There’s never been a better time… What am I talking about? Watercolor painting of course! How do I know what I’m talking about? Because I’ve done it. My name is Bette-Ann LaBerge and I’ve been asked to tell you a little bit about myself and my pursuit of becoming a watercolor artist. First the age thing. A lady never divulges her age, so let’s just say I took up watercolor painting later in life. If you have the desire and can hold a paint brush it’s never too late to get started.
I mention the “never better time…” idea only because I think it’s wonderful to take up watercolor painting in this day and age. The Internet allows us to research, review and shop among every art product available in the universe from the comfort of our living room. Vitally important is the role the Internet plays in helping us learn about anything, watercolor painting included.
With the vast array of You Tube tutorials, artist blogs, online courses, sites like Doodlewash, etc., there is more information and tutoring available than you will ever have time for. Later, I’ll suggest how to parse it all down into something that will work for you.
I was born in Manhattan, New York and lived there until my family moved to Long Island. By age 5, I already loved to draw and sketch – surprising and delighting my parents. By age 8, I was enjoying rearranging the furniture in my room; possibly a glimpse of things to come.
One of my favorite places growing up on Long Island was a huge wooded area with streams and Indian trails. I adored being in the “woods” and recently posted a painting on Instagram that I titled “My Favorite Place” done from my memories of that beautiful time and place.
Tucson, Arizona has been home for the past 19 years in a lovely community called Civano. I walk every day and get inspired by the beautiful landscaping. We are located 10 minutes away from Saguaro National Park.
Although I don’t paint a lot of cacti, just visiting the park and gazing at the magnificent Saguaros and other beautiful desert flora serves as being in the “woods” for me. I’m also fortunate to live adjacent to a large plant nursery providing a never ending panorama of beautiful flora to inspire my painting.
In high school, I was a Fine Arts Major and focused on taking every art course offered beginning with oils. I also worked in other mediums including sculpting and acrylics, but no watercolor work yet. I gravitated to Interior Design as a career with a passionate focus on textiles, color and pattern mixing. After retiring, I created custom pillows for a while, but eventually drifted away from the idea of being constantly creative. For several years I didn’t paint at all.
About two years ago, my hubby suggested that I needed to get back into some form of creative endeavor and that water color painting looked interesting. He thought it was something we could both share an interest in stating “You know all about painting – how hard can it be?” Famous last words! After thinking it would be simple to master I quickly learned that it would be a huge challenge. He quickly decided that being a watercolor artist wasn’t his cup of tea.
I struggled on and watched YouTube videos by the dozen. I read books. I painted and painted and painted. Early on my watercolor journey I viewed a video by Nitin Singh where he stressed doing something relating to art every day, i.e., paint, read books, watch videos, and if you do you will get better. I wasn’t following his advice at that time.
Then, in 2018, I was encouraged to participate in the #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 Challenge and continued to paint during the annual World Watercolor Month challenge in July and tried to paint every day for 31 days. It wasn’t easy, but I did it. I completed a picture every day for 31 days and ended up loving the experience.
Through these monthly challenges, I developed the habit of painting every day and enjoying it. Further, with the #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 challenge I learned I personally enjoy a direct style of painting without sketching or drawing, but just painting where I can focus on water, pigment and paper. It was a real turning point because painting every day raised my skills dramatically.
My Painting Tools
I started out using Sennelier paints, Princeton Neptune brushes, and some low end papers. Luckily, the gurus on YouTube and elsewhere stressed the critical importance of using good paper. After sampling Arches 140 lb. cold press paper I became a believer and currently use it for my work. There are many other high quality paper brands available though, and I’m now experimenting with Fabriano and others. Although I favor 140 lb. cold press, I am moving into working with hot press paper, heavier weights and different surfaces.
During monthly challenges, I found painting on a 5”x 7” size sheet very convenient since it was easy to cut a 10” x 14” tablet into quarters and the smaller surface was easy to complete when painting daily. I liked the size and adopted it as my standard, both in portrait and landscape formats. I have used sheets and blocks, but prefer the ease of tablets.
Recently I have increased the size of some of my paintings to 7”x 10” and intend to continue working in larger sizes. Whatever brand you settle on, I strongly believe that paper choice is one of the most important aspects of painting with watercolors.
I soon invested in better brushes from Escoda and Silver; using both sable and synthetics, however, I don’t use a large assortment of styles or sizes. Currently my “go to” brush is an Escoda Optimo Kolinsky #10 round. I also use a Silver Black Velvet Script #8, a Black Gold 000 and Raphael Martre Kolinsky #4 rigger.
Watching Alvaro Castagnet opened my eyes to Daniel Smith paints and after trying them I never looked back. I absolutely love the huge variety of colors, especially the granulating ones. Some artists like to use a limited classic color palette and blend colors. My approach is to use a wider palette; but I still employ a lot of color mixing, both on my palette and directly on the paper.
I paint in my small home studio; typically standing at my flat desk. My studio only has one window, facing south. Here in Arizona the brightness level and color balance changes significantly over the course of the day. I invested in a pair of daylight balanced, LED lights on stands that illuminate my work area beautifully. Now I enjoy consistent light any time of day. I use a porcelain palette for holding my paints and for testing and mixing colors.
People Who Inspired And Taught Me
I have learned so much from so many fellow artists that it would be impossible to name them all here. My list is provided to help those reading this who are just starting out, wanting to find good sources of information and inspiration. There is no significance to the order of my list, nor am I indicating my opinion of their art, I’m only suggesting they are excellent sources to learn from. I leave it to the reader to search for their YouTube videos, books, websites, etc. Here goes: Nitin Singh, Anne-Laure, Alvaro Castagnet, Jean Haines, Hazel Soan, Rick Surowitz, Alan Owen, Tim Wilmot, Steven Cronin, Jean Lurssen, and Liron Yanconsky.
What do I feel are the most important things to know as a beginner?
Learning to paint in watercolors requires practice, practice and more practice. It’s just like learning to play a musical instrument. There is a place for good tutoring, learning basic techniques, etc., but only actually doing it will achieve skill.
Use the best materials you can afford, especially paper. Spend your money first on good paper and a decent brush or two. You don’t need a handful of brushes to create good art. Start with a limited color palette. Focus on the fundamental techniques of watercolor and tonal values. Many excellent paintings are produced with just a few colors.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t be afraid to fail. Save all your work! Even the ones you feel are only worthy of the bin. You can learn from your early works, even the failures. Sometimes you can rework what was a “failure” and make it into a success.
What Inspires Me?
I’m very inspired by Mother Nature, landscapes, flowers, color, texture and what can happen when I play with my paints and brushes. What truly inspires me the most at this point is the sheer joy I derive from painting and peoples’ positive reaction to my efforts.
Style versus technique, and finding your own style
To discover your own style I believe a goal should be to think about the type of art that you are drawn to, then learn the techniques to accomplish your goal, and then make it your own.Recommended7 recommendationsPublished in
Creator of Doodlewash®, founder of World Watercolor Month (July), World Watercolor Group™, and host of the Sketching Stuff Podcast. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!