When & How: Splatter Watercolor / White Gouache Paint to Your Artwork
Updated: Mar 22, 2021
I know, I know. Why would I write a post on splattering paint? It sounds like such an easy thing to do, doesn't it?
Splattering paint is quite useful in visual creation and is a technique I find myself using more and more as my painting style is becoming looser and looser. Even though it may sound easy to do, it is actually not that straightforward as to when and how to splatter to achieve dynamic looks.
Splattering is very useful in creating snow scenes when you don't want to mask and save the white areas of the paper for the snowflakes. In this case, other than scraping out the paint (which is not always easy to do), your only other option is to add white opaque paint after everything is painted. You can try to "paint" the white pigment using a brush where you want the snowflakes to be or you can splatter. I find the look of splatter a lot more organic and pleasing.
Splattering is also very useful in uniting the background and foreground and bringing color harmony to a painting.
When you are creating a watercolor piece without painting the background (that is, the background is the white of the paper), the only thing you can do to connect the focal point to its background is through flicking some droplets of the colors you used to paint the subject.
"In Flanders Fields", watercolor on paper, 6" x 6"
In the above poppy painting "In Flanders Fields", I flicked some water onto the background first then splattered both the red and green paint from the subject into the background. This created red and green droplets with different sizes and intensity on the white background thus anchoring the subject to help avoid it looking like a cut-out pasted onto a white piece of paper.
Even in paintings where I paint the background, I always try to splatter in some pigment used in the subject into my background. This could be done when the background is either wet or dry.
"Lilo, the Siberian House Tiger", watercolor on paper, 11" x 14"
In "Lilo, the Siberian House Tiger", I started thinking about bringing harmony to the piece when I painted the background first (before the subject). One of the techniques I employed is flicking in white gouache while the background is still wet since I knew I'd be using white gouache as the final step to create snow. This helped create a snow scene with a multitude of depth.
The good news is that not many tools are needed to do the splattering. In fact, you should already have all the tools you need. Here is what I use: a container to dilute the splatter paint, 3 brushes with different size / shape / water capacity, and an old toothbrush. The various brushes and toothbrush will give you splatters of different sizes and shapes.
The consistency of the paint also plays a large role in the size and shape of the splatter. Too much water in the paint will create larger droplets directly from your brush (which you may or may not want) and too little water will make it very difficult for you to splatter any paint from your brushes. My splatter paint is usually the consistency between 2% milk and whole milk.
A word of caution here. If you are splattering white gouache paint, I would strongly recommend that you use a separate container. The reason you don't want to mix the white gouache on your everyday watercolor palette is that white gouache will dull your wet watercolor paint significantly and once that mixing happens, there is no way to undo it and get the brilliance and transparency back to your watercolor paint.
This is a small beginner bird-in-snow painting from one of our LIVE paint-along sessions (check out that video tutorial here). It is at the final stage right before I used white gouache splatter as snowflakes.
The first thing I did was to cover up the parts that I do not want splatter to land. In this case, it's the bird's head and eye.
Covering up is a difficult step to remember as the splattering is sometimes the final step of a painting and we usually are overjoyed at this point. Sounds familiar? I know that's me.
I started with holding the fan brush with my left hand and lightly tap the bristle end with my right index finger. Some very talented people could hold the brush and tap all with one hand but sadly I'm not one of them.
Alternatively, you could hold the brush with one hand and flick the tip of the brush with the other. This works best with a brush that has relatively stiff bristles.
I usually save the toothbrush for the final step of splattering. Depending on the consistency of the paint, a toothbrush would give you a beautiful mist effect of the paint color you are using which I absolutely love. However, it doesn't look like much is coming off the toothbrush while you are doing this so you could very easily overdo this step. Believe me, I've lost quite a few paintings this way so do be careful with an old toothbrush, lol.
That's it, folks! I do hope you find this post helpful in your creative journey. Feel free to email me with any questions you may have.
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Until next time... Happy creating!