Artists are known to get creative when they really need to the most. So, when I was presented with a challenge, I pulled out my thinking cap and set into action. The challenge was to find a way to use the American Journey Watercolor sticks besides the way they were designed, as water-soluble crayons. Ok, so I had to do some quick thinking.
The American Journey Watercolor Sticks are a professional grade medium. These are pure pigment watercolor in a solid form, held together by a water-soluble wax and shaped like a really big kid’s crayon. And like crayons, the sticks can melt or become soft if left in a hot vehicle or if they come in contact with moisture such as a wet paper towel or damp sponge. This is important to know when traveling with them. When you first receive the sticks, they will have a thin coating of the wax on the outside that helps to keep them from becoming soft or disfigured during shipping. In order to begin using the sticks, you must first remove the coating by sharpening the tip with a wide sharpener like those used for cosmetics, or you can simply scrape it off with a blunt knife. After using them, you can resharpen them and keep the label intact, so your hands will be protected from the pure pigment.
Since they have first been introduced, I have been intrigued with all of the possibilities of creating with the American Journey Watercolor sticks. I have used them to add detail to a watercolor painting with great control and fine lines. I have applied them like a crayon and then washed over to create beautiful washes. I dipped them into water and then applied to wet paper, which created over saturated areas for drama. I melted them on an encaustic hot plate and applied the molten color to the encaustic wax layers, which added some splashes of color. I, even, heated the stick itself with a hair dryer and allowed it to drip across the encaustic painting for a sparkling effect. So, with this new task at hand, what was left?
Well, after some time, I thought about heating the paper surface , which would melt the stick while applying it to the paper. Ok, that’s an idea, but how? With a household iron? With an encaustic heating tool? With a hair dryer? None of these ideas would work, they were either not big enough, the heat was not consistent, or not practical.
Then, I stumbled on a somewhat obsolete household item that was perfect! An item that is hardly ever seen in today’s modern kitchens, however, might be found in my aunt’s garage hidden back behind last year’s dried up geraniums! A Deluxe Sized Electric Plate Warming Tray! Complete with glass top and an adjustable temperature control! It was the perfect solution. One that would allow me to warm my paper from underneath and keep it at a consistent temperature in order to melt the watercolor sticks, but not burn my hands or the paper! I kept adjusting the control between low and off until the temperature was ideal for keeping the surface consistently warm. (Note: I don’t know if these are still available to purchase in a department store. I got lucky that my Aunt Maggie had this one! You might have luck in finding one in a second hand or thrift store.)
So, I started by experimenting with the sticks and applied them to the warm paper. The pure pigment sticks readily melted into a creamy and smooth consistency and immediately filled the pores of the watercolor paper completely and fully saturated the surface. The result was a solid and smooth area that resembled a thick and even gouache application that could have taken some time to perfect. This, however, was achieved by scribbling effortlessly on the warmed paper. It was so easy, I felt like I was in kindergarten again!
After playing with the technique, I drew out a somewhat complicated sketch of a child in water on Aquarius II 80lb watercolor paper. The texture was cold pressed, however, it was smoother than regular 140lb CP, and I wanted to make sure it was thin enough to allow the paper to warm up quickly. I will take time to experiment with thicker surfaces later.
I started with the face and skin and proceed to paint in the areas with this warming technique. I filled in a space and applied the color next to it, it was easy to use a damp brush to bring the two colors together and soften the transition between them. I was also able to manipulate the stick to look like an oil pastel, but without all of the smell and lengthy drying time. It cooled to touch in no time!
The watery parts of the painting would have been difficult to paint with transparent watercolor and would have taken several layers of washes. This technique was perfect for layering the wet looking warm pigment to represent the movement of the water. The pigments blended beautifully, right on the paper. I also used a damp brush to blend between colors with a soft, pleasing, graduation of value.
I was even able to use a thicker application of the stick pigment to create texture that would remain after the paper was cooled. I was very pleased with the painting when I finished. I really don’t think I could have achieved this level of coverage any other way.
The details were very sharp but still painterly; the background was smooth and even but nicely blended where I wanted it to be. The colors were bright, bold, strong and very saturated. I loved the fact that the painting was so colorful and still had a realistic quality about it. I really liked this new technique, and that it didn’t take a long time to complete it. I started small, about 8×10, but will definitely try this again on a larger scale.
Using the American Journey watercolor sticks on cold paper can give you nice coverage but will be more transparent when activated with water. This is great for graduated washes and shading.
I would also like try to incorporate the many ways of applying the American Journey Watercolor sticks, into one work of art. I think I will try this technique with other surfaces as well, like Yupo, TerraSkin, or Multimedia Art Board! I just love a good challenge! And this one proved to be an exciting adventure into a new area of watercolor. Just remember that these are still watercolor and must be protected from moisture. It is recommended to frame them under glass.
There are endless possibilities of making art. There is always going to be some new way of creating art, some new product, some new paint, some new brush or tool to try. Isn’t it great to have an unending curiosity and desire to discover and experiment with all of the new stuff to come? For me, I just can’t wait for the next new and exciting project to present itself. I hope you will join me in trying this new technique with this unique and different medium for watercolor painting.
Art is always changing and evolving around us. Sometimes we just have to grab a hold of it, hang on, and let Art take us for the ride of our lives! You never know what you can do until you try it!
Happy “Let Art Melt In Your Mind” Day!