Watercolour Charger Innovation
What is the Watercolour Charger?
In the past I had problems with my particular style of watercolour painting. I couldn't achieve the smooth gradations that I wanted. I spent months experimenting and finally made a simple tool that helped. Water was charged into the root of the brush instead of the tip. It was a very fast and efficient way of adding water to the brush so I called it "The Watercolour Charger".
It's a simple device that provides the user with far greater control of the watercolour medium than is currently possible. It provides a constant supply of clean water that is instantly replenished from a reservoir. The water is made available on a narrow capillary cradle (the Charging Cradle) that is designed so any part of a brush can be charged with water. Imagine a thin ribbon of water floating in mid-air, the brush is charged with this water in the horizontal plane.
By monitoring how the belly and the tip of the brush swells and shines, the user can gauge how much water the brush is absorbing. You can't do this by immersing the brush using the normal dipping method. This can greatly help in the painting process. How can you expect to control watercolour on the paper, if you can't control it on the brush first?
A Charger will not necessarily make you a better artist, but a more competent handler of the medium. If you don't need to overcome problems, the painting process will be more fluid. Your paintings will benefit and the watercolour painting experience will be a more enjoyable and satisfying creative endeavour.
To get the best results from the Charger it will take a little practice but the learning curve is steep.
It is not intended to be a tool which you would use for all of your painting. Maybe it is just something you would want to use when you paint the smaller details. I have found mine to be invaluable and it's always on my worktable ready for use.
How is it used?
To understand this you need to know what the various parts of the brush are called.
Traditionally, the brush tip and belly is dipped into the medium and applied to the paper. A problem with that is this. Consider you are painting a shape and you arrive at a point where you may want to blend the shape into either the white of the paper or a previously applied area of colour. The paint in the brush is being used up. If you dipped the brush into water to continue painting, the remaining paint in the brush would be pushed up to the root and belly of the brush by capillary action, you would then be painting with a more diluted paint and create a step in the tone of the colour.
To counter this problem we can now charge water into the root of the brush. Then, when you continue to paint, the colour difference at the tip of the brush is largely unaltered and the water will dilute the paint at a more gradual rate. By painting and root charging the brush like this, you will achieve a superior gradation or blend than was previously possible. In essence, having more control is all about understanding just a little about the hydro-dynamics of the brush and having the ability to use it to our advantage. In my experiments, I found that whenever I would have normally dipped my brush into my clean water container, there were many times when it was easier and more efficient to charge the brush with water using the charger.
You may have difficulty understanding this at first, but if you decide to make a Charger for yourself, this will all fall into place very quickly when you come to start using it.
The Charging Cradle.
The Charging Cradle is where the brush is laid momentarily in order to take on a charge of water. The photograph above shows a brush being charged on the Watercolour Charger's charging cradle.
How much water will a brush take up when dipped in the traditional way? It depends how deeply it is immersed, the length of time it is immersed and how thirsty the brush is. It is difficult to judge. This is where the benefits of using a Watercolour Charger will be realised.
An important advantage with the Charger is that you charge the brush in the horizontal plane. You have full visibility of the brush and will quickly learn how much water is being absorbed by watching how the brush tip and belly begins to swell and shine. After a very short time it will become second nature and you will not need to monitor the charging process.
The brush is briefly laid in the cradle, larger brushes and mops can be gently rotated. For an approximation of how much water is being taken up by the brush, you can monitor this by watching how the brush tip begins to swell. Also, for every drop of water, you will release one bubble which you'll see rise in the reservoir. You will soon realise that when painting you may only want to use maybe one tenth of a drop of water per charge. After a short while you will begin to appreciate how this method can provide superior control over the dipping method.
The charging of the brush can be a rapid process. This is an enormous benefit and you will soon realise how this helps with the flow of your painting. It is especially useful for gradations where speed is necessary. The whole process can now be so smooth and free flowing that it can only lead to better paintings.
As a matter of interest, when I gradate a 7 x 5 sheet of watercolour paper, I charge a No.16 brush with paint, make an initial pass across the paper with the brush, then root charge the brush until two bubbles have been produced (e.g. the brush has absorbed two drops of water) and continue across and down the sheet in this manner until I get to the bottom of the paper. My No.16 is a big and thirsty brush.
Charging Cradle Material Notes.
When I made early prototypes of the Watercolour Charger, I just used bits and pieces that were in my home or Garage/workshop. I wanted to fashion the Charger Cradle using a reasonable thickness of wire. I just so happened to have a short length of 13 Amp mains cable lying around which I knew would have a decent thickness of copper wire in it. It is in fact 1.72mm in diameter which is perfect. Being copper it is quite soft and easy to fashion into the "Charger Cradle" shape. The Cradle worked quite well but the only problem was that after prolonged use, eg. standing for a long time wet then dry, it began to oxidise and grow a thin layer of calcium. (I live in a hard water area so this may not be a problem where you are). This meant I had to keep cleaning it because I would leave it wet for days at a time. Maybe if I allowed it to dry between painting sessions , this wouldn't have been a problem. If it's left for too long the surface of the cradle tends to get a bit abrasive and you don't want that if you use expensive sable brushes. So, if you use copper to make your cradle be aware of that.
I'm going to experiment with a copper cradle again because I like its diameter and it's much easier to get hold of. I may just need to be more efficient and dry it after each painting session. I've had some new thoughts on using copper wire - I'm going to make another one and incorporate a slight design change that I've thought about. I'll put the results on here.
Anyway, one day I found a wire choker with a charm in my wife's jewellery box and asked if I could have it. It was silver in colour and the wire it was made from was 1.6mm in diameter. I wondered if this would be a better material to use for the cradle. Although it was silver in colour that was just a coating. The core was a coppery colour but it was a good deal harder to bend than copper. I tried to find out what it was by visiting jewellery makers websites but had no luck tracking it down. I could buy as many chokers as I wanted but couldn't source the wire they were made from. If you intend going down that route, check out Jewellers Memory Wire.
In the end I found a stainless steel wire which was 1.6mm in diameter on eBay. It was only sold in 1 metre lengths and so far has performed well. No oxidation or roughness, a little harder to bend but that was fine. If you're making a charger you may want to make a copper cradle first off and see how you get on with it. With care it should be fine.
How can I obtain a Watercolour Charger?
Here's the best bit, you make it yourself. It's free! I designed the Watercolour Charger by using commonly found bits and pieces that were available around my home, in my dustbin and my workshop. It doesn't require any specialist tools apart from a drill and can be made at the kitchen table. I have made a short video below which should give you all the information you need. In the past people have said they don't possess the skills or tools to make their own. If that's the case, you must be able to find a model maker or handyman/craftsman who could make one for you. Just point them to the video and these notes.
Tutorial 1. The Gradated Line
Tutorial 2. The Gradated Shape
Once you have mastered gradated shapes, you'll be amazed at how they will lift your paintings and give them an extra dimension.
Tutorial 3. Further Gradations
A useful tip to remember when painting these or any gradated shape. If after painting the first few lines of a gradation, you feel you may have too much paint in your brush, briefly touch the tip of the brush on your tissue. This will tip-discharge the brush. Now you can root-charge the brush again and continue painting. You may have to do this occasionally when you are new to using the charger. It's a means of modulating the paint/water ratio and can be very useful as you make progress. I tend to use it a lot when painting small difficult shaped gradations.
Tutorial 4. Hard and Soft Edged Lines.
This can be quite a delicate operation if you are painting on a small scale. You may find the following information useful. If, after painting the first line, you feel the brush has too much paint, tip-discharge the brush then root-charge the brush again and continue painting. You may have to do this a few times for your first few attempts until practice makes perfect. Also, if you are only painting a short line, you may find that you will only need to root-charge the brush on every second line that you paint. The first line was painted with the brush held almost upright. The following strokes were painted with the brush held at approximately 45 degrees to the paper surface.
This hard and soft line technique is just a few strokes away from becoming a technique ideal for painting 3D shapes. A flower petal can be created very easily, and an egg can be created from an ovoid shaped line and just filling in to the middle with gradated strokes.