Ever had this? So you’re tracing – tracing or strengthening: painting lines with a tracing brush – and your line itself looks good enough. But around the line you see a watermark: a halo, where water from your tracing paint seeps out. Ever had that?
Then it dries of course: the watermark disappears. But next thing is, it often leaves a tidemark.
Now here’s the point: you mustn’t put up with watermarks – they’ll give you problems later on.
- When you shade by softening trace-lines (a technique you really need to master), your lines won’t soften evenly like they should.
- Later on, these watermarks will also make it difficult to soften your highlights – the tidemark gets in the way.
And another thing: uncontrollable effects aren’t clever
Me, I don’t like effects I can’t control – effects I don’t intend to make.
Sure, serendipity is great: we can discover a whole load of things by chance.
And sure, if we never take a risk and sometimes fail, we’ll never learn.
But that’s not what I mean. What I mean is: when I’m painting for a client, I already know what I want.
And if something happens which I’m not in charge of – like watermarks / halos for example – actually I just don’t like it.
Watermarks are for banknotes
Watermarks are what you want to see on banknotes. And halos look great on angels.
But you don’t want them when you trace.
So what’s gone wrong to cause the watermarks?
One or several of these 8 points. Now I just want to write down everything I can think of so it’s all in one place.
#1: tracing paint too watery
Tracing paint too watery on your palette: this is when there just isn’t enough glass paint in your water to slow down its natural rate of flow.
The answer is, mix in more paint and darken up throughout. (Don’t go overboard: sometimes it just takes a small amount to put it right.)
Once your tracing paint is thicker, its water-content is far less prone to separate and seep.
When I was learning, I often got this wrong; I always made my paint too wet. What I thought was, “It must be wet, else it won’t flow”.
I know better now: I’m confident enough to make my tracing paint far more viscous. Frankly, the last thing I want is tracing paint that flows “by itself”. Now my tracing paint just flows when and where I put it. The reason is: it isn’t watery, it’s viscous.
#2: badly mixed paint
Badly mixed paint on your palette: this is when your tracing paint is watery in parts, more viscous in others.
The darker, more viscous portion might well be excellent in itself, but the watery portion will push and flow too fast.
When you get both kinds on your brush, that’s a certain recipe for trouble.
The answer is, spend more time mixing with your knife or brush: make sure your tracing paint is the same viscosity throughout.
#3: brush too wet
Brush too wet: so you often rinse your brush in water (which is good), but you neglect to flick off excess moisture (which is bad).
Now, no matter if your paint itself is perfect, you’ll still hit difficulties when you try to trace.
The problem is, the water in your brush won’t properly integrate with the tracing paint you want to work with: another cause of halos around your trace-lines.
The answer is: rinse then flick your brush before you load it. (Gently flicking doesn’t disturb the brush’s shape.) You want a damp brush (not a wet one).
#4: wrong brush
Wrong brush: too big, or wrong shape.
Could be you just need a finer brush, or a brush which holds less paint (Remember: the more paint it holds, the greater the downward pressure on the flow.)
#5: too much pressure
- The right consistency of well-mixed paint,
- The right brush, and …
- The right pressure for whatever consistency of paint and brush you have.
Yes, your paint and brush can be all in order, but if you push too hard, you’ll cause too much paint too flow.
So try a lighter touch. Try tracing with just the tip.
With less pressure on the brush itself, you may also need to slow down in order that your paint has time to flow.
But actually, slow tracing is usually the best.
#6: undercoat not properly dry
A wet or damp undercoat can’t offer enough resistance to the water in your trace-lines.
The answer is, make sure your undercoat is fully dry before you trace on it.
Maybe that’s obvious. But it brings us neatly to the the essential role of gum.
#7: not enough gum Arabic
This is so important. Whenever there’s not enough gum Arabic in your glass paint, two things happen (because gum Arabic is glue):
- Your undercoat can’t dry hard enough to resist the water in your tracing paint.
- Your tracing paint itself won’t bind together like you want it to.
So, when you add more gum, again, two things happen:
- When it’s dry, your undercoat will “set” more firmly than before, resisting seepage from your tracing paint.
- Your tracing paint itself (because it has more glue in it) will be less prone to separate. The gum in your paint helps hold your paint together while you paint with it.
I especially love this 7th point: some artists try to drive a wedge between art and science. But – no surprises here – their raw materials just continue to obey the natural laws of chemistry and physics.
Want more tips like this?
These are really valuable points. If you haven’t got our e-book, you’ll find lots more techniques right here.
#8: our outlook
This last thing I want to say is different from the other 7.
It concerns our outlook.
For example: me, I make all kinds of compromises when it comes to sorting out priorities with other people.
But I have learned never put up with anything that stops me achieving my best with anything I choose to do.
So if something’s not working as it should, I nearly always stop and put it right.
This comes from the days when I played the violin. (Back then I thought that’s what I’d do in life.) If my violin was out of tune, I’d always stop and tune it.
If you’d be listening to me, you’d have known my judgement was correct.
But I reckon you’d be surprised how many players think they’ll put it right just by carrying on …
So now with glass painting, I don’t let anything block my path.
- If my brush is old, I throw it out.
- If my paint is drying, I stop and mix it.
In general: if something’s not working as it should, I’ll always stop and fix it. Doesn’t matter this takes me hours: this extra knowledge is valuable to me.
That’s how I’ve learned to be.
Sure, people call me hard-nosed. But the way I see it, far too many artists don’t put up a proper fight when things aren’t going right. They just accept things. They seem to me to assume that’s just the way things must be:
Oh dear, water-marks – never mind: must just carry on and finish my tracing …”
But I reckon that’s not the right approach. It’s not the right approach at all.
I’m an absolutist here. Plus, I’m methodical.
When you combine the two, and you’ll soon be writing to me with all the great discoveries you yourself have made.
Lots more techniques and tips right here.
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