Have you ever experienced your paint washes turning blotchy? Paint doesn't lay on the paper evenly, or even places where the paper doesn't take your paint at all? Chances are that your paper has soaked up oils from your hands!
Yuk! oily hands?
No I'm not saying your hands are dirty. But hands, just like the rest of your skin, naturally have a protective moisturising layer. It's called: Sebum and it's produced all over your skin. Especially on your face. Some people produce a lot of it and others not.
If you're like me, and have a natural oily skin (face) changes are your hands are also more oily. We touch our face multiple times a day, without even noticing. Without even feeling it, this oil will transfer to your hands.
That on top of hand cream, lotions, and other day-to-day products, our hands is full of oils!
Yes your hands a soft and beautiful, but how does all the oil have any effect on your watercolor piece?
Watercolor paper is made to handle a lot. You might rest your palm on your paper, or feel the grain. From the moment it touches your hands, it starts soaking up the oils from your hands. You won't see it. The paper looks perfect, no shiny surface, no colour change.
It happens, when you start painting. Oil want water don't mix. So when your first wash is applied, you might notice something strange. Your wash doesn't look even, and in some places the paper won't take any color at all.
Let's take a look at the image above. Both swatches are Zora Blue on 300gsm/140lb cellulose paper. I've had a busy afternoon before making these swatches. You know, mom life :). So my hands had seen diaper cream, cookies, sticky baby hands, food and so on. Normal daily life activity. Also, it was super warm this day, 28c/82F. So now that I've painted you a little situation, let's check the swatches.
On the left you see some on-evenness on the swatch. And some white exposed paper in the center. Those are the areas where my hand palm rested on the paper while I was making the swatch on the right. It's where the paper are sucked up whatever oil I have on my hands. And because water and oil don't mix, the paint doesn't stain the paper.
On the right the same paint, on the same brush. A nice even swatch. Water flows nice, paint is granulating and it dries like expected. No blotchy-ness, no strange textures. Just a beautiful even wash.
Sure, but it the end of the world?
Ofcourse not. Some people might even like some texture in their work. Others might not. Personally, I don't like when this happens. Watercolor is already a hard medium to control. So it's nice to have at least some control.
This could also be an issue for artists who sell original paintings. Like pet portraits for example. You don't want your customer to have a painting with random fingerprints lurking through the paint. Or, if you sell prints, you might need to re-touch some areas in your painting. Creating more work for yourself.
So how do we fix this?
If you're working on a painting that needs a lot of layers, then yes! you can fix it. Whenever you paint layer on top of layer, it slowly turns invisible. Especially working from light to dark. But when it's just a single layer, it will stay.
It's better to prevent this. Wash you hands with water and soap before you start painting. Don't forget your palms and wrists. Let them dry and that's it. You're ready to paint.
So, do we have to wash every single time?
Ofcourse not. :-) I don't wash my hands when I just want to play, or practice. Or when I make swatches, test paints, or just go nuts.
But whenever you sit down, planned a new piece, take you time with it, spend hours and hours, why not take a minute to wash all those oils away from your hands.