Category Archives: Materials and equipment

To granulate or not to granulate?

I have just returned from tutoring on a painting holiday in the beautiful Cotswolds in the UK. The area is full of quaint old villages, the ancient houses constructed from a golden limestone and bordered by village ponds, trees, and lots of Wisteria in full and fragrant bloom. It was a fantastic time of painting and making new friends.

I sketched quite a bit on the various day trips out and about, and on my return I have begun to make small coloured paintings in a sketchbook from some of these pencil drawings. Let me show you two of them and then explain why they look different. They are both similar scenes from different places, and I used the same watercolour paints in both. But the top one has significant granulation and the bottom one has not.

What is granulation? Well, it’s an effect which is caused by some paints, but not all. These paints are less finely ground and have some particles of pigment that are larger and which separate out of the paint and settle into the dimples in the watercolour paper, causing a mottled effect as the paint dries. I have recently started using a Daniel Smith colour called Green Apatite Genuine which is great at doing this. it is a lovely foliage green and when it granulates it becomes mottled with brown. This gives a semi-realistic foliage effect without having to do to much.

I also used an ultramarine blue for the skies in both pictures, and the top one has granulated while the bottom one has not.

So, what is the secret? How can you either make granulation happen, or avoid it, even when using exactly the same paints?

The answer in this case seems to have been the tilt of the paper. I painted the first sketch with the paper flat on the table top. This allowed the granules of pigment to settle down nicely into the hollows in the paper (a Moleskine watercolour sketchbook).

The second sketch was painted with the sketchbook on a slope of about 30 degrees. This resulted in a much smoother and flatter finish and little granulation.

I found this to be an interesting way to control the end result, (and anything that helps us control the temperamental watercolour is a blessing!), and I hope it will help you have a little more control over your painting as well.

Get a FREE 40 page guide to Plein Air painting

I am on Instagram ( and last night I was flicking through some of the artists that I follow there and came across a free offer from Lena Rivo. It looked interesting so I signed up for it and got the download. It is so good that I would now like to share it with you!

Here’s what she said about it on Instagram:
“On my recent trip to Northern Portugal, I collected so many small observations and thoughts about plein air painting that I decided to combine them in an E-book. So, upon my return, I created a new free 40-page PDF guide in which I share my approach to plein air painting, as well as my observations and tips that might be helpful for artists who are inspired by nature. On the last page of the guide you will find a link to a short film from the trip that inspired me to write this guide.

You can download the ebook at the link on my website:

This ebook is full of images, so hopefully it will be a fun read for you” 😊❤️

Hope you enjoy it and find it useful. Lena has other free booklets etc. on her website as well.

Make a viewfinder for painting still life.

I made this viewfinder a couple of years ago and it is such a simple way of framing a still life. Take a look at the short video below to see how I did it, and perhaps make one for yourself.

And please add any comments to this post if you have any ideas of your own for an alternative viewfinder 🙂

My love affair with gouache.

I am falling in love with gouache paint. That may sound like a strange thing to say, but I think it’s true! Over the years I have painted in acrylics, oils and watercolour, and each in their turn have their positives and negatives.

Acrylics dry fast, which can be a good or a bad thing (good in a wet country like the UK, and bad where I now live in the dry heat of Spain). They also darken quite a bit as they dry and I have found this a little awkward, with paintings turning out darker than I imagined.
Oils on the other hand dry very slowly, which I don’t really mind. I use water mixable oils which dry a bit faster than traditional oils, but you still need to wait several weeks before varnishing and framing. However their colour and tone do not change when they dry – what you paint is what you get.
Watercolours produce a wonderful transparent glow and can have great accidental and unplanned effects. But the technique of using them is difficult and you need to plan well before putting brush to paper.

So this is where gouache paints come in. For someone like me who paints more instinctively than thoughtfully, who dashes in with a brush rather than preparing carefully beforehand, these paints are like magic! Because they are opaque you can cover over anything that you have already painted, and you can paint light over dark as well as dark over light. You can paint thin transparent passages and also flat opaque areas, thereby giving your paintings more interest. They have many of the advantages of oils without the slow drying time.
So what drawbacks are there to gouache paints? I would suggest that they are not good for large paintings – I use them in my sketchbook, as their quick drying time makes them perfect for plein air. I am going to experiment with larger paintings by gradually increasing in size to see how far I can go, but I am assuming that over a certain size they will become too expensive to use. But that’s where oils can take over.

I have found that gouache is great for sketching outdoors, and I recently went out to film myself doing this. Take a look if you would like to here – its on YouTube:

If you are interested to find out more about painting in gouache, In the early part of this year I wrote a course for beginners in gouache which you can find here:

and just for you for a limited time I can offer you this course at half price from here: