Sunday, 3 September 2017

Granulation - what and why?

Goethite, DS. PY43

Of the many characteristics the watercolour artist can explore, by far the most unique and special, is granulation. It's one of the reasons I use Daniel Smith watercolours - they are the masters of granulation.

Granulation is the effect you get when the pigment particles clump together rather than settling evenly on the painted surface. As a very general rule, the finer the particles, the less they granulate. So phthalos and quinacridones, being very fine and even sized man-made particles, appear very smooth in a wash. 

Many of the natural earth pigments, ultramarines, cadmiums and of course the Daniel Smith Primateks have larger, more irregular particle sizes and granulate beautifully.

Sydney sandstone sketch.  Watercolour.

You can increase the effect further 
by using rougher paper and more water.

As I am a realist, I really like to capture the texture as well as the colour of my subject, and granulating pigments helps to create texture in the otherwise 2D watercolour medium.

Buff Titanium, DS

Two of my palette staples are DS Buff Titanium (shown left) and Goethite (shown above). The buff titanium is a granulating ecru colour, prefect for marble, snow gums, and for making pastel hues with other colours. Mixed with Goethite it creates a wonderful beach colour. You can see a lot more about mixing this wonderful colour here and it is mentioned in many of my blog posts here.

Transparent Red Oxide,
DS. PR101 
Together this pair is also fabulous for the fantastic range of colours in Sydney sandstone or the lovely honeycomb colour of Bath.

Adding DS transparent red oxide and/or burnt sienna and allowing the pigments to move on the paper allows the pigments to create extraordinary effects. You can see the granulation of the pigments in the bottom part of the sandstone rock sketch above and the cliff sketch below.

Cliff sketch, Blue Mountains. Pen and ink and watercolour.

Governor Macquarie Rose. Watercolour.

This study of a Governor Macquarie Rose was painted in very soft washes of Piemontite and Quinacridone Rose, with just Piemontite used in the background. The colour changes when used in very weak washes or in mass-tone.

Piemontite, DS

Green Apatite Genuine, DS

Green Apatite genuine is another fabulous granulating Primatek watercolour. It can create interest in passage of foliage as it also moves from brighter greens in soft dilutions to rich deep olive greens in masstone.

The Gasworks, Seattle. Pen and ink with watercolour.

Here I have used a combination of transparent red oxide and piemontite to paint the rusty texture of the Gas Works in Seattle - I love this place and look forward to returning when I go back to Seattle in October. You can also see the texture of Green Apatite genuine in the foreground foliage.

(For more on my upcoming US trip see here)

I love painting rusty things. And dead things, and decay...they could seem a little morbid but I seem them as extraordinarily beautiful :-)

'Past their Prime'. Watercolour and Ink, 2017

The background in this pen and ink study of the dried Strelitzia was painted in a mixture of Goethite, Buff Titanium and Raw Umber. I love the way it produces a texture not obtainable any other way.

Perhaps the most spectacularly granulating pigment is PBk11 seen here in Lunar Black. I generally mix my own black hues, but I love exploring this one for amazing abstract or imaginary landscape studies as you can see in my gallery here.

 I have also shown a swatch of an experimental Daniel Smith colour - the rare and expensive YInMn blue pigment. In any other medium I have seen it, it is a lovely colour but otherwise not anything so very special, but seen here as a watercolour it is really something.

I love exploring all the characteristics of watercolour, whether for sketches on location, urban sketching, botanicals, studio paintings or just to play. But my favourite by far is granulation. 


  1. Have you ever added a granulating medium to colors that don't granulate naturally? I have considered buying some since so many of the pigments I own, even the natural ones, don't tend to granulate as much as I'd like. I've heard Winsor Newton makes some, but I don't know how well it works.

    By the way, did the package I sent you ever arrive? I was a little worried about it because I used a bubble envelope, I usually use boxes to send things overseas but I didn't have a small one at the time. I hope your hand is feeling a lot better!

  2. I have tried granulating medium with very limited success, but that was a long time ago. I just use granulating pigments instead. Or splatter water or salt or rice to create texture.

    And yes it did arrive thank you! I'll paint them out when I return to full use of my hand :-)

    1. I suppose limited success means it did not work very well? That's too bad. I've heard of using salt before, do you use rice the same way?

    2. I don't remember being at all impressed with the watercolour medium.
      Yes rice sort of does the same job without the risk of dissolving the way salt can.

    3. Neat, I'll have to the rice technique sometime then. Thanks!

  3. I've been charting the properties of my granulating WC paints but I'm struggling with showing it in a swatch. I read your post on how you paint your watercolor swatches. When you said that you used a "damp wash" to show granulaton, I interpreted it as a wet-on-wet graded wash. When I do that, I gat a graded wash that shows no texture at all. Even when I use the same brand & color as you do, I still can't get it to work. Did I misunderstand your technique? If so, what is the proper one? Thanks.:)

    1. Granulating watercolours will granulate more on medium or rough paper, and also show more if the paper is dampened. I tend to use medium paper (NOT) and by brushing a little water on the paper, then adding the watercolour mixed with more water, you allow the lighter particles to float and the heavier ones to clump and do their thing on the paper.

  4. Something tells me that Daniel Smith paints are what we should all be saving up for, no matter their price! I'm wondering how do you decide which colours to buy when you want them all... I have a tendancy to want every colour in the rainbow, even though I can make most from the basics! lol :D Are the DS paints really worth the extra it costs in comparison to WC's Professional paints?

    btw, thank you for all your information in your blog :) I've just found it from googling "Winsor & Newton Cotman vs Professional" ... not that I've found the answers I want but only more questions...!

    1. Jenny one of the reasons I really like the Daniel Smith paints is that they are made where possible with single pigments. W&N are not necessarily - many are mixed hues. DS are also uses lovely earth pigments, W&N don't necessarily. For example W&N burnt sienna is not made from burnt sienna pigment, but from a transparent red oxide pigment (PR101). DS is made from PBr7. Look at the pigments in W&N raw sienna and once again it is not PBr7 but a mix of others. The W&N raw umber is nothing near as interesting or useful as the DS (or DaVinci) one.

      I also like to use tube colours but W&N are formulated so they don't rewet as well as the pan colour - the tube colours are designed to be used fresh. DS re-wet beautifully once dry in the palette. So do Da Vinci and Schmincke.

      There are many excellent watercolours available in the world and where you live really determines what will be most affordable. For those in the UK, W&N are an obvious choice, along with Daler Rowney. In the US Daniel Smith and Da Vinci are excellent choices. For those in Europe Schmincke is an excellent choice. In Australia they are all pretty expensive!

      Generally you can mix and match a bit, choosing the colours you like best from many ranges. As DS have the largest range, there are few that they don't carry and some that are exclusive to this range.

      So how do you choose? Consider colour and characteristics. I like to work with about 20 watercolours, or even up to 24. That way I get the range of mixing colours I want, but also a range of characteristics. So I could make an Indian Red hue, or I could use the very opaque and heavily granulating Indian red paint. Perhaps the starting point is to choose the palette you want to work with ;-)