Today is a big day! Not only will you learn how to paint a simple watercolor floral monogram, but you also can enter to win a set of artisanal watercolor paints and a mixing palette valued at $138. This giveaway is the result of Greenleaf & Blueberry‘s generosity, so it’s only fitting that I introduce you to G&B owners Jess & Matt to kick off this post!
Meet Greenleaf & Blueberry and Their Paints:
Jess is the woman on the left with long, cascading locks; and Matt is the man with rugged good looks on the right. In the photo, Jess is dreaming up the next beautiful blue in the G&B collection, while Matt is ruminating on how fun it was to crush up eggshells for Eggshell White. Jess reports to me that the husband-wife duo often takes walks through the forests of Washington state, grinning just as pictured while lost in thoughts of watercolors. Together, Jess and Matt hand-make Greenleaf & Blueberry watercolor paints:
Jess founded G&B a couple of years ago; at that time, she was working in an art supply store in Bellingham, WA, and painting on the side. As an employee of a fine arts supply shop, she had access to a broad selection of watercolors. However, she wanted something different. She wanted paints that were created using age-old techniques with natural, minimal materials. “I wanted the individual character of each pigment to be highlighted, so more control would be placed in the artist’s hands,” she told me. (And, clearly, this philosophy works for her … check out her botanical paintings in the photos below!)
When Jess first started G&B, she didn’t necessarily make her own paints. Instead, she’d compile collections of artist-grade paints in hand-formed polymer clay palettes. One of those — the Altoids Set of 28 — is what I’ve been using! My Altoids set of 28 was the first artist-grade set I’d ever owned, and I immediately noticed a huge difference in the vividness of my paintings. (For more information on the different grades of watercolor sets, please read the post All About Watercolor Paints.) Just to give you something to compare, I painted the watercolor wedding map below with a student grade Winsor & Newton Cotman set. You can see that the watercolor is a tad bit faded; I would have liked for the colors to be more vivid.
Conversely, the basil illustration below (from the Herbal Watercolor Tutorial) was created using the Greenleaf & Blueberry 28-pigment Altoids set plus some Violet Hematite for shading. When you look at this piece, it’s like “Sha-zaam!!” I mean, that’s what it looks like in “real life” — just very saturated and eye-catching. Creating pieces like this convinced me that artist-grade really does make a difference.
While my original Altoids set and I were enjoying a beautiful relationship that has included travels across the US and South America, Jess had something else up her sleeve. She wasn’t content using commercial artist-grade paints (which were used to make the G&B set I originally purchased) … so she spent hours upon hours formulating her own. She roped Matt into it, too: now they both do Greenleaf & Blueberry full-time! First, they obtain pigment from a reputable source — that source may be a company specializing in pigments, or a local farmer (in the case of Eggshell White).
The pigment is meticulously weighed …
Then mulled with honey, gum arabic, and a natural preservative (the ratio of pigment:gum arabic:honey depends on the color; Jess has played with many different formulas for each of her paints).
Once the mixture has been mulled, it is put into trays to dry.
… They kind of remind me of tiny, colorful loaves of bread.
When the trays are dry, they are wrapped up in recycled aluminum foil and a hand-painted label …
And sold individually or in a set. The giveaway featured in this blog post (keep reading for entry instructions!) is for the exact set pictured below:
About the Giveaway Set
Of course, despite my contentment with my original G&B watercolor set, I was intrigued by Jess & Matt’s new development … so, I ordered a set of the paints that is being given away in this blog post. I also ordered a couple of extra paints because I couldn’t resist! In the end, the price tag was around $170, but it was worth it to me because artist-grade paints last for decades and decades. On the off-chance that I don’t use all of the paints, my grandchildren could very feasibly derive the same amount of joy out of them that I do.
The paints in the set, Jess explained, have powerful magnets on the bottom that keep them in place and allow you to arrange them as you please.
I wanted space between my paints, so I oriented them in a slightly different way: some are horizontal, and others are vertical.
You may notice that in comparison to the 28-color Altoids set, these colors look darker and perhaps more dull in the pans. This is because the pigments have the ability to be layered to such an intensity that at their most concentrated they appear nearly black. It’s nice because this gives you more “bang for your buck” — it’s a little like having two colors in one. You can, for example, make a very light version of the color; or a very dark, vibrant version of the color (and lots of shades in between)!
I had a concern, though: I like my set with polymer clay wells because the white clay makes for easy blending. See how much mixed paint is all over the spaces between the different colors in my original 28-paint set?
Jess addressed this concern by introducing a mixing palette for her magnetic sets. The mixing palette is created from the lid of an Altoids tin and fits snugly on the bottom of any Altoids set. The mixing palette is an $8.50 add-on for any G&B Altoids set, and it is included with the set in today’s giveaway!
While the lid fits snugly anyway, the magnets on the bottom of the pigments also keep it secure. See how they’re pulling these calligraphy nibs? They do that with the mixing palette, too! In short: the palette is not going anywhere.
At first, I wondered why she wouldn’t just create the palette out of the original lid of any Altoids set. But now that I’ve used the mixing palette, I actually prefer it this way because A) if the palette were on the lid of the set, you would potentially have a wet, color-contaminating mess when you shut the set; and B) with the palette separate like this, it’s super-easy to clean. You just rinse it gently with water, and you’ve got a clean surface to mix on for next time!
How to Enter the Giveaway
See the Rafflecopter widget below (if not, you’re probably reading this blog post in your email — read it on the TPK site, and you’ll see it!)? You’ll just follow its instructions to enter the giveaway! Note that if you do not have a social media (Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook) account, you can still enter by answering the question asked in the widget (the first entry option). The giveaway will end at midnight the evening of Monday, Sept. 21st/morning of Tuesday, Sept. 22nd; the winner will be announced in the widget, as well as on Facebook. S/he will also receive an email from me on the 22nd! Note that anyone, anywhere is eligible to win; Jess is happy to ship internationally!
Watercolor Floral Monogram Tutorial
One could, of course, create breathtakingly beautiful pieces with these paints. You might, for example, follow the Herbal Watercolor Tutorial to make something like this bay branch:
That said, if you just want to make a fun, quick piece, this watercolor floral monogram is the project for you. (In the words of the Starks, “Winter is coming,” so you can always save the more complicated paintings for when you’re snowed in.)
I am going to show you how to do this in the context of mail art; but you should feel free to use the same concept on stationery, have it printed out on tote bags, use it as a family logo, frame it — whatever! To begin, select an envelope that will tolerate watercolor. (I like Royal Sundance 80T envelopes, item #0372500 here on Neenah Paper [under the “Envelopes” tab]). Start by drawing or painting a straight line just to the left of the center of the envelope; I used the watercolor calligraphy technique on a dip pen to do this. The color I used was Purple Ochre.
Next, center a small, round object between the edge of the envelope and the line you drew, and trace around it in pencil. (My round object is a camera lens cover.) This tracing will serve as the guideline for the floral wreath you’re drawing.
Here’s a little watercolor wreath trick: once you trace around your round object, erase the pencil guideline you just made. Use a light touch so that you don’t completely erase the pencil — you want to make sure you can still faintly make it out. By doing this, you ensure that an obnoxious pencil line won’t show through your wreath in the finished product!
Next, put some red paint (I’m using Mayan Red) on your palette as shown in the photo below. Clean off your brush in water, then re-moisten the brush with clean water and mix the water just a bit with the paint on the palette. By doing this, you’ll ensure that the red that goes down on the paper isn’t super-opaque.
Use your watered-down red paint mixture to paint pink blobs (which will eventually be roses).
Now, you’ll do the same thing with Yellow Ochre. Put the paint down on the palette, clean off your brush and remoisten it, and mix the water with the paint.
You can use the resulting hue to make a yellow four-petaled flower.
Next, paint along the outside of the flower using pigment straight from the Yellow Ochre pan. See how each yellow petal has a relatively dark outline of pigment now?
To blend that pigment into the rest of the yellow, get your (clean) brush wet, and use the water on the brush to “tease” the darker pigment into the rest of the flower.
Make a few more yellow flowers using this technique.
Next, use Green Earth to paint leaf shapes connected to the roses.
Finish up the florals in the wreath by painting circular blobs with Mayan Blue #2.
To tie the wreath together, paint slightly rounded X’s connecting each flower. Purple Ochre is a great color to do this with because it’s a nice, earthy, almost-brown.
I also like to use Mayan Red and a dip pen to add little dots in the center of the yellow flowers!
You can load Mayan Blue #2 on the dip pen to draw in petals on the blue flowers as well.
Green Earth works wonderfully for outlining and drawing vein details on the leaves.
You can finish up by using your dip pen to draw a leafy vine encircling the wreath. I used Celadonite, which I ordered in addition to the palette.
The result? A beautiful watercolor floral wreath ready to encircle a letter!
At this point, you can calligraph or draw in any style of letter. I decided to use a Roman Style “H”, which I sketched out first in pencil.
Next, I painted the letter with Purple Ochre, then I used a dip pen to outline the letter with Purple Ochre as well. Since the watercolor is such a dark hue, there was no need to partially erase the pencil sketch. If, however, you opt for a lighter tone, it’s not a bad idea to lightly use your eraser to obscure the pencil marks.
To the right of the line, you can calligraph your address using the watercolor calligraphy technique!
I used Purple Ochre and Kaitlin Style calligraphy. I like the way that the free-spirited Kaitlin script contrasts with the strong, Roman “H”.
At this point, you can be finished — but I wanted to add a few more leaves! I drew them in using my dip pen and more Celadonite. After the addition of a stamp collage, the watercolor floral monogram envelope art is complete.
So: my final verdict on the new G&B palette? I don’t like it — I love it. I am so excited to try it out on more projects, and am currently using it to paint a simple watercolor portrait of my brother’s family (below).
I will continue to use both my Altoids set of 28 and the “new” G&B palette, but only because they’re both at hand. I’d be perfectly happy only using the latest G&B paints! If you’re in doubt about what combination of colors to order from G&B, you can always convo Jess through Etsy. Tell her what sorts of things you are thinking about painting as well as your skill level, and she can recommend a color combination of a couple of pans to get you started on a budget. Jess has told me:
We’re not interested in trying to make “the best” paint or competing with other brands. We make paint we love using, and we do the best job we possibly can. Ultimately, the artist we have to satisfy first is me, and I am very picky AND particular. I need to know that the colors I’m using are high quality and lightfast because I refuse to sell art that I make using sub-par materials.
For people who are curiously asking questions and giving watercolor painting their first poke, I’ll ask a series of questions to try to determine what they look for and enjoy in their paint and what type of art they are using it for. Then, if I think our paints could be a good fit for them, I’ll suggest they start with a minimal amount to make sure they like it first. I will happily recommend another brand of paint if I think it will suit a specific artist or project better than G&B paints will!
I hope you enjoyed today’s tutorial, and if you have any questions for Jess or for me, feel free to comment! Thanks so much for reading, and enjoy the rest of your week!