Many watercolorists love the medium because the white of the paper helps illuminate the colors in the pigment. But if you are working outside, it helps to start from a midtone. Just ask Gretchen Kelly.
Lead Image: Gretchen Kelly painting on location in water media on toned paper
“I have a love for Stonehenge kraft paper, in particular,” says the New York State artist. “I have been painting on toned papers for years, not only landscapes but figurative works as well. There are several qualities that appeal to me. The vintage look, from years gone by, is always a lovely effect. There is a dramatic effect that can be achieved when combining watercolor with white gouache for clouds, water, highlights, and the like that add that last striking detail in a painting. Sometimes I mix blue with the white gouache as a finishing touch for the sky.”
Kelly has enjoyed employing the substrate when she’s competing in plein air competitions. “I always include a Stonehenge kraft color paper rendition,” she says. “The results are usually stunning, and in two recent plein air events, I sold and took second prize for landscapes on this paper. The areas left unpainted become a planned void in composition. That untouched area of paper leads the imagination to the subtle suggestions of where the paintbrush didn’t go. Why didn’t the artist choose to paint that section? Sometimes when I don’t know what to do … I do nothing, and that includes not putting a mark down on paper but instead leaving it blank. I like the mystery in spaces between brushstrokes. The toned papers then become a part of that composition.”