Watercolour painting is a technique that I’ve wanted to learn for years, to me it seems like the ultimate in meditative crafts.
I’ve also always wondered about how to make watercolour paints, which is why I’m excited to share with you a studio tour with the lovely Kirsten Crooner, the talented artist and maker behind gorgeous Hushwing Watercolours. Not satisfied to simply perfect watercolour painting itself, Kirsten has taken her work to the ultimate level by mastering the technique of making her paints from scratch, developing themed palettes that help and inspire other artists. What strikes me straight away is the amount of research and care that goes into making her signature watercolour palettes, making them a beautiful art form in themselves. Read on for her process!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hello! I’m Kirsten Cooner, the artist and paint-maker behind Hushwing Watercolors. I live and work in Alexandria, Virginia with my husband and snuggly pitbull pup. Our little family enjoys the outdoors, so when I’m not in the studio you could probably find me climbing at the New River Gorge or catching some waves! In addition to being a total art nerd, I’m also a bit of a real nerd who loves Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Magic the Gathering.
How did you start experimenting with watercolours?
I grew up on a farm and was always dabbling in all sorts of creative outlets, including watercolors! However, I began approaching my work more seriously while earning my bachelors. I graduated with a concentration in mixed media and graphic design with a minor in art history. During that time I discovered my love for studio art, my art supply addiction, and also my art history obsession. The combination of these interests later fostered the beginning of my paint making journey, as I now happily work in all three of these areas on a regular basis. A match made in heaven!
Did you always make your own paints or is this something you learnt along the way?
Paint making is something I’ve picked up along on my artistic journey, and began with my aforementioned love of artist’s supplies and art history. I crave a sense of involvement in every step of the artistic process. Prior to our modern paint suppliers, all artists made their own paints and passed the trade down from master to student. I feel that somewhere along the way we have lost that immediate touch with our materials. They are the backbone of our art-making practice and yet so many of us are disconnected from the origin of our tools. I hope to reintroduce artists to the quality, craftsmanship, and care that goes into traditional paint making. Hushwing Watercolors provides highly pigmented paints using unadulterated earth tones and historical pigments – paints that are as unique and special as your artwork.
What is the process behind creating your paints?
Every watercolor I create starts with the most important step: research! I usually begin with a concept for a palette, and then go on to select the pigments I will use. Pigment selection can make or break a palette, so this is where I focus my attention. I need to consider not only if the pigment will work beautifully in watercolor, but also how it will mix with the other pigments chosen for the palette. All of the watercolors in the Hushwing palettes have been thoughtfully paired to work together and offer a versatile collection.
A significant component of my pigment selection process is thoughtfully researching potential pigments, including how they’ve been used throughout history. Many pigments have fascinating backstories – don’t even get me started on Mummy Violet (Spoiler: Actual mummies were used at one point)! Absurd historical pigments aside, we can learn a lot about a specific pigment from how it was used in the past. For example, many artists kept detailed journals including their paint making processes and even recipes. As an art history enthusiast, half of the fun is in the search! Most importantly, though, by standing on the shoulders of giants I can perfect my paint making practice and offer beautiful watercolors with a dash of history.
2. Create The Recipe
Once a pigment has been selected, it’s time to create a recipe. I formulate each individual pigment’s recipe over several weeks of testing to make sure I get it just right. I won’t release a watercolor until it’s a paint I truly want to work with myself. I’ve been known to purchase pigments, start testing, and then realize I just don’t like them all that much – only the best makes it into our shop!
Production starts with our signature binder, which we make in house. Binder is the backbone of all of our watercolor formulas and truly brings everything together!
Mulling is the crucial process of evenly suspending the pigment particles in the binder. I use a glass tool (conveniently called a “muller”) to work the pigment and binder together in order to provide a quality paint. This is an important but labor intensive process, as mulling a single batch of paint can take an hour or more. Once the paint is completed it is poured into pans to dry. Each pan is filled in layers, meaning it takes several batches of paint and filling over a few weeks to go from empty to full pans. The final step of the process is packaging up our palettes and shipping them to our customers!
Do you have any creative advice for my readers?
I think the best creative advice I can offer is to be brave in your work. Create for yourself and trust your vision. Dig deep to find your inspiration, and don’t be afraid to make work that challenges you. Also, don’t let the critics get you down! We all have room to grow, and it’s important to respect other’s opinions, but take them with a grain of salt. Welcome constructive critique and remember that just because someone doesn’t like your work is NOT a reason to stop creating (let me repeat this three more times for my younger self). Keep making things and one day you might surprise yourself by where you end up.