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Hi everyone!

Today we are going to have a look at backruns! I explain what they are and what is the reason for their occurrence, how to prevent them and how to use them effectively and creatively in your work if you choose to do so.

What is a backrun?

Backruns are also called blossoms, blooms or cauliflowers. They are caused by the addition of water into still damp area of painting. When you paint a wash on dry paper, the water doesn’t only stay on the surface of the paper but it also penetrates into the fibers of the paper – its internal structure. When the wash is still wet and paper saturated you can add more water without the fear of backruns. It is only when the surface of the paper dries a little that you can get into trouble. It’s because the interior of the paper is still damp even though the surface looks quite a bit drier. The principle at work here is capillary action. By introducing more water into merely damp area the water spreads through the damp paper fibres and as it approaches drier areas an obvious edge forms. This edge is called a backrun.

How to prevent a backrun?

There are several situations when backruns can occur. You need to be able to recognize them in order to successfully control your washes.

  1. The most obvious one is when you glaze an area but the previous wash is not dry enough. This causes a backrun to occur. Solution: let the paper dry completely.
  2. You may successfully paint a wash but leave it to dry without picking up the bead of water forming on the bottom of the wash. Solution: pick up the bead of water with a thirsty (almost dry) brush before the wash starts to dry.
  3. You may attempt to achieve painterly effects by painting wet into damp (when the sheen disappears) but you have too much water in your brush. Solution: use very little water in the brush when approaching a damp area. In principle you want to have less water in your brush than there is in the paper. Watch the following video where Sterling Edwards demonstrates this situation.

Using backruns in your work

©2014 Daniel Novotny, Jungle Gym. Transparent Watercolor on Paper, 38 x 56 cm, 15 x 22 in.
©2014 Daniel Novotny, Jungle Gym. Transparent Watercolor on Paper, 38 x 56 cm, 15 x 22 in.

Most of watercolor painters tend to perceive backruns as evil but there are some that utilize backruns and effectively incorporate them in their work. My own attempt can be seen above but I’m not an expert. I really love the concept and have given it a few tries but if you really want to see fascinating results, I recommend you to check out Manfred Naescher’s work.

If you have any questions or comments leave them down below and I’ll be happy to talk to you. Also please let me know what do you think of this new series. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you here again next time.

– Daniel

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