Sunday, March 12, 2017

Watercolor Tips from Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki, acclaimed director of the Japanese animated films Totoro and Spirited Away, shares some transparent watercolor tips in a charming booklet that was included with a sketching set from the Studio Ghibli Museum. 



Note: I have added alternate translations based on the helpful comments from Sade J and Matthieu in the comments.

"Title: My recommendation. Transparent watercolor is good.


• Transparent watercolor has a strong habit.

• Do not paint stickily and paint after wiping the extra paint and water off. Don't paint with too much pigment and water on your brush, to the point that it's dripping with paint.

• Paint thinly the bright part.

• It's better not use white paint. (Don't use gouache for tinting).

• The other color after under color has dried, let’s mix the color and use it.

• Light the wool which protrudes on a new painting brush. (Use a lighter to singe the frayed ends on a new brush.)

• Anything is fine for a water vessel.

• A retractable knife is enough for the pencil sharpener. "You can also use a [box] cutter knife for a pencil sharpener"

• One 2B pencil is enough for the pencil.

• Divide the palette into seven zones: Bright, Dark, Black, Green 1, Green 2, Blue 2, Blue 1. On the palette, there are actually six distinct mixing zones. From left to right, starting on top: 'bright color zone', 'dark color zone', 'black zone', 'green zone (1)', 'green zone (2)/blue zone (2)', 'blue zone (1)'.

The two mixing areas labelled 'bright' and 'dark' look like they're rather 'warm' and 'cool' when looking at the image.
• Do not use the eraser. 

• Do not draw a guideline for a picture. (Pencil lines will easily show through and excess graphite will muddy your colors) He doesn't mean not using the pencil at all, but doing the underdrawing with confidence, in one go and without using an eraser either.It's the small part in the bottom right corner: "Now, let's draw/paint! First, make an energetic sketch with the pencil. It's not a construction sketch (litt.'underdrawing'). This is the main piece. Draw freely without using an eraser."

• These painting materials are enough for a 2-week trip and preparations for a movie.”

 [Written around the paint tubes]: "I've been using only these for 40 years. I recommend Holbein watercolors, they are inexpensive and easy to use, and you can paint a lot with just a little bit."



28 comments:

Steven James Petruccio said...

Always interesting to learn what other working artists do for prep through finish. I use watercolor in much of my work including my plein air painting and developed my method and palette over years of practice and attention to what worked for me. Regarding the graphite line work - some artists incorporate that int their style...it's all good! Most of all...have fun with it.

Tom Hart said...

Very interesting. I'm not sure what "painting stickily" is (maybe wet-in-wet?) but I think I violate that tip - and more than a couple others - like the graphite one the Steven Petruccio mentioned. I have a feeling Miyazaki's going after a different type of image than I usually am anyway, but nonetheless, it's really informative to read list his of tips. Thanks for sharing this James!

Leena Lönnroth said...

I instantly recognized myself from "painting stickily" LOL Ofcourse I cannot be sure what he means by it but I bet he means using thick paint, as opposed to thin transparent way of painting. I always wanted to pile on a lot of watercolor, I let my pans soak up into a goo, and then it started to shine where there was a heavy layer, and the transparent parts were matte. So I went for gouache, that is always matte regardless of layers.

Sade J said...

So cool to see!
I was reading this and I noticed that the translations do not line up exactly with the image. That's because this is only one image from a larger pamphlet that you can see here: https://ghiblicon.blogspot.com/2015/01/ghibli-museum-sketching-set-miyazaki.html
The translations could use some work, but for the most part they get the idea across.
Tom, "painting stickily" means painting with too much pigment and water on your brush, to the point that it's dripping with paint. You can see that in the pamphlet that I link to.

Steve said...

I agree, this is way "charming." Part of the charm is the clunky translation, part is the illustrations, and part is knowing this is from Miyafrickinzaki! Despite the words about a retractable knife, I see a little pencil sharpener is illustrated.

It would be life-changing for me to look at a new set of watercolors and think to myself....hmmm...."These are enough for a 2-week trip and preparations for a movie (such as Spirited Away!)"

Let's mix the color and use it. Indeed.

Matthieu Kiriyama said...

Sade J, I was halfway translating everything from the small picture when you signaled that other blog. Saved me a bit of a headache there.
Mr. Gurney, when were you in Japan? I've never been to the Ghibli Museum because I don't live in the Tokyo area, but your post makes me want to visit it sometimes. I especially like Miyazaki's storyboards, which all exist in print, and in colour too!

Matthieu Kiriyama said...

The right translation for the part about the retractable knife would be: "You can also use a cutter knife for a pencil sharpener" (written next to the picture of a pencil sharpener. Keep in mind, he's giving advice to beginners while presenting his own sketching tools.

Matthieu Kiriyama said...

On the palette, there are actually six distinct mixing zones. From left to right, starting on top: 'bright color zone', 'dark color zone', 'black zone', 'green zone (1)', 'green zone (2)', 'blue zone (2)'

Sade J said...

Matthieu, that's great. I was thinking of doing it later, but you'll probably do a better job than me!
Here's a better quality post in Japanese : http://kogyokudo.otemo-yan.net/d2012-08-24.html

Matthieu Kiriyama said...

About the part about not drawing a guideline; He doesn't mean not using the pencil at all, but doing the underdrawing with confidence, in one go and without using an eraser either.
It's the small part in the bottom right corner: "Now, let's draw/paint! First, make an energetic sketch with the pencil. It's not a construction sketch (litt.'underdrawing'). This is the main piece. Draw freely without using an eraser."

Matthieu Kiriyama said...

Does anybody knows why he gives such importance to greens and blues, giving them big mixing areas? (By the way, I made a mistake in translating the labels of the three bottom mixing areas. It actually goes: 'green zone (1)', 'green zone (2)/blue zone (2)', 'blue zone (1)'.
Also, it might be a coincidence, but the two mixing areas labelled 'bright' and 'dark' look like they're rather 'warm' and 'cool' when looking at the image.
Does his system of mixing makes sense to you? I've heard of dividing the mixing areas between cool and warm colours, never light and dark (after all you could make any colour light by painting thinly, right? I'm a newbie when it comes to painting, so I'd be happy if anyone could enlighten me.

Matthieu Kiriyama said...

Last "useful" tidbit (it's actually incredibly basic, so I doubt it'll help anyone on this blog, but it's not covered in the translation): On the left side of the image, Miyazaki talks about paint tubes. At the top, around the paint tube: "I've been using only these for 40 years. I recommend Holbein watercolors, they are inexpensive and easy to use, and you can paint a lot with just a little bit."
At the bottom: "Preparations. First, put all the colors on the palette. By doing so, you don't need the tubes to paint, just the palette is enough. The paints are easier to use when their bone-dry."

Matthieu Kiriyama said...

Sade J, please, feel free to complete and correct my translations. English isn't my first language and neither is Japanese, so...

Susan Krzywicki said...

Very cool. I think the emphasis is on greens because the image that they display is verdant. IF they had chosen a sample image of an interior, it might have been a different sample palette.

Julien Weber-Acquaviva said...

What about lightfire for the brush, on the top right of the picture? Didn't seen that before. With which natural or synthetic brushes? Care not to burn all the house I presume!

Matthieu Kiriyama said...

The brush he's using (and from which he advise burning carefully the one or two hairs sticking out) looks like a basic goat brush originally used in nihonga ('Japanese-style' painting with natural pigments mixed with hide glue). It's a 'saishiki,' or 'colouring brush', a basic round brush that naturally comes to a point and handles easy although it's softer than your typical watercolor brush. As its name indicates it's mainly used to color shapes in, but it's versatile enough that you can also use it for details. Japanese often use natural hair brushes originally designed for nihonga when painting with watercolor, in combination with sable brushes, and there even are hybrid sable nihonga brushes available too. It's actually quite difficult to find synthetic brushes here, especially in smaller sizes.

Matthieu Kiriyama said...

Since Mr Gurney has added the first page of the booklet, I'll give my translation of the part mentioning the use of white. He doesn't refer to white gouache at all, like the original poster on DeviantArt interpreted. He's actually very specific that he talks about transparent color. It reads:
"Paint in the bright parts with thinned out paint. It's better not to use white. White paint in transparent watercolor won't make it lighter."
Here too, he's giving a very basic tip for beginners.

Daroo said...

Any mention of what type of paper he uses or what's in the sketchbook? Miyazaki's image boards (or beat boards) seem to be on smooth paper (based on the pencil texture or lack there of). Maybe like a hot press or a smooth bristol? In designing/writing a movie he does a ton of them and they never seem to be wrinkled or puckered so the paper must be on heavier paper than animation bond -- even if he paints with very little liquid.

Bug said...

This is the first time I ever heard anyone say that Holbein color was inexpensive. That has not been my experience. Perhaps it has to do with geographical availability.

Aerumnous said...

Thanks Sade and Matthieu for the links and translations! Had the same idea as Matthieu last night, squinted at the image for a bit, went to bed, and woke up to all these wonderful extras, and no work to do. Bless your hearts.

Julien Weber-Acquaviva said...

would be cool to have a more detailed translation of each words here, curious about his popularization for children. thanks all!

Daroo said...

Correction: After watching " Kingdom of Dreams and Madness", which shows that Miyazaki IS using watercolors directly on an animation bond style paper (In the film he is adding color to his original pencil storyboards instead of separate beat boards) He is just using very little water to wash in the colors. I guess when they shoot or scan these images for reproduction in books they use a glass platen to hold them flat and wrinkle free.

Dash Courageous said...

Painting stickily my guess would be thick. If you look at his work, his use is really thin and light, and doesn't paint with thick amounts ogpf paint.

Rachel Sekouri said...

Partly geographic, yes. In the predominant art supply store in Vancouver (a major port city for Pacific Rim trade) they're no more expensive than other artist-grade watercolours, even those from as nearby as Seattle (e.g. Daniel Smith)

Holbein is a Japanese brand so they're understandably inexpensive there. Like, really, really inexpensive: under $7 CAD for a 15ml tube of Cerulean Blue on Rakuten (a massive Japanese e-commerce platform comparable to Amazon). The cheapest 15ml tubes (mostly earth pigments) start at under $4 CAD.

http://global.rakuten.com/en/search/?tl=0&k=ホルベイン+watercolor&sid=nz-garou

Sure, I'd probably pay about $20 CAD for shipping, but that's not so bad if I'm ordering several tubes at once - especially if there's many cadmiums and cobalts, which start at about $25 CAD locally.

Even if I got hit by customs charges I'd probably end up paying less.

NB: I haven't ordered any for myself yet so I can't vouch for this 100%. But it's consistent with the prices of Holbein watercolours at Japanese brick-and-mortar retailers.

Sree Durra said...

I think when he explicitly says "transparent watercolor" and not to use white, it's because opaque pigments would kill the pencil lines underneath. So avoid cadmiums, cobalts, etc. and use phthalos or nickel azo etc.

dina kalo said...

I think stickily is when the texture of the watercolours is too thick (not enough water) and it becomes sticky and doesn't spread well.

Christopher Sobieniak said...

"I've been using only these for 40 years. I recommend Holbein watercolors, they are inexpensive and easy to use, and you can paint a lot with just a little bit."

While that might be true in Japan, they are quite pricey for foreigners to get anyway.

Still trying to figure out my palette here as I got this set from a friend in Japan recently, though I feel like going a different route from Hayao's and doing my own thing.

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