Watercolor Chemistry


Gordon Onslow Ford (American, born England, 1912–2003)

Acrylic on canvas, 80 1/4 x 48 1/4 in. Crocker Art Museum, gift of the Lucid Art Foundation, 2008.113.

Opening Discussion 

  • Color is one of the elements of art.

Experimental Session

  • Students fold their paper into four squares. Following the fold lines, use blue tape to create a “t”, dividing the paper into four sections
  • In each square, students experiment with a solvent:
    • Dilution – using as little water as possible, paint a line. Now use water to form a puddle in the palette, and paint a line that is very wet. What is the difference? (value, intensity, crispness) Play with using a little, and a lot, of water. 
    • White oil pastel – oil and water create a resist – draw some shapes and lines with white oil pastels. Using really wet watercolor, paint over your drawings. What happens? Why?
    • Salt – Fill the next square with lots of wet watercolor. Sprinkle salt on the colored puddle. What happens? Sprinkle a little, sprinkle a lot. Allow to dry
    • Rubbing alcohol – wet another quadrant. Using qtips, squeeze or drip dots of rubbing alcohol into the wet paint. What happens? Why?
    • Masking – Carefully remove tape. What effect did it have? How can we use it?

Project Procedure

  • Place quadrant paintings to the side to dry. Tidy workspace before giving a clean sheet of paper
  • “We’re going to use the new techniques to create a nighttime sky scene.” Show Voyagers in Space
  • Using tape, mask off some star shapes.
  • Draw one or two more stars with oil pastel.
  • Use some of the new techniques and paint to decorate the night sky.

During the Work Period

  • Help one-on-one, giving explanations and demos as necessary.
  • Give the teacher the teacher resource packet and explain what is inside. 
  • Count and log number of students and number of adults served. 
  • If you notice the supply boxes are in need of anything, make a note of it and tell the Community Engagement Coordinator after service. 

Clean Up

  • Everything but their work of art needs to go back to the supply table. 
  • When their table is clear ask them to check the floor. When the floor is clean ask them to sit at their desk with their art in front of them so they can move on to the next activity.


All, some, or none of these can be done, depending on the class and the remaining time. 

  • Tell them that they’re going to move around the room and look at each other’s work. The sculptures will stay on the table and they will be moving. Ask them to stand and push their chairs in and stand behind their desk. They will be quiet, and concentrate just on looking. They can walk around the room and return to their seat when they feel like they’ve seen everything.
  • If they want to share: What determined their choice of composition? Did they enjoy this type of art? Was it easier or more difficult than what they were expecting? 


  • Thank them for their work. Tell them to take their artwork home and share them with their friends and family. They can use their artwork in the same way you used the images in the beginning to teach people about multi-media artworks. 
  • Explain family passes, if they’re getting them. Encourage them to visit the Crocker to see the artworks they saw today.


  • Watercolor paper – two sheets per student – at least 9x12
  • High quality dry watercolor
  • Brushes – two per student
  • Water cups – one per two students
  • White oil pastels
  • Colored oil pastels
  • Salt
  • Rubbing alcohol and qtips
  • Blue tape – one roll per two students
  • Paper towels
  • Optional: trays – one per student, larger than the paper
  • Optional: aprons, one per student (these will have to be washed in between sessions)
  • Wipes


90 minutes

Grade Level



  • Science
  • Visual Art


  • Painting
  • Watercolor


  • Watercolor


Crocker Art Museum

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