Watercolor was the alternate name for the new "Professional Theme" that shipped with the pre-beta versions and beta 1 of Windows XP, which at the time was code-named Whistler.

Although Whistler initially sported the original, Windows 95 to Me interface, Microsoft realized that it faced competition not only from its long-time rival Apple, but from Linux and XFree86; the ability to not only pick one's window manager but to pick what it would look like, down to the finest detail, was a very appealing option to users, and the blues and greys of Microsoft's Windows weren't going to cut it any longer.

Watercolor first shipped to external testers in build 2257, which was built August 10, 2000. Though the prior build, 2250, included the "Professional Theme" as well, it was not Watercolor, but instead a two-tone replacement for the original interface. Instead, this new Watercolor theme was a combination of light blues and off-whites, with a switch to Arial and Tahoma for most system fonts. The general idea was to replace all grey with off-whites, and to replace any window title bars or borders with the blues. In addition, all menus that were previously highlighted with the typical Windows dark blue were replaced with a lighter blue, giving a more transparent feel. The mood of the theme was akin to Office 2000, and more to the point, Office XP, which was later released looking very similar to Whistler. The idea seemed to be "flat and smooth," meaning all window controls were to be flat, and should only have their presence felt when activated by the mouse.

It is worth noting that the community of beta testers for Whistler welcomed this new theme with more than open arms; to this day it is still viewed as a very visually appealing and simplistic theme. What I find odd about this is that aside from the "flat and smooth" look it presented, the only real change how the gradient looked on the window title bars; rather than slowly fading from one color to the next, the toolbar was bitmapped to show a light, sky blue pixellating into a darker blue.

Same old gradient, just different colors, magnified 900%.

Jast after the start of January 2001, Microsoft released build 2419 of Whistler, the last publicly available build of Whistler that would have the Watercolor interface. Beta 2 of Whistler, by that time rebranded as Windows XP, would instead ship with the new "Luna" interface, a big, bright jumble of blues and greens designed to catch the attention where the nearly monochromatic MacOS X may have failed. Many regarded this new theme as too child-like, and wished for the Watercolor theme to return. Unfortunately, the Watercolor theme had been brushed off of Microsoft's plate, and so had the idea of skinning; rather than pursue the hearts of those who were open to the idea of changing to Windows interface, Microsoft instead chose to attempt to keep their platform unified with a single look, the One Microsoft Way.

The reasons cited behind Microsoft's decision were that they were afraid of issues arising from people using unconventional themes, namely those that would prevent text and telephone support from being able to adequately support an end-user. In addition, Microsoft didn't want poorly written themes affecting system stability, and to this end they wrote their code to require that all themes be digitally signed with a Microsoft key.

Shortly after the release of Windows XP in October 2001, a company known as TGTSoft released software called Style XP, software which cracked the file uxtheme.dll, the file responsible for checking the signature for themes. With the checking for the signature removed, skinners were able to begin creating skins, thanks in no small part to TGTSoft's later released StyleBuilder, which was created to aid in skinning every skinnable portion of Windows XP.

Within weeks of the program's release, many users had managed to recreate the sought-after Watercolor theme, using old copies of Windows Whistler. Because of the efforts of those people, the once-abandoned Watercolor theme from Microsoft is now welcome option for use in Windows XP, among many other themes.

To take a peek at the Watercolor theme, as Microsoft originally had it, take a look here: { http://www.winsupersite.com/images/reviews/2410per_0011.gif }

It's nice to see what a few determined individuals can do, even when the Redmond Giant has dismissed it as not worthwhile.

A medium of painting in which a water-soluble pigment is suspended in gum arabic. Other non-traditional forms of watercolor include gouache and acrylic. The history of watercolor is as old as humanity. Primitive man applied water soluble pigments with bone, sticks or fingers to cave walls. The Ancient Egyptians used water-based paints to decorate the walls of temples and tombs and created some of the first works on paper, made of papyrus. Modern forms of watercolor painting emerged in the Far and Middle East. Chinese and Japanese artists depicted calligraphy and often landscapes, which were later the hallmark of the Western watercolor artist. During the Middle Ages, illuminated manuscripts that were meticulously copied from scripture and intricately decorated with scrollwork and illustration were the lifelong works of many monks. Continuing into the Rennaisance, artists used fresco to create elaborate murals, the most famous being the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican by Michelangelo.

The single biggest limitation to the development of the art of watercolor was the availability and quality of paper. Paper had to be imported into the West up until the 18th century, at which point the first prominent schools began to develop in Britain and America. The rest of Europe largely disregarded watercolor as the medium of amateurs. Watercolor paper is designated as hot-pressed, cold-pressed or rough, and each will produce varying levels of absorption and transparency for different effects. Brushes must provide a large reservoir and a tapered point for accurate application.

Techniques unique to watercolor include washes, underdrawing, subtractive methods involving wax or stencils, and texture effects involving salt or plastic wrap. Watercolor artists attest to the unique spontanaeity of the medium, and improvisation is vital. Because of its transparency watercolor is most differentiated from other mediums by its luminosity, which artist will often contrast with an opaque dry-brush technique.


A water color is a type of pigment that is mixed with water and creates a transparent paint.  It is a traditional medium for theatrical rendering.  The reason it is used in theatre is it provides the sketches with a luminescent quality that is similar to the luminescent quality of appearance of what costumes and scenery have when they are under the stage lights.  The watercolor becomes opaque if too much pigment is added to the mix.  When this happens the dried surface of the painting will have an uneven gloss, and the luminescent quality of the rendering will be lost.

There are three types of watercolor pigments used in theatrical rendering.  They are tube, cake, and liquid.  The tube colors are emulsified pigments that have about the same consistency of well-chilled sour cream.  Cake colors are manufactured as large hard blocks of watercolor pigment.  Small bottles of highly saturated hues are  how the liquid watercolors are packaged. 

The choice between tube and cake watercolors is a matter of personal preference because they both provide the same high-quality pigment.  When painting a large expanse, like a sky in a scenic rendering, tube colors are generally more convenient.  Cake colors are also a little bit more expensive if you only need a small amount of paint such as to provide a trim color on a costume sketch.  Dr. Martin's Watercolor's are a popular type of liquid watercolor.  They have an extremely strong saturation and brilliance.  These paints mix very easily, since they are already a liquid and they always remain transparent. 

Rendering with watercolor, designer's gouache, or acrylic paint will cause a lot fewer headaches if  a watercolor board is used instead of watercolor paper.  The board is more expensive but the backing prevents it from wrinkling and causes the paint to collect in little puddles.  Sometimes, though, using watercolor paper makes more sense.  Such as when 50 costume renderings need to be done for just a single show.  The weight of that portfolio makes the use of of watercolor paper a better choice.

Using watercolor paper requires a bit of preparation.  The paper should be mounted on some type of backing so it will not wrinkle when large washes are going to be made.  The paper should be thumb tacked or taped firmly  to a smooth board, such as a drawing board, or a smooth-finished plywood that is at least three-eighths of an inch thick.  After the paper is attached, and several hours before it is painted on, the paper should be thoroughly wetted and then let dry.  This "relaxes" the paper and lets it shrink before the paint is applied.

Cold-press illustration board, like Crescent 100 or Bristol board, or a rough-surface watercolor paper or board works very well for most scenic or costume renderings in watercolor. 



Source: Gillette, J. Michael. Theatrical Design and Production. 4th ed. Mountain View: Mayfield, 1999.

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