GUEST ARTIST: “You’re Never Too Old… It’s Never Too Late…” by Bette-Ann LaBerge

Country Barn Watercolor Painting by Bette-Ann LaBerge

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.

My Favorite Place Watercolor Painting by Bette-Ann LaBerge

My Favorite Place

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.

View Across The Lake Watercolor Painting by Bette-Ann LaBerge

View Across The Lake

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.

Winter Coming Watercolor Painting by Bette-Ann LaBerge

Winter Coming

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.

Golden Hills Watercolor Painting by Bette-Ann LaBerge

Golden Hills

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.

Maison De Bretagne Watercolor Painting by Bette-Ann LaBerge

Maison De Bretagne

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.

Watercolor Painting Studio - Bette-Ann LaBerge

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.

Seaside Watercolor Painting by Bette-Ann LaBerge

Seaside

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.

French Lavender Watercolor Painting by Bette-Ann LaBerge

French Lavender

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.

Bette-Ann LaBerge
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34 Comments
  1. Sandra Strait 8 months ago

    Bette-Ann, your work is marvelous! I love the soft tones and every brush stroke counts. Thank you for sharing your artistic journey with us!

    • Bette-Ann LaBerge 7 months ago

      Thank you so much for your lovely words, Sandra. You’re absolutely correct about every brush stroke! Have a great day!

  2. June Hadaway 8 months ago

    Absolutely beautiful watercolor paintings. Your colors and style are fabulous. Thank you for sharing your love of the arts.

  3. Chad S. 8 months ago

    Thanks for sharing your story. Your art is beautiful and the advice is great!

    • Bette-Ann LaBerge 7 months ago

      Thanks so much, Chad and it makes me happy that you like my advice and my art!

  4. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 8 months ago

    Your story is wonderful to read – and watch. i love the lightness of your art and how you remain close to the water aspect of watercolor painting.

  5. Brenda Mohr 8 months ago

    Thanks for sharing your story. I am inspired to paint every day by your post. I’ve heard that before, but your post somehow resonated with me, also a lady of a certain age. Thanks for the push! 😘

    • Bette-Ann LaBerge 7 months ago

      It makes me so happy to have inspired you to paint every day! You will be delighted to see how your art improves over time.. and remember to save everything! When you go back and compare your current work with earlier work and you can see improvement it’s so encouraging! Have fun with it! Please feel free to contact me… I would love to hear how you’re progressing!

  6. Gaeyle Gerrie-Boss 8 months ago

    beautiful work and story!

  7. Susan 8 months ago

    A very informative, inspiring post. Thank-you.

  8. Placid Painting 8 months ago

    I do try to master watercolour at the moment, so this was a fun and interesting read. It is such a fun medium, even though it often end up surprising me in not so fun ways.. ☺ Love «View across the lake», by the way☺

    • Bette-Ann LaBerge 7 months ago

      I’m happy that you enjoyed my feature! Often the surprises of watercolor make the best paintings! Please check out my gallery balabergeart.com where we have featured “View Across The Lake”. 😊

      • Placid Painting 7 months ago

        I hope so, because I always get surprised 😉 I’ll check it out, yes ☺

  9. Mary Roff 8 months ago

    Thank you for sharing your watercolor adventure!! You paintings are wonderful!!!!

  10. Fanna 8 months ago

    Bette-Ann, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your story, and viewing your beautiful works. Especially the wet on wet paintings. I, too, have “chosen” to begin painting at age 60 (in 2 weeks), and agree that there is no age limit on picking up a brush and playing–in earnest. Viewing my recent failures and frustrating attempts at a “Van Gogh” in my personal pieces was abysmal yesterday. Then today, looking for something I couldn’t locate in my online painting folder, I ran across the pieces I painted 2 years ago. Oh my! I could feel the difference as well as see it! Which is where your story comes in: the 3 “P’s” of watercolor work: PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE. And I have gotten better. Viewing your work was a real shot in the arm for me, not because of your age, but in spite of it. AZ has GORGEOUS brilliance in color! Waiting until this time to try watercolor (your husband is a keeper!), gives it even more beauty.

    Sitting and watching crime shows, nursing a decades old back injury, was yielding zero results for me. There was a thrill in my soul when my sister encouraged me to try wc painting. (not unlike your hubby–again). And like you too, I thought my early works were great because I LOVED this medium! No, it isn’t easy, but everything I’ve succeeded at in my life has always been by the hard, long road. And now I see it. And I absolutely relished viewing your pieces here on DW THREE times. Yes, three. Because they are that lovely. We have the same area and limited space to paint, which makes it even more incredible. I produce large works, half sheets, full sheets, and the one thing you said that lends the best advice to anyone who paints is GOOD PAPER. It all changed when Arches came onto the scene. Brushes are brushes, good paints essential, paper–critical. I so enjoyed your light washes, soft, bright colors, and your compositions which are inspired! You’ve worked hard, and I bet have loved every second of it. Your paintings indicate that. (and that hubby is encouraging!).

    It was delightful to view your journey, read your story, and give you a hearty round of applause! (your hubby too!). Thank you for sharing such a remarkable glimpse into the colors of your soul. It was a lovely ride.

    Keep on painting, Bette-Ann! You’re marvelous!

    Fanna Turano
    Denver, CO

    • Bette-Ann LaBerge 7 months ago

      I loved reading your comments here on dw about my feature! I’m so loving watercolor…..it gives me joy every time I paint! I totally agree with you that the paper is incredibly important to having successful outcomes. Happy painting to you and have a wonderful day! 💫

  11. Cindy Mead 8 months ago

    I haven’t visited this website in ages, but wanted to stop by to add my accolades since I am continually bowled over by the work you share on Instagram. As I’ve said before, your art is truly a breath of fresh air. I enjoyed reading about your watercolor journey. 🙂

    • Bette-Ann LaBerge 7 months ago

      Thanks for such a lovely comment, Cindy! It really gives me so much joy to post my art on Instagram and connect with people like you!! Take care and have a wonderful day! 🙏🏻

  12. LoriCtoo 8 months ago

    Thank you for the wonderful inspiration! Your work is beautiful. I have been wanting to take a watercolor class locally, but it never works with my schedule. You have shown me that online classes are the answer. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Bette-Ann LaBerge 7 months ago

      Thanks so much, Lori! Reading books, watching videos, taking classes are all incredibly helpful, but the most important is painting!! Good luck with your journey!

  13. Janneke Booister 8 months ago

    Great work! I really love your wild flowers (you have them in the beginning of this story) 🙂

  14. Laura Kate 8 months ago

    Dear Betti,
    I, too, am older, and have always wanted to paint with watercolor. At the moment, I am doing a daily project using fiber arts techniques. Perhaps I will choose watercolor next year.
    I have a question about the monochromatic painting, Evening Snowfall. How did you keep the white areas of the image clean? Thanks again for sharing your work.

    • Bette-Ann LaBerge 7 months ago

      Thanks for your comment, Laura. I’m sure fiber arts is fun and every day is great! When I painted Evening Snowfall I did use some masking. Have a great day! 😊

  15. napkinwriter 7 months ago

    This was a great read for me. I take your words to heart and my heart loves your art.

    • Bette-Ann LaBerge 7 months ago

      Thank you @napkinwriter! I’m very happy to know that you love my art!

  16. Sharon H 7 months ago

    Hi Bette – I meant to comment earlier, but time slipped away from me. Your paintings are beautiful, so soft and peaceful to look at. Your story was great to read and you gave some wonderful advice! Thank you so much for sharing your art, loved it!

    • Bette-Ann LaBerge 6 months ago

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Sharon! I’m sure, like most artists, my art is always evolving…..the joy of it all is sharing!

  17. Lisa Ann Ulibarri 5 months ago

    I love your story thank you!!!! Thanks for all the inspiration and tips. Being new to watercolors I am playing around with different tools in particular trying different paper. I do love wet on wet so I need to find my forever paper friend for that lol. 🙂

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