Oops! I Made a Mistake!?! Now What?!!

3:47 PM

Can a mistake be corrected in watercolor? Well, like most things, it depends on the paper used, the pigments used, the size of the area to be corrected and at what stage you decide something needs to be corrected. 

Gabrielle asked how I corrected the little wren's bill three times without ruining the paper, and I told her I would share "My Tools of the Trade" and how I did it in this post. So, here we go . . .

The tools in the image above (click to enlarge) are how I correct most mistakes. (The pencil is there for size comparison.) The Proxa Brush. You will find this brush in the drugstore in the denture/toothbrush area. This one is a travel version and they come in different sizes. It is a good, stiff little brush, and can be a little too stiff. If you are not careful, you can tear the paper with it. It's good for covering areas bigger than the palm of your hand.

My true workhorse is the Dentek toothpick. It has a fuzzy end that's perfect for lifting small areas of color without damaging the paper. I have seen them in the grocery and drug stores. Next is an ordinary brown paper bag (with no ink!) and a clean metal spoon (not used to eat with and not real silver/silver overlay).

Once I've identified a mistake, I determine whether I need to mask surrounding areas. If I do, I use a piece of ordinary scotch tape and cut the tape away from the offending area so that it can be lifted. (Test the tape on a sample sheet of your paper before trying this.) Once the other areas are masked, I wet the area with clean water and wait 15 seconds or so. Then I blot with a clean tissue. If it's a staining color not much changed when I blotted. So, I wet it and wait again.

Using the lightest pressure possible, I lightly massage the area with the Dentek brush. As soon as I see color coming up, I blot. Rinse brush, wet area, massage, blot, rinse, as many times as necessary. I'm lifting paper fibers, but if I'm gentle, it will only be the top layer. Do NOT apply pressure, it will lift too much paper fiber and cause a hole to appear. Once the color is lifted or light enough it can be painted over it, I allow the area to dry.

Click to enlarge images!

Once dry, I remove the tape, and sand the area very lightly with the paper bag in a circular motion. It is very much like sandpaper and will eliminate a lot of the fibers that are standing up. Once I've sanded it, I brush the area with a DRY, clean brush to remove any fibers or dust. Taking the bottom of the clean spoon, I polish the same area in a circular motion with light pressure. This presses the fibers back down and makes them smoother. Then I repaint. 

Some other info:
  • I use Arches paper. Hate the smell, but love the paper. It will take a beating.
  • If it is a non staining color, try lifting with water, a soft brush, and a tissue before scubbing. You may not have to scrub.
  • You can use the Dentek brush to soften hard lines/edges. It is very effective.
  • If you must correct in a late stage of the painting, try to lift the color only to the point where it can be repainted. This may be possible without going all the way back to the white of the paper.
  • Always test tapes you are considering using as a mask on a sample piece of paper FIRST!

 I hope this helps and please feel free to ask questions! 

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10 Creative Thought(s)

  1. Your art is magical! I found you thru susie's 1st floor flat and so glad I did!!

  2. Hi, Peggy, thanks for your kind comments and for stopping by!

  3. Wow, Laure... what a wonderful set of tips and hints! You really explained your technique well, and, as usual, are generous with your knowledge and quick to help. If I could I'd hang a gold star on your website!

  4. Fabulous! Thank you Laure. Now I will look forward to making a mistake so I can try your technique out! And thanks for your comments over on my blog. You are right - we are artists because we create, no other reason!

  5. ...I don't know how I missed this post yesterday, but I did! Thank you for the wonderful info! You're so organized and presented the info so well. Yet again, I see another book!!! You're an artist, naturalist, and a teacher (and a motivator too)!!

  6. Thanks everyone, for the great feedback!

    Teresa, I consider this paying it forward!

    Gabrielle, I hope it helps.

    Kelly, you're clever, girl. I may have a chance to start teaching so I testing things out here.

  7. Fantastic information!!! I am bookmarking this page for sure!!

    The wren is sooooo adorable! I have missed your wonderfula art.

  8. Hey, Teri, welcome back! Hope the road trip went well!

    Hope the info helps as well!

  9. Laure, I found this so informative. Thanks for sharing. It's hard to find such detailed information on how to correct mistakes - most artists and authors are very vague about it.

  10. Thank you for posting such clear and concise info about your process Laure! The use of a spoon to smooth down the fibres is brilliant. I will never be afraid of making a watercolour mistake again! (Well not nearly as afraid, anyway. Watercolour still terrifies me!)


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