Artist demo: Casey Rasmussen White

Casey Rasmussen White shared her tips and techniques for working with watercolors at our December meeting. Using one of her favorite subjects - the pear - she painted several in small scale to show us how she creates interesting backgrounds, then adds layers of more color and texture. The final magic of the finished image could happen at any time - after 2, 3 or even 4 layers of working.

It's all about lots of water and bold, deep colors. She does not wet her watercolor paper first (her favorite is Arches Cold Press) but keeps her brush super wet. After getting a few strokes of color on the sheet, she loves to flip it up, roll it around and get the water moving the color around. She also uses a mister spray bottle to work more water into the image before it dries.

Sometimes she brushes gesso on the paper first, which allows her to create a more uniquely textured surface for unexpected results! The colors and water blend and move around in different ways on top of gesso.

concord art association casey rasmussen white watercolor on gesso
Watercolor on gessoed paper

Sometimes when you add more water, the color moves around so much you might want to scream "make it stop!" But Casey encourages her students to keep it loose..."no, let it go!"

concord art association casey rasmussen white pears
Demo samples

She uses table salt for cool background effects - Morton's is a favorite because the size of the grains is consistent. She gently sprinkle just a few grains on to the wet painted surface, where the salt grains absorb color and pull it off the paper in unpredictable ways. Once it's dry, shake off any excess and marvel at whatever you get!

concord art association casey rasmussen white salt watercolor
Testing salt on watercolor

Other types of salt work too, and rice also does a nice job. The most important things to remember for the salt to work is that the paper must be shiny wet (but not drippy) and you'll get the most prominent effect on bolder colors.  Keep in mind that salt is corrosive, so over the course of many years, you may see small holes appear in your work.

concord art association casey rasmussen white palette
Casey has used the same plastic plate as a palette for her tubes of watercolors for years. She thinks it's best to find the colors you love to use the most (she refers to her colors as her "voice that she sings") and then limit yourself to that palette. Blend when you need a unique shade, and when in doubt about what colors to use, work with the color wheel.

She recommends an "oldie but a goodie" book for help with choosing colors -  The Watercolor Painter's Pocket Palette by Moria Clinch.

She likes to make color strips before starting a new work. She showed us how to brush stripes of color down on a card with varying amounts of water, from dark to light. Then she tilts the card to allow the drips to blend so she can see what to expect once she starts painting. Sometimes she'll paint a small warm-up piece to practice with different color blending or texturizing techniques.

concord art association casey rasmussen white color strips
Color strips and warm-up painting

She does not use white paint, instead she uses bright white paper and leaves unpainted areas as needed, or uses a resist for the whitest whites. Leaving a thin white line between colors helps an image look more electric!

For adding textured dots and splotches, she showed us how to drip 91% rubbing alcohol with the tip of a paint brush handle to push color away. She scratches in fine lines with a metal turkey trussing needle or toothpick, splatters water or color with a toothbrush, or layers on more opaque lines with watercolor pencils. Once all her wet layering and blending is done and the paper is bone dry, then she paints any final touches that need hard lines.

concord art association casey rasmussen white watercolor
Watercolor greeting cards

Casey is currently teaching at Civic Arts in Walnut Creek and at the Pleasant Hill Senior Center.

"Creating is my meditation. Creating is my drug. Whether cutting up my dad’s old atlas and mainlining Mod Podge for a collage or feverishly squeezing watercolor tubes, the work makes me happy! Teaching is an even higher high - a 6 year-old boy has no fear. “Gimme that pencil!” he says. Of course he can draw! The 86 year-old grandma stopped painting when her children were born. Her paints dried up, but she saved her brushes. These are my students. It is my joy to share what I know about art making. The more I learn, the better teacher I become. Teaching someone how to make art is like teaching them to fly."