Art Products, Tuition

The Elegant Great Crested Grebe with Anita Pounder (Watercolour)

17th July 2020 Estimated reading time: 7 mins

The Great Crested Grebe is a beautiful water bird with fantastic elegant features and I am always excited to see them out and about. There is one that regularly visits the lake near where I live… there might be more than one, but I only see the one! Every time I point out a Grebe to my other half it has disappeared beneath the water, so he thinks I’m just imagining it.

I have not been able to get a photo of it yet, as it’s usually too far away, so I have used this beautiful image from a copyright free image site to paint these wonderful birds showing their elaborate courtship dance.

These beautiful birds inspired me to test out a selection of Royal Talens products, including some metallic and interference colours on Van Gogh black watercolour paper. The Van Gogh metallic and interference watercolours are bold, intense, and beautifully transparent colours. They’re easy to mix and have the highest degree of lightfastness. These come as individual pans or 10ml tubes but I was lucky enough to try out a set of 12 half pans of these gorgeous watercolours. This Van Gogh set is beautifully displayed in a handy lightweight plastic travel palette, and it includes a small folding travel brush too.

    Colours in the set include:

  • Silver
  • Light Gold
  • Deep Gold
  • Copper
  • Bronze
  • Graphite
  • Interference White
  • Interference Yellow
  • Interference Red
  • Interference Blue
  • Interference Violet
  • Interference Green

Black watercolour paper is becoming popular! The paper that I used is a 360gsm, 100% high-quality cellulose paper that’s just perfect for opaque watercolours and gouache. It’s on this paper that the Van Gogh metallic and interference colours really show their true colours.

Trying out the metallics

When used on white watercolour paper (as you would with ‘normal’ watercolours) the metallic colours add a shimmer and richness to your surface. These paints are transparent so when you first apply the colour to your paper, the metallic effect does not seem overpowering. However, once the colours dry, it’s really time for the metallics to shine!

When used on a black watercolour paper, the metallic paints give a rich quality to your paintings against the darkness of the paper.

Trying out the interference colours

On the other hand, the interference colours appear near white (or clear) when painted on white paper, with a very subtle shimmer and very little colour. It is only when you apply them to a dark colour, or use them on black watercolour paper, that the true colours will emerge. You can even mix them with other colours to add a little shimmer to your paintings!

These paints rely on light hitting the coated mica flakes in them, so they will change their colour depending on the angle you view your painting from – this is even true while they’re in your palette!

Painting the Great Crested Grebe

Use a soft pastel pencil to sketch out the outline of the Grebes. Pastel pencils will easily dissolve with the water or paint, so you won’t be left with a bold outline.

When using black paper, you have to change your way of thinking as a watercolourist, you already have the darkest areas of your painting from the dark colour of the paper, and you are adding the light areas with your paint. This is usually reversed when working on white paper.

I used the Interference White to build up the white areas on the birds. As these colours are transparent, the black paper shows through them and gives you a variety of darker tones – if you want a stronger colour use fairly neat paint. If you want much more subtle and darker tones use more water with your paint to add texture and build up the feathers. When using black paper, the darkest areas (such as the eye and the black of their ornate head plumage) are achieved by leaving the paper unpainted. The rich red and orange feathers on the head were built up by using the Bronze and Light Gold colours.

Remember, when you first apply the colour it does not appear to be very bright – the colour will strengthen as it dries.

The Great Crested Grebe is quite ungainly on land as its legs are situated far back on their body, but on the water, they glide with graceful elegance! They eat mainly fish which they will dive for, and diving is also a technique these birds use to escape danger. Their black and white striped babies will often seek shelter on their parents’ backs when they’re very young.

The graphite metallic colour is slightly darker than the white and the silver – use the shape of your round brush to lay down the feathers. Use Bronze and Gold to add colour to the brown plumage that’s under the dark grey top feathers.

You can keep adding layers of colour to build up lighter tones. If you have an area which you want to alter, these paints will easily lift by using damp brush to get back to the black paper surface.

I wanted to rework the beak of the bird on the left of my painting, so I used a damp brush and lifted off the bottom part of the beak. This opened the mouth a little more and helped me reshape it.

Once the details on the birds were complete, I then wanted to add a little shimmer to the background – the Interference colours are absolutely perfect for this! They appear white or colourless in the palette but on the black paper the colour really comes to life. The paints use coated mica pigments which are thin transparent particles from which the colour is reflected when light hits the particles. They give very little colour when used on white surfaces, but when used over a dark colour or on black paper (like shown here) the colour is exposed and they glimmer and shine.

Using a wet in wet technique, I wet the background and dropped in some of the blue and green interference colours. Again, the colours seem very subtle at first but as the colours dry, they brighten and the colour comes through. I used a little bit of the Interference White for some highlights and sparkle on the water. I then added reeds using any of the colours in the palette!

What’s the verdict?

The photos really do not do the colours any justice – the appear a little flat in the photos but in reality they sparkle and shine on the black surface.

The Metallic and Interference colours are a fun addition to your watercolours. They do not necessarily need to be used on their own – like I’ve demonstrated here – they can be used alongside any watercolour painting to add that extra shimmer and lustre to your artwork.

At first, I was dubious about black watercolour paper but the more I use it the more it is starting to become one of my favourite surfaces. It’s absolutely perfect for the Interference and Metallic colours which are very popular at the moment, and it also makes gouache paintings glow on the surface, as well as being a lot of fun to use for mixed media artworks with opaque pens, inks and pencils. The Royal Talens Van Gogh black watercolour paper has a finely textured surface of regular lines, which is more evident when paint is applied but for me adds to the characteristic of the painting, and has a slight sheen.

The weight of the paper means it can take wet washes well with only a little bowing, however I did not tape around the paper as I used it straight from the pad but the bowing flattened out once it dried. It was also easy to lift the paints without disturbing the surface. Finally, I have used both masking fluid and tape in the past and both have lifted without tearing the paper too. All in all, I recommend you try out this fantastic range and add some shimmer and sparkle to your paintings!

Happy painting

Latest Articles

Your Studio
4 mins
Your Studio – Shari Hills
13th June 2024
Your Sketchbook
4 mins
Your Sketchbook – Peter Woolley
4 mins
Colours of June | Anita Pounder
31st May 2024