The blog of Richard Thompson, caricaturist, creator of "Cul de Sac," and winner of the 2011 Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Artsy Stuff

Somebody asked what my palette is for watercolor, so this is it. To illustrate this I took the scrap piece of paper I put on the right side of my drawing board to wipe off brushes, catch ink splots and doodle on. I usually use a piece of watercolor paper that's got a drawing on it I've rejected. This one has what looks like a doctor sitting in an armchair; I don't remember why I did it, but it was some old illustration job. There's a pile of these rejects in a drawer by my drawing table and some date back a ways, like to the Clinton years. The medium here is pen and ink and watercolor, and in a few bits, like that almost-elephant, was scribbled with iron gall ink, an ancient type of ink that'll eat through the page, if you're lucky.

The watercolor paint I use most often-
  • Hansa Yellow Medium
  • Cadmium Yellow Lemon
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Cadmium Red Medium
  • Quinacridone Rose
  • Quinacridone Coral
  • Quinacridone Burnt Orange
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Burnt Umber
  • Terra Verte
  • Green Gold
  • Pthalo Green
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Indigo
Those are the paints that are always squeezed out on my butcher tray palette. But wait- there's more! There are likely also some blobs of
  • Perinone Orange
  • Pyrrol Red
  • Perylene Maroon
  • Cobalt Green
  • Viridian
  • Emerald Green
  • Sepia
  • Manganese Blue
  • Some Kind of Black (Lamp or Ivory or Carbon)
Plus maybe a few "convenience colors", some of 'em proprietary colors like Daniel Smith's Undersea Green, which is a mix of French Ultramarine and Quinacridone Gold that just looks purty. I've got a big tackle box full of paint tubes, some I've barely touched in years and some that I go through every few months. A few are no longer made, like Manganese Blue (toxic) and Green Gold (same, I think), but there are "hues" available, which is a near identical mix. The strangest tube of watercolor paint I've got is Red Lead, which is highly toxic and hasn't been made in years as an oil paint (I've got some old tubes that've since hardened) and should never have been made as a watercolor. It was stuck on a shelf at the old Pearl Paint in Alexandria, under the label for Cadmium Red, and I bought it so no one else would. I'm not about to use it either. The history of paint and pigments has some nasty things in it (like "mummy", which I leave to your imagination) and some intensely toxic substances. The most poisonous was the original Emerald Green, which was a bright, happy green good for foliage and grass. It was a copper arsenate, i.e. arsenic, and in the 19th century it was used as a house paint and for coloring wallpaper, and would off-gas when exposed to dampness. Yikes.

The piece of scrap paper up top is Arches 140# cold press, the paper I like best overall. Finding the right kind of paper for this kind of pen & ink and watercolor work, you fall between two stools; either it takes ink cleanly or it takes watercolors beautifully, and few papers do both. The cold press, with some tooth, can be too rough for pen & ink, therefor some prefer the hot press, which takes watercolor a little too weird and blotty for my taste (it's like the paint sits too far on top of the paper, but sinks in too fast).

Since John asked about this (see comment), I'll tell you. I draw a loose rough on thinnish paper, put it on the lightbox with the watercolor paper on top, draw it in ink (repeat as necessary till satisfied. Don' t overdo it, let the paint do some of the work or you're just coloring a drawing. Bo-ring), then I stretch it. This is so it can be painted without buckling. I do it like this; soak the drawn-on wc paper under the tap, both sides till all the surface is wet (this is where the importance of waterproof ink is vital), then attach it to a board. I've got this thing called a Zip-Strip (or something like that) that consists of a plywood board the size of a quarter sheet of wc paper and four plastic clamps that hammer into place along each edge, holding the paper till dry. The more common procedure is to tape it with brown tape (the kind you have to moisten) or staple it (I've got some heavy-duty foamcore board with a resin that makes is sturdy for stapling). Then wait an hour or so till it's good and dry and paint at will. When you pry it off the board it'll still be reasonably flat, with very little warping. The most enjoyable part of the process is soaking the drawing in the sink and seeing the ink turn glossy, though sometimes it's all I can do to keep myself from pushing it down the disposal.

Here are some fun links-


James said...

Do you stretch your paper before you do your pieces? I've been doing some watercolors recently but have just been painting on unstretched paper. Any secret to doing this?

richardcthompson said...

Hey James, I'll add this to the post.

James said...

Thanks for the info. It's super helpful.

Mike Lynch said...

Love this peek into the Thompson studio! Must go and link to this from my blog!

Unknown said...

Wow. I don't think I have touched my paints since I discovered oil pastels (shortly after college), but you make me want to go dig out my brushes!

Bear said...

Very nice. Thanks!

Sean Kelly said...

Richard -- Your work is always smart and funny and beautifully executed. The texture of the watercolor paper comes through so nicely in your printed pieces. Do you use any particular scanning technique to accentuate the surface of the image?

Jeremy Smith said...

Thanks for sharing Richard Could you tell me is this the way you do your Sundays as well?

Miss Karen Jean said...

Pshaw - you're a natural teacher. That's the most concise instruction on how to prepare wc paper I've heard. Great post (as usual), and thank you.

zero hour said...

thanks for sharing Richard...I have several tubes of "TOXIC" paint still in my possession..I can't bear to part with,and am saving in case my bad girl rebel artist streak takes hold , along with a death
I can't tell you how many times in art school and beyond we ate, drank smoked while using highly toxic tools...hmmm

maybe this answers some things for me...hmmm ;)

M. Wuerker said...

you're letting out the recipe to your secret sauces here... are you crazy?!

I love the pallette you posted. You ought to have a show of just your pallette pages. I think that's what provided jackson pollack with his big break through.....

TimHarries said...

Thanks for posting this Richard. Very informative!

angryparsnip said...

Thanks for the post. . . If I was a brazen fan-girl, I would ask for a peek at your drawing table too ! but I would never do that. . .
The Altered Pages has been showing photos of studio workplaces. Interesting and such fun !

Between all the toxic paints and ceramic glazes, I wonder how/why I am still here.

Jesse Cline said...

Richard, I have been meaning to ask you. Who does the coloring of the online dailies? Do you do it, or is it something the syndicate does on its own?

Jackie said...


Thanks for sharing this small fortune of knowledge! It's always inspiring to see the processes of well-established artists.

Thanks again!

ETCIllustration said...

Saw this link from Drawn! and I love it! Thanks for sharing your technique; I, too, was taught to stretch my watercolor paper and the end result is so worth the effort. I completely agree with your assessment of hot- versus cold-press, though with brush-and-ink linework I found that I had to work with HP. But now that you mention CP it's got me thinking. I may have to give it another shot!

turcios curriculum said...


Kristin Forbes-Mullane said...

great post.. gotta love the poison paint..

Me said...

Really interesting post. You have me inspired to want to try this.

Is there a brand of ink that you recommend for this type of work?

here today, gone tomorrow said...

Wonderful! I've always wondered about your process.

Patricia said...

I took a break last week and went to visit family in Seattle. The first stop was a visit to Daniel Smith. While it was not my first visit it felt like dying and going to heaven.
I came home with fist fulls of juicy new tubes of wc.

This is a great post because it is so thorough. Thanks!