into vivid and deep swathes of color. This is my favorite part as I watch the bouquet transform into a finished and fully realized piece of art.

Layer by layer, the painting starts to take shape.

And the first layers of a looser piece.

Once I’m finished with the painting, I take a break from looking at the piece so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes and add any last-minute details in. I sign it, take a lot of pictures, let you know that the bouquet is done, package it, ship it, and wait to see how you frame and display your finished painting.

Watch a timelapse of the first layers of watercolor on Laura’s bouquet.

Aaand…that’s it! The whole process typically takes between 1-2 months depending on how many other commissions I’m working on. I really enjoy creating these and would love to hear from you if you have any questions about the process or if you’re interested in commissioning your own painting. You can write to me at hello [at] alexsgardenstudio [dot] com or you can go straight to my website and order your own beautiful painting. Stay tuned for the next post in this series–my top tips for brides looking to commission a wedding bouquet painting.

Commissioning a Watercolor Painting of your Wedding Bouquet: A Q&A

Original Paintings, Products, watercolor, Wedding Art

You invest time, thought, money, attention, and an incredible amount of significance in the flowers that surround you on your wedding day. If only they could last forever! Commissioning a painting of your bouquet is a meaningful way to honor the work and beauty that went you’re your wedding-day florals–after all, a painting doesn’t fade or crumble as time goes on, and is a lasting and thoughtful memento of one of the most important days of your life.

This week, I’m sharing a few posts about what goes into creating a personalized wedding bouquet, including tips for brides looking to commission a painting, the complete artistic process, and my Top 5 suggestions for your finished painting.

In today’s post, I’m thrilled to bring you a written Q&A with a recent client, Laura. I loved working on her bouquet, and I think you’ll enjoy seeing the process and hearing what it was like from her side of things.

A glimpse of the finished bouquet!


Laura, how did you find out about the wedding bouquet paintings?

I was looking online for independent artists who commissioned watercolor paintings, especially botanicals, and came across Alex’s Instagram and website. 


In your own words, describe the process of commissioning a painting. What jumped out at you about the process and our communication? Is there anything you’d change?

I had the opportunity to tell Alex what the process of designing my bouquet was like, and how I wanted to replicate that same vision with the watercolor piece. She was super communicative, involved and very much understood my vision. I appreciated the updates along the way!

An update from along the way!


Why did you decide to commission a painting of your bouquet rather than simply frame a photograph?


Although I LOVE the photographs of my bouquet and am probably going to frame some, I had our venue watercolor painted by a local artist (she only does venues, no botanicals), and I thought that doing the same for my bouquet with a botanical watercolor artist would be a nice way to pair those paintings for a good memory “to hang”.  

What were your thoughts going into creating this?


I wanted to eternize everything I loved about my bouquet, and I love art! So I wanted to make it something special that I could have around me for years to come. 

Some up-close details.

Let’s talk about your original bouquet–who designed it, and what did you love about it? 


Our wedding was a private family ceremony and not very traditional. I wore gold instead of white, and I didn’t really envision even having a bouquet (even though I was having A LOT of floral in the decor).  A couple of weeks prior to the date, my mom started bringing it up to me that “how was I going to be a bride without a little bouquet?”. To be completely frank, I’ve always thought that “little” bouquets are tacky, so I said to my mom, “I’m either going to have no bouquet, or the most abundant, lush, overwhelmingly beautiful bouquet ever”. So I worked with my floral designer on exactly that, we had the most beautiful flowers (I didn’t hold back on that) and a gorgeous ribbon hanging from it. I wanted something impactful and to this day, when I look at my pictures, I’m in awe, and it happens to be one of the things I get complimented on and asked about the most about our wedding- my bouquet. 

[Here’s a link to Steve’s Flower Market. Her bouquet was designed by Kylee Lynch.]

A shot of Laura’s beautiful bouquet — photo by Bradley Moss, who you can find here.

Was I easy to work with? Did I accomplish your vision for the painting?
Absolutely and yes! 

Any suggestions or recommendations for other brides looking to commission a painting? 
Know what you want and communicate it! The more details, vision, meaning you communicate about your goal, the more understanding and inspiration you provide to the artist to make their art. I loved the work Alex did and am excited to frame it!

The finished painting!!

Thank you so much, Laura, for taking the time to answer these questions and give other brides a peek into how the process works. I hope you love your painting for many years to come, it was a pleasure to create it for you!!

If you’re interested in commissioning a painting of your bouquet (or the bouquet of a loved one–they make great gifts!) you can get in touch with me by writing to hello [at] alexsgardenstudio [dot] com. You can also order one right now by clicking here.

Watercolor Glossary: Paints for Beginners Part 1 [Student or Artist Paints?]

Watercolor, Watercolor Glossary

Welcome back! If you’re new here, you can catch up on the Watercolor Glossary posts for beginners by reading all about watercolor paper here, and all about watercolor brushes here! Today, we’re going to have a little chat about paints. A quick note: there is enough material about paper, brushes, and paints to fill many, many books. The goal of these first three entries in the Glossary has been to create a non-intimidating reference for beginners. Make sure you let me know if you have anything specific you’d like me to cover! You can comment below or email me at hello (at) alexsgardenstudio (dot) com.

And now–on to the paints!

When I started painting, I used what was already around the house. It was a plastic palette with pans of Winsor & Newton Cotman paints and it served me very well indeed. After painting for a while, my dad (who shares my love of art supplies) offered to buy me some artist level paints. What a dad! I was TOTALLY overwhelmed by the options though, and relied on the Helpful Australian Lady who worked at the supply store to recommend something.

When she heard I had learned to paint with student-quality paints she said it was like I’d learned to climb Mount Everest with one arm, and I was about to be given another whole arm.

Which leads me to one of the biggest distinctions when you’re learning to paint: student-grade or artist-grade? Artist-grade paint is a lot more expensive, and I recommend starting with student quality until you master some of the basic techniques and essentials, but if you can afford the good stuff, go for it. Learn to climb Mount Everest with two arms from the get-go.

So, what’s the difference between student and artist paints?

At its most basic form, paint is primarily made out of pigment (which provides the color) and binder (which holds it all together). Oil paint is a mixture of pigment and oil; acrylic paint is a mixture of pigment and a plasticky binder, and watercolor paint is pigment and (usually) gum arabic. There can be a few other things lurking in your paint, too, especially as companies develop proprietary mixtures or binders to enhance the performance of their paints.

When you buy artist- or professional-grade paint, you are buying a lot more pigment. The colors are deeper, move better, and have a brighter and purer consistency because there is more pigment. Pigment is the thing that makes the price go up, though, and so student-grade paint has less pigment and more filler. Remember the cheap little Crayola palettes or art-class palettes way back in grade school? Those are almost all filler. Cheaper paints can leave a chalky residue. There are very poor student-quality paints and very high quality student paints.

Ready for some recommendations?

Here are some I’ve personally tried and can recommend. If you’ve enjoyed a different brand let us know in the comments!

These are Cotman colors and are also what I frequently use in the Essential Watercolor Kit that I create and sell. (Click here for more info!) I learned to paint with these, the quality is good and they are significantly less expensive than the professional paints. They can handle lots of essential techniques, don’t have too much filler, and have good wet-in-wet action.

Grumbacher makes good student paints as well, and Van Gogh is worth checking out.

If you click on “Watercolor Paints” on the Blick website, they have them all organized between tubes, pans, and if you scroll down you’ll see they have a whole section of paints labelled “Student” where you can check out all the different student-quality paints.

Tune in next week for more on watercolor paints! Tubes, pans, or liquids? What kind of palettes? Where do pigments come from?

Top 5! Week of July 5 to July 11

humor, Top Five

Last night my brother had a dream that our sister was getting married. She was nervous and excited. She was especially nervous because her fiancé didn’t know how to dance. “Can you teach him to dance?” she asked my brother. My brother went to give him some pointers. Only to discover that her fiancé was Sauron. He took the moral high ground and refused to give him pointers.

The Dark Lord Sauron 1/4 Scale Statue
On the other hand, having a great wedding ring won’t be a problem with THIS GUY!

Where do I go from there?

I guess for this week’s Top Five I’m going to get some guest input. Trevor (my brother) and his wife Katey are visiting this week. I’d say that Claire (my sister) is visiting too, but she lives back at home now because CORONAVIRUS.

Trevor’s Top Pick

Trevor: “Playing lots of tennis.”

Alex: “Why?”

“It’s a good workout and it’s easy to go to.”

“Anything else you’d like to add to your quote?”

“I’d like to change my quote entirely.”

“Ok. Go ahead.”

“Tennis is fun.”

serious rafael nadal GIF by Australian Open

Claire’s Top Pick:

What *I* think Claire’s favorite thing about the last week was: picking raspberries.

What Claire just said after I wrote that sentence: “My favorite part of the last week was getting raspberries from the patch and seeing everyone’s smiles when I bring them into the house.”*

Claire made a pie with those raspberries, and that should be on this list, too.

*this makes Claire sound like a character from Anne of Green Gables, and, well…

anne of green gables child GIF

Katey’s Top Pick:

Katey: “Not having to work!”

Alex: “What do you like about not working?”

“Not having to work. No work involved. Nothing. No exams. Freedom.”

“Do you have anything else you’d like to add?”

“No.”

free freedom GIF
Katey, after grad scshool.

Claire’s Top Pick, Take 2:

Claire: “Wait. Ask me again what my favorite part of the week was.”

“Yes, go ahead.”

“My favorite part of the week was also not working.”

(I look at her like, did you just copy Katey’s answer?)

(She did.)

Claire’s Top Pick, Take 3:

Claire: “Also, I have a serious answer.”

“Okay, go ahead.”

“My actual favorite part of the week was going to the book barn and getting a lot of books.” A pause. “Why are you staring at me like that?”

*laughter*

Trevor: “Because…you sound…the way it’s going to come across…I liked raspberries. I liked going to the book store. To get books.”

Claire: “Oh man.”

buster keaton silly silly girl GIF by Maudit

Alex’s Top Picks:

Having family around all week, that pie Claire made, playing tennis, reading books, and yes I just copied all their answers 🙂

What were your favorite things from this past week? Let me know in the comments!

My First Facebook Live and Links to Resources

Beginner Projects, Facebook Live Videos, watercolor

Okay! I did my first Facebook Live!

The goals of this Live were:

  1. To get comfortable using the software and being in front of the camera!
  2. To introduce people to the most basic-basics of watercolor painting
  3. And to show everyone the first group project to work on!

If you watched the FB Live, thanks so much for being there and being encouraging! I was nervous! If you haven’t watched it yet, go ahead and do so, hopefully you’ll learn some little nuggets of information.

Click here to go to the Facebook Group and watch the Live video!

All About SUPPLIES!

I talked about a few different supplies in the video, and I’m going to post them below so you can check them out yourself, along with some extra information.

First of all, I have a new and ongoing series all about watercolor supplies called the Watercolor Glossary. So far I have written about watercolor paper and brushes. Click over and read those entries if you’d like even more specifics and recommendations.

The Essentials Kit

At the end of the video, I also talked about the Watercolor Essentials Kit that I make. The kit has everything you need to get started, so if you’re feeling a little unsure of where to start or overwhelmed by so many options, you can click over here to check out and purchase the kit. The kit has a handy metal palette, watercolor brush, pipette, two pre-drawn templates, a color mixing chart, and a note from me. You can also watch this YouTube video to see more about it:

Supplies I Mentioned:

Brushes:

Paper:

Paints:

Other:

  • These pens are a great purchase because they’re waterproof, long-lasting, and come in a variety of sizes. You can use the pens before or after you paint and the outlines add a lot of detail and interest to your finished piece.
  • A pipette!

Group Project for the Week

Finally, here is the image of the project for everyone to work on this week. Post your results in the group here and use the hashtag #groupproject so we can find them easily. Let’s cheer each other on! I’m happy to give some constructive feedback if you’re interested, as well. Watch the FB LIVE video for the step-by-step instructions and don’t let fear hold you back–just get painting, there’s no wrong way to start!

Experiment with different shapes and colors and see how the paint and water interact with each other. This is a great exercise for learning to control the amount of paint/water on your brush, for learning how colors mix and interact, and to gain control painting specific shapes.

There’s a poll up on Facebook asking what you’d like to learn during next week’s LIVE, be sure to get your vote in!

And LAST of all: if you’re not in the FB Group, what are you waiting for? Get over there and check it out!!

Thanks again!

Alex

Watercolor Glossary: Brushes for Beginners

watercolor, Watercolor Glossary

Choosing the right paintbrush can be really overwhelming when you’re starting to paint. If you’ve wandered down the aisle of your local art store and seen the dazzling array of brushes, all made of different materials and some for students and some for artists and some for professionals and some for oils and some for watercolors and some for painting model airplanes (okay, okay, if you’re seeing that one you’re in the wrong aisle), you know there are a LOT. So let’s break it down to the basics in this edition of the Watercolor Glossary!

I was really fortunate when I started to paint because there was an amazing local art supply store staffed by an Australian woman who seemed to know everything about art supplies and wasn’t snobby about it at all! She helped me pick out my first supplies and made the subject approachable and beginner-friendly, and I’m aiming to do the same for any beginners who are reading this very post.

Medium:

To start, there are paintbrushes for just about every kind of painting and medium. Brushes for oil painting, acrylic painting, watercolors, house painting, wall painting, and turkey basting.*

Really briefly though, oil and acrylic brushes usually have much longer handles (they’re easier to use when you’re painting something on an easel). Some oil and acrylic brushes are made of the same materials as watercolor brushes, but you’ll want a watercolor-specific brush for painting. Trust me, you’ll notice the difference.

*check out the Turkey Baster Glossary for more on that.

Shape:

How many different brush shapes can you name? If you’re thinking, “Um, paintbrush-shaped?” Don’t worry! That’s what I’m here for.

Among the many, many types of brushes* we are going to focus on three: the round, the filbert, and the flat. As you continue to paint, you’ll undoubtedly want to add more brushes to your arsenal, but those three brushes are capable of a LOT and are all I personally use.

Here’s a little illustration I made to show you the general shapes:

A round brush: this is the most traditional size, and what you’d think of when you think, “paintbrush.” A round is very versatile and is by far the most-used paintbrush in my own arsenal. Rounds come in lots of sizes and are capable of doing very fine detail with the point of the brush, but also laying down a lot of paint when you use the belly of the brush.

A flat brush: the metal part that holds the bristles of the brush is called the ferrule. On a round brush, the ferrule is round. On a flat brush it is pressed flat, which makes the bristles form into a square/rectangle shape. These are best for doing broad strokes and washes, though you can get some detail and good lines with the side of the brush.

A filbert brush: a filbert looks a lot like a flat brush, but the sides are rounded. Filberts are the brush of choice for many artists as they can hold lots of paint, do big washes, and you can get some nice detail work by using the sides of the brush.

The takeaway from this section? If you’re just getting started, invest in a good-quality round brush. They can lay down a lot of paint but their fine point means you can also create beautiful details. A round brush is my go-to in my own paintings, but if you’d like to try a few different shapes, go for a round brush, a flat brush, and a filbert.

Click here for one of my favorite brushes I used when I was learning to paint. I’d recommend it to any beginner!

*an incomplete list: round, pointed round, flat, bright, filbert, sword, rigger, liner, taper, fan, angular flat, detail, and mop.

Here’s a link to a handy chart that Blick Art Supplies made (pictured below).

Size:

The size of the brush is typically printed on the handle. The size refers to the bristles/hairs and here’s something fun (and by “fun” I mean kind of annoying…)…there is no consistency between brands regarding sizes. A size 6 brush in one brand can be completely different from a size 6 brush in another brand! And so on and so forth for every number and brand. There just isn’t a standard size chart for brushes, so make sure you always look at the brush measurements provided if you’re buying online. Some brush manufacturers also have free catalogues with brush images printed so they are at their actual size.

The takeaway: to give yourself the most range when you’re starting, go for a small round brush (somewhere between size 0-2), a medium round brush (somewhere between size 4-6), and a larger round brush (somewhere between size 8-12).

Again, here’s a great resource from Blick about brush sizing, and it also goes into some interesting information on brush hair, which we’ll cover in more detail below.

Material:

Watercolor brushes can be made from natural animal hairs or synthetic bristles. It’s a veritable petting zoo of animals, too, and includes sable, ox, mongoose, hog, badger, squirrel, goat, and pony!!

The best watercolor brushes are made of Kolinsky Sable, which is a fur from the Siberian Weasel. Sable fur is held to be superior to all other materials for brushes–it is extremely soft, absorbs lots of paint and water, and holds a beautiful point for detail. It is also a lot more expensive, but you can really tell the difference when you paint with a Kolinsky Sable brush.

This video gives some behind-the-scenes info on some of the most expensive Kolinsky Sable brushes–it is REALLY interesting to see what goes into each brush. Did you know there are only a few brush-makers who can make the Winsor and Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable brush? And it takes three years of training before they’re ready! The nine (ONLY NINE) brush-makers who make these each have 27 years of experience on average. Okay, I’ll stop quoting the video to you and just encourage you to watch it when you have a minute 🙂

When a brush is labelled “camel hair” it is usually made of squirrel hair, or a mixture of goat, pony, squirrel etc. These are cheaper brushes and I don’t personally enjoy using them as I like a bit more spring in my brushes. Because they’re quite inexpensive, though, it’s easy to experiment and see if you like them.

Finally, if you don’t want to go with natural brush hairs, you can also purchase a brush made of synthetic fibers. They do perform a bit differently, but a lot of the synthetic brushes I’ve used are just as good as the natural ones. This is a set of mini synthetic brushes and I use them all the time. I do find that synthetic brushes don’t seem to hold up as well to my sable brushes, but they tend to be cheaper and easy to replace. Also, if you are opposed to buying products made with animal components, they are a great choice.

Anyone else love the show “How It’s Made”?? This video is amazing if you’re interested in learning more about paintbrushes, how they’re made, and the different components.

The Takeaway:

As with all art supplies, you will find your favorites by experimenting. That can be a little difficult at the beginning of your painting journey if you’re not sure what to experiment with or if you don’t have a lot of money to spend on a bunch of different art supplies. If that describes your situation, I’d recommend purchasing a couple good quality round brushes in at least three different sizes. Princeton makes some great affordable brushes. If you’ve been painting for a while, though, and you’re ready to upgrade, you can’t beat a Kolinsky sable brush. Check out Rosemary and Co. brushes and the Winsor and Newton Series 7 brushes for the very tippity-top of the line.

As always, let me know if you have any questions or feedback in the comments below! Happy painting!

TOP FIVE: June 27-July 4

Top Five

#1: Home Cooking Podcast

I listened to the beautiful, inspiring, and fun podcast “Home Cooking” by Samin Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway over the last couple weeks. (Samin is the host of that beautiful Netflix special whose name I can never accurately remember…I think SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT. Could I Google it? Yes. What can I say? I am lazy, and Googling it seems to be the equivalent of getting up to put the kettle on so I can have a cup of tea while I write this post.) And Hrishi is the co-host on the West Wing Weekly and the host of Song Exploder and if you listen to podcasts I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. ANYWAY, here is how they describe their podcast:

“Home Cooking is a podcast from Samin Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway. We want to help you figure out what to cook (and keep you company) during the quarantine!”

It is SUCH a good listen, and full of amazing cooking tips and fun stories. There are only a few episodes, but they are each a delight. Plus, it leads me to my next item on the list, which is Yo-Yo Ma.

#2: Yo-Yo Ma

In one of the episodes they were chatting with Yo-Yo Ma and brought up a series of music he’s been making called Songs of Comfort. They are beautiful and recognizable and seem to be a reaction to the turbulence and uncertainty of these times. Here’s a clip of him discussing Songs of Comfort:

He just seems so NICE, doesn’t he?!

The host asks, “What can music and art do?”

And Yo-Yo says, “I kept looking for my voice, and I think my voice is in finding the needs of others and then representing them…So, everywhere I go, it’s always about finding what people are thinking, feeling, how they think about themselves in the world, and if I can find something that they need and if I can actually offer a little bit of something that is comforting, than that’s how I would define my job.”

I couldn’t say it better, I couldn’t agree more. In my small way, through flowers and paintings, I hope I can achieve the same.

Here is one of my favorites:

#3: Grace Rose Farm

Grace Rose Farm. There are hours of endless inspiration to be had just by scrolling through their feed. Any time I need a little injection of beauty or to see unbelievable roses, I hop over to their Instagram account. I’ve been drooling over the mail-order bouquets they offer and I’m not sure I can resist THESE incredible roses…

#4: Morgan Harper Nichols

Morgan is many things, but I know her from her art+poetry that I first came across on Instagram. She writes beautiful poetry and creates beautiful art around it. I am personally inspired to start sharing more of my words and thoughts as a result of her work! Click here to go to her Instagram page and see some of her beautiful work.

Loosen your shoulders

relax your jaw

breathe deep.

Make room for peace

right here in the wild of things.

-Morgan Harper Nichols

#5: The new course I’m taking!

I’m so excited because this week I started an online course called “Leverage Your Art” with Stacie Bloomfield, whose work you might know from Gingiber. Just in this first week, I’ve really been challenged to expand my art and I want to start sharing it with all of you as well. There is a unique challenge to be found in drawing and creating new things but maintaining my voice and style overall. I’d like to be able to paint a flower and have someone say, “It looks like Alex painted that!” and have that same hand be evident in the people or animals or objects I draw. That’s a lot of work! But it is work that I love 🙂

What did you love this week? Tell me about it below or join the conversation on Instagram by clicking here!

Watercolor Glossary : Watercolor Paper for Beginners

watercolor, Watercolor Glossary

Welcome to the first topic of the Watercolor Glossary! This week we’re talking about watercolor paper and all of its many varieties! Knowing what kind of paper to use can be a little overwhelming if you’re just getting started, especially because watercolor paper varies in texture, weight, dimension, manufacturing process, and presentation.

NOT TO WORRY. I’m here for you.

If you’re at the very beginning of your watercolor journey, you might not even know that there IS a specific paper for watercolor paper, or that there are many, many options. If you’ve been painting for a while, you probably already have a favorite type of paper that you gravitate towards. Either way, you can learn something from this post as I share a quick overview of the different varieties of watercolor paper available and talk about their different characteristics and how they can effect your painting.

Ready?!

Texture:

Watercolor paper texture can be super smooth (hot pressed) or very bumpy and textural (rough) and everything in between. These textures react differently to brushstrokes and to your paint, so it’s important to know what you’re looking for. For example, if I was trying to paint an extremely detailed and realistic botanical piece on rough paper I’d quickly get frustrated as the bumpy paper texture would interfere with my tiny brushstrokes.

You’ll mostly come across hot-pressed or cold-pressed paper, especially if you’re just beginning. These words refer to the manufacturing techniques–hot-pressed paper is made by rolling the paper with heated cylinders, which results in a much smoother surface. Cold-pressed paper is pressed with un-heated rollers, which results in a much more textured and rough surface. Here’s a quick video by Italian paper manufacturers Fabriano that shows the paper manufacturing from cotton pulp all the way through to final product. It’s pretty neat!

Watch these artisans take cotton pulp and turn it into beautiful, handmade watercolor paper!

These surfaces react differently to paint and water. Cold-pressed paper holds a lot of water and doesn’t dry as quickly. If you’d like even more texture, opt for Rough watercolor paper, which has a lot of texture. It’s hard to paint details on this type of paper, and many artists will paint landscapes or seascapes using rough textured watercolor paper. If you opt for one of these, you’ll find that the paper fibers are visible and the paper itself is very rough to the touch.

Hot-pressed paper, due to it’s smooth surface, is much easier to use if you’re interested in painting detailed or realistic paintings. The paper texture is so smooth that the fibers don’t interfere with your brush strokes and your brushstrokes will dry quickly. Typically, if you’re using a LOT of water in your washes and painting, I’d recommend using cold or rough paper.

Cold-pressed paper is textured, and that can provide some great effects in finished paintings. The brush can catch along the ridges and edges of the paper fibers and leave beautiful textured effects. As I mentioned above, cold-pressed can handle heavier applications of water than hot-pressed.

This is a picture I took of some of the papers I have on hand. You can see the subtle differences in texture between various brands and types of watercolor paper.

Try a bunch of different papers and see what you like! I personally gravitate toward hot-pressed paper because I paint highly-detailed paintings with lots of layers. Many artists prefer the toothy-ness of cold-pressed paper, though, and I recommend trying both. Most student papers are cold-pressed, so keep that in mind as you begin to paint.

Weight:

Watercolor paper comes in a range of different weights, and you’ll see this number right on the front of a pad of watercolor paper. There are three common weights: 90lb, 140lb, and 300lb paper.

300lb paper is the gold standard of watercolor paper. It is expensive, thick, sturdy, rarely warps, and typically comes in huge sheets of paper. Don’t go for this until you’re ready for it, though, you won’t appreciate the specific qualities of 300lb paper until you have some experience painting, so it’s better to spend your art-supply budget on other things.

90lb paper warps very easily. Typically, this is a student-quality paper. It’s thin and best used for testing out colors or making practice sketches. As in all things, there are exceptions to the rule, and I know a few artists who paint on 90lb paper, BUT it’s always best to learn the “rules” and how they work before you break them 🙂

140lb paper is the most common. This could also need to be stretched (we’ll get to that later!), though I usually use it as-is because I my paintings tend to have many detailed layers of paint that dry quickly, so it doesn’t warp easily.

Each weight is available in hot-pressed, cold-pressed, and rough-textured paper. So, for example, I prefer 300lb hot-pressed paper, though I use 140lb hot-pressed paper for almost all of my paintings, and I rarely make use of 90lb paper.

In addition to seeing the pounds, you’ll probably also see the grams measurement. Here’s the conversion in case you need it: 190 gsm = 90lb, 300 gsm = 140 lb, and 638 gsm = 300 lb

Materials:

Watercolor paper can be made out of cellulose, wood pulp, cotton fibers, or a mixture of them all.The very best watercolor paper is made of 100% cotton, but it’s totally fine to use something with a mixture of fibers when you’re practicing or creating studies/sketches. That way, you can save the good stuff (which is also the more expensive stuff) for your final paintings. 

Student papers are usually about 25% cotton, and are often not archival or acid-free, which are properties you’ll want as you continue to paint and create final paintings, so it’s something to keep in mind as you buy paper.

Presentation and Form:

You can buy watercolor sheets in a simple pad of paper, but they are also available in blocks, journals, sketchpads, separate sheets, and myriad other forms!

A block of watercolor paper is glued with light adhesive on all sides with a small section left un-glued. You can insert a palette knife or other sharp edge into that small section to remove the top sheet. The adhesive keeps the paper from warping, which is a great feature. The only con is that you can only work on one painting in your block at a time.

Large sheets of paper can be more cost-effective, but typically students and beginners will use smaller sheets of paper, so I recommend starting with a pad.

These are a few of the paper options in my studio. On top is a pad of student-quality paper that I use for testing colors and ideas. Next is my watercolor journal that I use for preserving notes and color swatches for future reference. On the bottom is a block of 140-lb, hot-pressed, 100% cotton watercolor paper that I use for my final paintings.

Other things to consider:

Watercolor paper is also available in a range of whites from bright-white to natural-white. This isn’t very important when you’re starting out, but it’s something to be aware of. 

If you’re painting motifs with the intent of scanning them and using them for surface pattern design or to create digital artwork, use bright-white, hot-pressed paper so that the scanner doesn’t pick up unwanted texture/shadows. 

For final paintings, use acid-free, 100% cotton paper where possible. It’ll make a difference in the longevity of your piece.

The takeaway for beginners:

Opt for a mid-range pad of 140lb cold-pressed paper for your final paintings. Here is a good option! Don’t automatically go for the cheapest as it won’t perform properly and it’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t get good results, but you’re also not ready for the expensive types of paper yet. As you progress, try hot-pressed paper, if you have a problem with warping, try a block of paper. If you have a good paper cutter, buy larger sheets and cut them down to size. Remember, you have the rest of your life to learn all there is about watercolor, so just jump right in and go from there and don’t let yourself get overwhelmed.

WHAT I USE:

I’ve found that, while Arches is the industry-standard as far as high-quality watercolor paper goes, Blick has a fantastic range of watercolor paper. My go-to is a block of Blick Premier 140lb hot-pressed paper, and for larger paintings I’ll splurge and use Arches 300lb hot-pressed sheets. I also love my Strathmore watercolor paper journal as a place to keep color swatches and notes about paints for my own reference. 

OTHER RESOURCES:

If you enjoy reading about art supplies and are interested in a more in-depth look at how paper is created and the different properties of watercolor paper, Handprint is basically the most exhaustive, comprehensive blog about watercolors and art supplies out there. Here’s his extensive series on watercolor paper.

Here is a video from Arches that features some beautiful footage of the paper-making process. There are some unusual creative choices in this video, but the footage of the process makes it worth it to watch!

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments or if something was particularly helpful! And, if you have requests for further articles in the Watercolor Glossary, I’d love to hear about them. 

Happy painting!