My name is Bakhtiyor, I am 43 and live in Almaty, Kazakhstan with my wife, two daughters and my son. I am an economist by education and vocation. Two years ago, I took up watercolor as a hobby and since then, it has become part of my life.
I tried many different mediums, such as oil, tempera, acrylic and gouache, before sticking with watercolor. The first appeal of watercolor for me is its practicality – you only need a piece of paper, paints, water and a brush. There is no need for a studio, special equipment or additional materials.
Secondly, watercolor can be very compact and fit into your pocket – very important if you are traveling light or sketching on location. And finally, watercolor gives so much space for experimenting and it remains one of the most challenging and unexpected mediums. In short, I just love it.
Advice To Beginners From The Experienced Beginner
I never had a formal education in art. I learn from whatever I can find on the internet and mainly from my own mistakes. Here I would like to share some of my thoughts about the watercolor learning process itself based on my two year experience with this medium. I hope my observations will be useful for beginning artists.
The progress. The most important thing I learned is that you will never have a steady progress. One day you will have an exciting result and then the other few days you keep ending up with a complete mess. This is normal. Just try to learn something from your mistakes and keep pushing on.
Art supplies. The second important thing that I learned – fancy and expensive materials and tools will not make you a better painter, but quality products can help you achieve better results. This is especially true about good quality paper. Over the course of the last two years, I’ve spent a considerable amount of money on tools and materials used, designed and recommended by different artists.
As a result, I have many watercolor paints, palettes, sketchbooks and brushes that I never used again after trying them out once or twice. Every tool or material used by a particular artist is most often unique to that artist. So choose, wisely. My advice, invest in quality paper first.
The third important thing, is that the best learning source may be attending live classes and workshops held by experienced artists. However, if like me, you do not have access to such live events, the internet is a good option. The only problem here is the abundance of free information and that most of it may not be as useful as you think. Here are links to just a few of the YouTube channels that I found particularly useful for beginners:
If you are opting for paid materials, I highly recommend APVFilms, who offer quality demonstrations from leading watercolor artists. Also, with a monthly subscription to Artist Network TV, you may access hundreds of instructional videos.
What Subjects I Choose To Paint
It is easy to say paint what excites you the most. But the difficult part sometimes is to find such a subject. Whenever possible, I go outdoors to paint. There, it is a matter of trial and error. You may chose a particular location, then, once you half finished, discover that it is not the best spot to paint. Working from a photo reference is another option. But you may end up with too many details, because photo images have those many details.
I usually pick an urban scene on a sunny day with contrasting shadows. It is best to have people and cars to make it livelier and more interesting. Occasionally, I paint portraits, mainly from photo references.
Materials I Use
Paper. I think the paper is the most important material. For watercolor – 100% cotton paper is the best. So far I have tried many brands, but I found Saunders Waterford to be the most versatile 100% cotton paper. One thing I have learned – 100% cotton paper can take a lot of abuse. This feature is quite handy, especially for beginners, because even if you mess up your painting during the process, your chances of correcting and ending up with a satisfactory result are much higher with cotton paper.
The only drawback – these papers could get quite expensive, especially if you paint a lot. Because 99% of my paintings are quick urban sketches with only a few layers of watercolor, lately I have been using Fabriano Watercolor Studio paper, which has only 25% cotton, but is good enough for my purposes and quite affordable (I use 27x35cm 300 gsm cold pressed fine grain jumbo pack). For serious work, I would recommend cotton paper.
Paint. I started off with White Nights watercolor paints in pans, which are available in abundance in former Soviet Union countries. They are quite good and better than many student grade paints offered by international brands. Gradually, I switched to Van Gogh watercolor paints in tubes by Royal Talens. This is still not the professional grade paints, but I found them better than White nights and cheaper than professional grade paints.
Brushes and palette. Brushes are more of a thing that you have to try for yourself and choose the one that suits your particular style and needs. Lately, I have been using Russian squirrel and synthetic hair mix brushes. For larger washes I have goat hair flat brushes. For detailed work I use synthetic brushes. For portraits I mostly use sable brushes (they usually run on expensive side).
I tried out many watercolor palettes. But lately, for most of my work, I use Frank Herring compact plastic palette – very affordable and versatile watercolor pallet. For quick sketches on location, I would also highly recommend a Field Box by Winsor & Newton. If you are lucky you may find the empty field box for quite cheap. I bought it with Cotman paints (student grade).
Other materials. If you are packing light, you don’t need anything else, other than water container, pencil, eraser, board for taping your paper.
My Watercolor Process
There are many techniques and approaches to watercolor. You have to experiment a lot in order to find the approach best suitable for your needs and temperament. My approach to watercolor is quite simple. First, of course, is the sketch done with pencil. I am never afraid of leaving some pencil marks showing in my finished painting, because it is a sketch and those lines give some sort of liveliness and carelessness to the painting.
The next comes the first layer, which is basically a light color underwash with no tonal variations. My sky is finished with the first layer. After paper dries, I go for the mid-tones, shadows and some details wet-on-wet. The last stage is putting in my darkest darks and details. That’s it. From time to time, I try other approaches and experiment – the main thing is to have fun.
My journey into the world of watercolor continues. And I am looking forward to enjoying it and discovering its new aspects day after day. I wish the same to you.
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!