Thursday, March 31, 2011

How To Cheat

     I wouldn’t say I was a “master” cheater in my school days.  First of all, there is no reason to cheat if you’re not in class.  My truancy problem was much more significant than my cheating problem.  This was due to my unique ability to pen my father’s signature better than he does!  So now we have forgery combined with truancy. 
It was a perfect little storm for a 7th-grader who was absolutely terrified of anything having to do with Math.  Thank you, Mrs. Bernal, for your exemplary teaching methods.  If that’s the truth sounding like a grudge … I’m just sayin’.
     So here’s the one cheating episode I can remember.  The class?  World Geography.  The assignment?  Name every freaking country in the world!!!  The Solution? Carry a flair pen with the answers written with a #000 rapidograph pen and rolled up and stored in the back of the pen.  By cutting the ink-filled fiber insert in half, and then cramming a piece of #2 pencil eraser between that and your piece of paper with the answers, you can create a workable space for every country you’re never going to visit, care about, or see on a test again.  Boom! Winning!
     So, is it possible to cheat in watercolor?  Well, for those wacky European Traditionalists, all you have to do is use Ivory Black or White paint.  That alone will send them skyward.  I really get tired of these elitist snobs. 
     Hell, if you want to paint your watercolors with flower pollen and water, be my guest.  But don’t keep setting up your rules for me to live by.  Here’s the deal.  I will use any reasonable means necessary to create the image of my painting that is in my head. 
     I don’t want to go all Zen on you, here, but I visualize my finished painting in my head.  The tough part is getting there.  Making the jump from the painting in my head to the painting on my paper is where I sometimes use other methods and materials to reach my goal.
     So what are some of these “Cheater” tactics?  Nothing terribly exciting, and I have advised you on some of them in previous posts.  I think you should have them all loaded as part of your ammunition, and be adept at incorporating these materials and techniques into your work:
1.   Gouache – I keep a set of transparent watercolor and a complete set of gouache on my palette most of the time.  I am not too proud to bump my color intensity or darks with gouache, if I feel it is needed.  If you try it, you will be a fan.
2.   Masking Fluid - I am not a fan of masking and I try to avoid it, if at all possible.  But there are times when I must use it to get to the picture in my head.
3.   Ox Gall - This solution makes your paint flow with less surface tension.  If you need atmospheric effects, it can be deadly.
4.   Gum Arabic – This reduces blooming on wet-into-wet washes.  Have you ever had to do one of those 22 x 30 washes that you want to look uniform?  Don’t go crazy with this solution, but it has its place.
5.   Table salt - Need mottling and texture on leather?  This is a good place to start.  Experiment before you move to your good work.
6.   Watercolor pencils and Prismacolors – Sometimes I need to bump a highlight or just add a bit of reflected light.  These work beautifully.
     So, now you know my stable of “Cheater’s Tools”.  Here are some others you may wish to consider:  oil-painting palette knives; razor blade scratches in my paper; squirt bottles and spritzer bottles; crow quill pens loaded with watercolor or gouache.  Also check into Nita Engle’s stamping method.  She is a master at “cheating”.  And she does kick-ass paintings!
     I know I’m missing some of my techniques, but I just want to tell you not to be limited by your materials.  The fabulous painter Oleg Stavrowsky once said one of his favorite paint application tools was the heel of an old shoe.  If it’s good enough for him…. The only limitations on painting are the ones you put on yourself.  Good luck…..cheater!  


  1. Thanks for sharing your cheater tools, Mark.
    It's fun to experiment with new tools and techniques.
    Quill that's one I've never tried!

    Have you ever used rubbing alcohol with your watercolors?
    This is a technique I've heard about and have been meaning to try.

  2. I've tried the rubbing alcohol method, but it's too's hard to know what you're going to get, and then you have a ruined painting. I can do that enough on my own!

  3. I'm trying to think of some clever way to use Ox Gall in a humor piece. I'm just getting hung up on the entire atmospheric effects thing. I hate writer's block.