Before you paint, you need to get the paints in your palette ready for painting, or as I say, you need to activate your paints. When paint sits, it dries out. You can still use it; you just need to get it juiced up and ready to go. Add water by dropping it in with your brush or spraying the paint with your spray bottle. You can mix the dry pigment and water in the well, or you can make a puddle in the mixing area of the palette until the paint is the consistency of ink and the color is what you want.

Get in the habit of having paint ready so you don’t have to stop in the middle of painting to mix more. When you’re starting out, you may not know how much paint to mix, so mix more than you think you’ll need if you don’t want to stop and make more in the middle of the painting. If you have to call a halt while you’re in the middle of a wash, the wash may dry and cause you to miss the opportune time to add paint while it’s still damp. I often spray my whole palette so all the colors are damp and ready to paint. If you know you only need a couple of colors to execute a painting, then just activate those.

To activate your paint,

1. Dip a clean, damp #12 round brush into the well of pure pigment and get a half pea–size amount out.

If the paint is dry or in pan form, gather paint by wriggling the wet brush hairs on the pigment and the paint will transfer. You won’t get a measurable size (like a pea), but you’ll pick up enough paint to move to the mixing area.

Use a clean brush every time you change colors. Clean the brush by swirling it in your filled water container to remove any previous paint. You want to keep the wells of pure pigment uncontaminated by other colors.

2. Place the pigment on the mixing area and add a little water by dipping the hairs of the brush into the water container and bringing it back to the mixing area.

Add this brush load of water to your pigment in the mixing area. Water dilutes the paint. You can get a wide range of value, light to dark, by the amount of water you add to paint. You can adjust the color by adding more water or more pigment. The paint should become liquid.

After a bit of time, paint dries out and forms little chunks of hard pigment. If you apply paint straight from the well onto your paper, the brush may pick up a chunk of pigment that can leave a streak of color behind. This all happens in the blink of an eye. Avoid streaks by pulling the paint into the mixing area and adding a little water and mixing it until it’s smooth and chunk-free.

3. Swirl the water and paint together with the brush.

You should have a nice even mix of color with no lumps. Test the color by painting a brush stroke on a scrap of paper. Add more water if it’s thick and too dark. Add more pigment if the color is too pale. Evaluate the color after it’s dry because it will dry lighter.

Use several brushes — one for each color — to activate your paint. You save pigment by not constantly rinsing out all the color. Just set the brush by the color without rinsing, and it will be ready to go when you need that color.

The mixing area should be large enough to be able to mix several puddles of color without them flowing together. If you need more mixing area, use the lid from your palette.

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