Watercolour Charger Innovation



Four Nudes


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

The object of this exercise is to gain familiarity with the charger and demonstrate how a tiny amount of paint can be stretched to cover quite a large area. At this stage, it is important to get into the habit of mentally working out how much paint should be on the brush, as it will probably be less than you think.



No. 4 ProArte Connoisseur Series 100 Watercolour brush

140lb Bockingford Watercolour Paper

Paynes Grey Watercolour Paint ½ pan

The Gradated Line

1. Rinse the brush and wipe on tissue with a twisting action.

2. Root-charge the brush. (Just touch the root of the brush on the charging cradle momentarily with a twisting action).

3. Stroke the brush tip across the paint pan 3 or 4 times to tip-charge the brush.

4. Root-charge the brush.

5. Paint a short wavy line approx 1.5 inches long.

6. Root-charge the brush.

7. Repeat 5 but continue where you left off.

8. Continue to charge and paint until you are painting with clean water.

The illustration above is approximately the actual size. The stars denote where I lifted and root-charged the brush before continuing to paint the line. Note how smooth the dark to light gradation is, and mentally note how much paint you used to achieve this. If you feel more comfortable painting in a downward direction with dark at the top light at the bottom, then turn your paper to suit your own painting method.

Because the charging process is fast you will have plenty of time, therefore you can be fairly slow and deliberate while painting this. One thing to remember is to re-charge the brush with water before the brush gets too dry otherwise the gradation from dark to light will not be smooth. If you are still having a problem, work a little wetter than you think you need, by root-charging the brush for very slightly longer.

You may need to practice this a few times as you familiarise yourself with a new method of painting. After a short while, you will find it really is a very simple and comfortable process. It is important to get this right because it will form the basis for the following exercises.

Tutorial 2. The Gradated Shape

The object of this exercise is to demonstrate how you can paint complex gradated shapes without using any form of masking.



No. 4 ProArte Connoisseur Series 100 Watercolour brush

140lb Bockingford Watercolour Paper

Paynes Grey Watercolour Paint ― pan

The Gradated Shape

1. Rinse the brush and wipe on tissue with a twisting action.

2. Root-charge the brush. (Just touch the root of the brush on the charging cradle momentarily with a twisting action).

3. Charge the brush with a little paint direct from the pan.

4. Root-charge the brush.

5. Paint four strokes. I started at the top left of the paper and painted four horizontal strokes working downwards.

6. Root-charge the brush.

7. Paint a further four strokes next to the previous four.

8. Root-charge the brush.

9. Paint a further four strokes next to the previous four.

10. Continue to charge and paint until you are painting with clean water.

If you prefer, work downwards rather than across the paper with your paper set at an angle to aid gravity. Adjust the working method to suit your way of working.

Now, if you were to do the same again but with the brush strokes overlapping, this is what you will get.

Once again, because the charging process is fast you will have time to take care with the edges, therefore you can be fairly slow and deliberate while painting this. One thing to remember is to re-charge the brush with water before the brush gets too dry otherwise the gradation will not be smooth. If you are still having a problem, work a little bit wetter than you think you need and maybe adjust the angle of your drawing board and paper. After some experimentation it will fall into place.

At this stage, you may wish to mentally note how much paint you had on your brush and the size of the shape that you ended up with. This will become more important as you make progress because you will need to judge the quantity of paint on your brush when making different sized shapes.

Also you will need to select an appropriate brush size for the size of shape that you intend to paint. You may need to experiment with the angle of your drawing board and paper to get the best results. I generally work with my drawing board either flat or at approximately 15 degrees. It depends what I am painting at the time but in the end, it's a case of your own personal preference.

With experience you will be able to gradate virtually any shape using these methods and because you don't have to work lightning fast, you can paint around other shapes and even split a shape that can have two gradations going at the same time. For sky gradations that are larger than 1/8th of full sheet size, I would recommend using the traditional gradation method of diluting the wash between horizontal brush strokes.

The following examples are all actual size. They were painted on bone dry paper with a No. 4 brush and no masking was used.

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

The object of this exercise is to demonstrate how to paint some gradations that could equally be considered as shapes with hard and soft edges. Using the charger, we can extend the softened edge, much further than with normal techniques, and this has led to the development of some interesting pictorial elements that can be used in your paintings.

The actual size of this is 7 x 5 inches. The numbers relate to the different gradations that I painted.

1 and 2 are full width gradations. I used a No. 8 brush and painted the gradation using horizontal overlapping strokes, root-charging the brush after each stroke. I allowed each gradation to dry before painting the next one.

3, 5 and 6 are also gradations painted with a No. 8 brush. This time I stopped the edge of these gradations on the sharp edge of gradation 2 that I had previously painted.

4, is also a gradation painted with a No. 8 brush. This time I stopped the edge of this gradation on the sharp edges of gradations 3 and 5 that I had previously painted.

7, is a circular gradation from the previous exercise using a No. 4 brush. The darker sharp edge of the gradations denote where I started painting.

It is important to note, that by painting layer over layer, I have not disturbed the underlying layer and created a mottled effect. This is due to the charger making the painting process quicker and easier. If I had fiddled, (particularly where gradations 2 and 3 overlap), then I would have disturbed the underlying paint and created a mess. I intentionally chose to use Paynes Grey for these exercises, because I used to find it notorious to glaze over due to these problems.

Here is a further example of how we can use gradations in our paintings.

I used the same technique as before but as you can see the shapes are more curvilinear.

Notice that some of the gradations have been layered and glazed over up to six times, and yet, there is still no suggestion that the underlying layers have been disturbed.

For this exercise, try painting some of these layered gradations and see what you come up with. Try some of the straight edged gradations first and then introduce some of the curved ones using the same technique but just curved instead of straight.


Charger No's. 4 and 8 ProArte Connoisseur Series 100 watercolour brushes 7 x 5 inch 140lb Bockingford Paper Paynes Grey Watercolour Paint ½ pan

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.

Nucleus. 7.5 x 10 inches.

Here is an example of a watercolour painting that is made up almost entirely of gradations. Although my work is mainly non-representational, there is scope for using charger techniques in virtually any style of watercolour painting.

I think you'll agree that layered gradations combined with colour, certainly gives a painting impact.

Tutorial 4. Hard and Soft Edged Lines.

Another interesting technique you can do with the charger is a hard and soft line effect. This technique is similar to the previous ones but you use less paint by tip-charging the brush with a tiny amount of paint. You paint a line, then it's a simple case of root-charging the brush and painting overlapping strokes and repeating this until you are painting with clean water once again but all the time, you are painting further away from your original line. This is similar to a shape gradation, but instead of a shape you are gradating a line. I hope this makes sense. It is much easier to do than describe how to do it.



No. 4 ProArte Connoisseur Series 100 Watercolour brush

140lb Bockingford Watercolour Paper

Paynes Grey Watercolour Paint ½ pan

The Hard and Soft Edged Lines

1. Rinse the brush and wipe on tissue with a twisting action.

2. Root-charge the brush. (Just touch the root of the brush on the charging cradle momentarily with a twisting action).

3. Stroke the brush tip across the paint pan 1 or 2 times to tip-charge the brush. I very often just pick up a little bit of dried paint from my mixing palette wells.

4. Root-charge the brush.

5. Paint a short line approx 1.5 inches long.

6. Root-charge the brush.

7. Paint another line but slightly overlapping the previous one.

8. Continue to charge and paint with overlapping lines until you are painting with clean water.

The paper was slightly damp when I painted these.

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.

3D type image.

Here is an example of some of the techniques that I have covered so far.

Note the blue sky is darker on the left and gradates to a lighter blue as it makes its way across to the right side of the painting. This is a typical example of a gradated complex shape. There are also gradated shapes with hard and soft edged lines used in the clouds.

The charger enables you to make very delicate gradations which do not show up very well on the computer screen.

Negative Organo-abstraction.

7.5 x 10.5 inches.

This is another example of what can be achieved using these techniques.

This was painted with a No. 6 brush for the larger shapes and a No. 4 for the smaller shapes. Only the tiniest amount of paint was used for each gradated shape and line.

There is a lot of scope here for developing this technique for those of us who enjoy painting floral subjects.

Tutorial 5. The 3 Dimensional Shape.

Don't be misled by this section of the tutorial. I know you very rarely need to paint a bubble or a doughnut, but the point of this tutorial is to show you how you can have superior control over the medium. The way I look at it is this; If you can achieve the impossible then the ordinary techniques will be that much easier. Consider this as an exercise. As they say in industry, " you are sharpening the saw", and Hey! you never know when a bubble may be just the thing to finish off that painting.

Note. I am using black paint for this section because I have noticed that many screens do not show the subtleties of the gradations as well as they look in real life.



No. 6 ProArte Connoisseur Series 100 Watercolour brush

140lb Bockingford Watercolour Paper

Lamp Black Watercolour Paint ― pan

These are easier than you may think. They just take a little practice and a steady hand. I'm assuming you have worked through the previous tutorials so I won't go over old ground. The paper was dampened on the back with a sponge and when it had curled and then uncurled again I started to paint. The first image, reading left to right, was just a painted circle. While the circle was still wet and shiny, I immediately rootcharged the brush and painted another circle inside the previous one and this is the second image. I repeated that once again and you get the third image. I repeated that yet again and got the final image.

The trick to success with these is to try and aim to use the correct amount of paint before you start. I just tip charged the brush with a tiny amount of paint, rootcharged the brush and started to paint. While you are learning to do these, you may need to adjust the amount of paint on the brush by tip-discharging some colour on some tissue as you proceed, if the colour is not fading as quickly as you would like. As you get more proficient, you will get used to modulating the colour on your brush by charging and discharging like this. It does get easier and you will start to gain more control over this medium.

But what if I want to show the light coming from the side? That's easy too. Just start painting the shape on the opposite edge to where the light source is coming from. For the above shape, the light source is coming from the right but there was also a small window to the left which has left a reflection on the shape.

Once again the first image shows the first part of the shape. The second image shows what I painted after rootcharging the brush and painting within the first stroke, and the last image shows how it looked after rootcharging the brush again and just finishing it off.

Due to the charging process being so quick, you'll find that you will have plenty of time to paint around the reflection and make a reasonably good job of these. These are all shown just slightly smaller than their actual size.

Once you have mastered the above shapes, you will find the doughnut (toroid) shape to be very easy indeed. Firstly paint a gradated circle. Let it dry. Then paint a reverse gradated circle within it. The reverse gradated circle is done by painting a small circle, rootcharging the brush and painting around the first circle. Rootcharging the brush and repeating until you are painting with clean water. You should know what to do by now.

If you have managed to work up to this point in the tutorials then well done and congratulations. You are now painting in 3D. If you can paint these shapes than you will be able to paint virtually any shape imaginable.

Tutorial 6. The Bellycharge.

I love the name of this one. It reminds me of the drunken bar sport that was popular recently where two large men, strip to the waist and charge at one another with the purpose of colliding their big beer bellies.

Well if you've been following these tutorials, you'll know that the belly of a brush is normally the thickest part of the brush where there is the greatest concentration of hairs or bristles.

I devised this technique because I wanted to try and create the perfect seamless colour transition within a shape. Hopefully, by now you will have found how useful the charger has become with your painting process, and you'll see that this is just a further extension of what I have shown you so far.

Here is a strip of colour transitions which were created using the belly charge. I know they are not all perfect, but to get all of these looking very reasonable on one piece of paper is not bad at all in my book.

The strips are .4 inches wide by 3.5 inches long and you may notice that there are three colours used in a couple of them. I used a No. 4 ProArte brush to create these.

When we rootcharge a brush, what we are doing in effect is like pumping the colour out of the brush onto the paper. Consider what would happen if you had two colours on your brush at the same time. With a little luck one colour would be pumped out first followed by the next colour. The idea is to ensure the colour is put on the brush in different zones. e.g. One colour on the tip and the next colour on the belly.

I use tubes of colour and a palette that has generous paint wells. I squeeze out a short length of colour into my paint well and let it harden overnight. The image below shows a cut-away side view of my palette and the method that I use to bellycharge a dampened brush with colour. You will notice that the tip has already been charged with colour and obviously once I start to paint, that will be the first colour to come off the brush followed by the colour which has been bellycharged onto the brush.

With a little patience and practice you'll find that this is quite an easy technique which you can experiment with and achieve some quite amazing colour blends.

It goes without saying that you can do a bellycharge and make a colour transition at virtually any stage when painting a shape, and, you can of course change the colours at any stage to achieve a multi-coloured shape.

See if you can spot the colour transitions in these two examples. They can be quite subtle.