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How to Add Texture to Watercolor: A Demo

Alex Hillkurtz plays with varying techniques to create texture and depth in his watercolor paintings.

By Alex Hillkurtz

After the Party (38 x 57 cm) by Alex Hillkurtz

In the feature “An American In Paris” in the September/October 2020 issue of Watercolor Artist, you’ll learn about Alex Hillkurtz, a watercolor painter and storyboard artist living in Paris, France and Los Angeles, California.

Here, Hillkurtz illustrates how to add texture to watercolor in a step-by-step demonstration of his painting process.

After the Party

I love the work that Brenda Swenson does with her paintings of flowers, building colors in layers, and I thought I’d try this technique on my own subject. I have a bowl of wine corks gathered from many outings with friends, different celebrations, and casual dinners, and I wanted to translate those memories into paint. This seemed the perfect subject in which to show how to add texture to watercolor. My process involves playing with varying techniques of wet-on-wet, dry brush, and using warm and cool colors.

Step 1

First, I brushed the paper with clean water in an uneven manner — some sections were soaked, others were left dry. With this initial wash of color, I played with warm and cool tones and varying textures. Colors are free to mix and blend on the page in wet-on-wet, unpredictable ways, but also scrape across the paper with dry brush.

Step 2

Once the initial wash was dry, I began to add shadow details. Cool blues and lavenders contrast with the warm underpainting.

Step 3

Next, I used detail to show contrasting warm and cool colors as well as varying textures.

Step 4

Because this subject can support all sorts of different textures, blooms of color and halo effects are encouraged.

Step 5

Shadows are built up in layers to create deeper colors, pushing elements into the background and bringing others forward.

The Final Stage

To conclude, add final details with a sharp dagger brush for the text on the corks, as well as splatters with a toothbrush.

The Artist’s Toolkit

Paper

For paper, I primarily use Canson Heritage cold-pressed 300gm and Arches 300g cold-pressed. I love the texture these papers provide, as well as the water absorption that allows for various techniques.

Sketchbooks and handmade loose sheets from Moulin de Larroque and Ruscombe Paper Mill are also on my must-have list. These smaller paper mills here in France are carrying on an ancient tradition of paper-making. I enjoy experimenting with their different surfaces, depending on my mood and the subject I’m painting.

Paints

I’ve been using Daniel Smith paints for a few years now. Their pigmentation and granulating effects are a joy every time I paint.

Colors I can’t do without are Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Chromium, Burnt Sienna, Pyrrol Scarlet, Quinacradone Sienna, and Indian Red. I also love the creamy textures of Naples Yellow and Gamboge by Rembrandt.

Brushes

Brushes are my addiction. I have too many to count, but the ones I find myself reaching for again and again like old friends are my Escoda Reserva 10 and Escoda Aquario 12. These are both natural fiber brushes with incredible paintings in them waiting to come out. 

To see more of Alex Hillkurtz’s work, visit www.alexhillkurtzart.com.


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