Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Don't throw out your old watercolors!

Instead, seal them in big glass jars. I've got mine in four jars: "Juicy New Tubes," "Semi-Dry Tubes," "Dried Out Tubes," and "Pans Full and Empty." The airtight jars keep the tubes from drying out any further.

I use the new tubes for refilling empty pans. If the semi-dry ones are still squeezable, they can work even better for refilling, because they don't drip liquid. You can cut open the dried out tubes with a sharp knife. The pigment is often tar-like in consistency and can usually be scraped out with a palette knife. A little water pressed in with an old spoon is usually enough to reactivate them. If you're handling toxic pigments with your fingers, remember to wear gloves.

My jar of pans is a graveyard of colors I've dumped from sets because I wasn't interested in them. Sometimes I change my mind and give those refusés another try. Every six months or so, I change my palette selection to keep myself off balance.

If I'm sure I don't want an old pan color, I pry out the color so that I can fill the empty pan with a new tube color. After refilling it, I put it on the sill of a sunny window and let it dry out for a week or two. If it cracks after drying, just fill in the cracks with more liquid color and let it dry again (thanks Jobot).

To cure the pigment from drying too crumbly, add a little gum arabic to it. Gum arabic is the binder or gluey stuff that holds watercolor together. You can get it in powdered form and it's non-toxic. It's also used for gluing cigars and making royal icing more shiny. You can even use gum arabic to make your own watercolors out of your dry eye shadow or dry pigments. (thanks, DKVision and Jobot).

Check out my video:Watercolor in the Wild by James Gurney
Big post about materials


dkvision said...

I have found that adding gum arabic or glycerine and water helps with the dried out water colors.

Unknown said...

Not only is this a very useful tip - it also looks great on the studio shelves!

Tom Hart said...

Speaking of watercolors...I watched Watercolor in the Wild for the first (of many) times this weekend. It's fantastic! I'm so happy that I popped for the dvd, as opposed to the download this time. It's so much easier to freeze frame and scan back and forth. For those who might wonder, the demos don't feel edited down at all. They all are, or at least feel, "real-time".

I sure hope there's an oil painting version in the works!

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Tom, your feedback means so much to me, and I'm always grateful for your comments on the blog. Glad you enjoyed it, and yes, I plan to do gouache, casein, oil, and pencil 'in the wild' videos, not necessarily in that order.

Dave, yes, they look good on the shelves, like those jars of pickles and peppers in restaurants.

DK Vision, thanks for that tip. I've got a jar of powdered gum arabic, and it's great stuff--I often forget to use it.

Unknown said...

Great tips!

I have a graveyard of paints as well (and also oils!). Wouldn't it be fun to start a paint swap on FB - you give me a tube of terre verte and I give you a tube of cad red!!

I had another question on using watercolor journals: When you have a page you don't like (this is going to happen to all of us eventually), what do you do about it? I remember in one of your previous posts you painted over it with casein and started again...any other tips for bum pages?

To be honest - I have gone so far as to cut some of them out (still need to make the fancy Gurney cast off art burner for my backyard though! I have also just pasted stuff scrapbook style over some of the others (yeah quite a few experiments gone awry!).

I agree with Tom H. - I can't wait for the next videos in the "Wild" series. And thanks for including how do some animals! Not many artists tackle this in their instructional stuff.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Marque,
I had a messed up page just the other day. I had high hopes for it, and even shot a nice video sequence of the painting being made. But it was a complete turkey (it was a casein). So I scrubbed off the paint later that day, before it was fully set. (I filmed that, too). Then I painted over that page in gouache. I may include that whole sequence in the next video, especially since several of you asked to see my 'whoops moments.' Yes, I have plenty of whoops moments! And I think not to many art instruction videos show you how to get out of a jam and how to fix a mistake.

NovaBiscuit said...

If I have liquid gum arabic can I add that to the tube color before putting it in the pan to dry? Or should I really use the dried gum arabic instead?

Also, can't wait for other In The Wild videos, especially the opaque water mediums!

James Gurney said...

Garrett, I'd say experiment with it and see what you get. It should work fine.

Unknown said...

This is very handy, since I'm becoming interested in watercolours again, and most of my old, ignored tubes fall into the second and third categories...

David Teter said...

I have had some success with the dried out tubes, both watercolor and gouache, by cutting off the crimp, spreading open the tube, standing it on its cap then dropping in water and pinching the tube closed for a couple days to prevent evaporation.

It often takes more than one application of this depending on how much space is in the tube (a dried tube with already half the paint gone has more room for water).

I found using distilled water prevents mold and some dried colors absorb water quicker than others.
Also, unless you have a tube crimper you have to squeeze the paint out of the bottom.

It may not bring the paint back to its original consistency but at least to the point I can get it out of the tube.

With your tip from this post I am going to try adding gum arabic to the water first.

I originally tried opening both ends, dropping the tube into a jar with distilled water and closing lid figuring the paint would absorb and soften quicker but found as it does the paint would bleed into the water.

James Gurney said...

Great stuff, David. Appreciate you sharing the results of your experiments. This is something the paint manufacturers and dealers don't bother to tell us about.

Anonymous said...

I just open up the tubes or pull the student's grade paints out of the godet plastic thingy, dab 'em on a wet sponge and stick 'em on my smaller box's palette. For gouache I use those little nail art paint containers.
Here's a glorious cell phone quality pic.
Lid's a cat food box lid, spray-enameled.

Anonymous said...

Oh and I forgot! When I'm putting tube paint to dry on my watercolor palette and I know that a certain paint will crack, I add a little bit of honey to it and mix with a toothpick. This always stopped the cracking for me.

hena said...

I probably sound like a total noob, but why is it bad when the paints crack? Why does it matter?

Anonymous said...

@hena if they crack they'll start crumbling all over your palette when you carry 'em around, pretty much.

hena said...

Ah, that makes sense. ^^

Linda Navroth said...

This is a fantastic idea and one that I will be using. If anyone is interested, I use a small drop of glycerin in the pan before I squeeze in the tube color; it keeps the color moist so that re-wetting is easier on the brushes! So far it's worked great for the past year.