When I took my first painting lesson in 1995, YouTube didn’t exist. If I wanted to learn watercolor, I needed to either learn by myself, find a book on painting at the library, or take a local workshop as soon as one was offered. My art education became a combination of those three approaches, and let me tell you, I ruined more than one paintbrush before I read an article that happened to mention that a little soap on a paintbrush would prevent masking fluid from sticking permanently and destroying it! Mind blown.
Little tips that come at just the right time make a big difference for a struggling artist. I have found that an art education isn’t always found in the long, detailed lessons, but rather in the small flashes of insight; tiny nuggets of information that are accumulated and added to an artist’s store of knowledge. Personally, I learn best in snack-size, and a single sentence in a watercolor magazine can spark inspiration that is more than worth the cost of my subscription.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share with you some of the one-liners that have impacted my art over the years. These insights fill my watercolor tool chest and have helped me find freedom to be the artist I’m meant to be. Maybe you’ll find some wisdom here to chew on as well! Leave a comment below and let me know what I’ve missed, if there’s a gem of wisdom that has made a difference to you!
- Every time you add paint to the paper you are subtracting light from the painting. (A warning to avoid overworking!)
- Focus on the major shapes, work large to small.
- Red is a dark value color.
- Yellow at full saturation is not brighter than yellow diluted. (For brightest sunlight, use the white of the paper or diluted washes of yellow).
- Complementary colors can be mixed to make interesting “blacks” and neutrals (brown or grey).
- Middle values will often make up the majority of your painting and provide a support for the contrasting lightest and darkest values.
- A strong foundation of shape and value is more important than refining details.
- Understanding how much water to use will be affected by how wet the paper, brush and paint mixture is (if you struggle with this, see #8.)
- Growth in skill can be measured in “brush miles” (that is, hours of experience implementing technique – your time is never wasted!)
On Personal Style & Mindset:
- Continue a painting in the same spirit in which it was begun. How you feel shows up in your work!
- Don’t worry about “finding” your personal style. Personal style is simply the decisions you make as you paint, consciously and subconsciously.
- Authenticity is more important than accuracy.
- You can’t choose how long it will take you to learn, but you can choose to make the learning process as enjoyable as possible.
- Look at lots of different kinds of art. Invite diversity to provide a wealth of ideas to feast on, and the reminder that art can be infinitely innovative.
- Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity. So is comparison.
- Pay attention to your body language; a tight grip on the brush, a tense body will result in tension in your paintings.
- Advice is nice, but listen to your inner artist.
- Don’t let your inner critic condemn you. Be a positive voice for growth in your art.
- “Because I felt like it” is a GREAT basis for creative decision making!
- Use the best paper you can afford (and try different brands to find what works for you). There is a reason almost every professional artist agrees on this point.
- Consistent use of a small range of colors will help you develop “instincts” for how they behave and mix with each other.
- Add new paint colors slowly so you can get to know them individually and when mixed with your usual palette.
- Use the side of your brush more than the point; you will cover a larger area faster and make more interesting strokes.
- Use a larger brush to avoid “fussy” or tightly controlled mark making. This will also help you avoid getting caught up in detail too early in the painting process.
- Use two water containers; one to clean a dirty brush and one for picking up clean water for mixing and washes. Change your water frequently to keep your colors clean.
- Many artists avoid using white or black paint in watercolor. The white of the paper is more luminous than white paint, and black paint can look flat in comparison to a black mixed using complementary colors. Experiment and compare for yourself!
- You can stretch your paper, but you don’t have to.
- Transparent colors tend to mix more cleanly than semi-transparent hues.
- For plein air painting, pack as light as possible. You don’t need all the gadgets, just the basics near at hand and easy to carry.
- Creativity is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows.
- If you are having trouble thinking of things to paint, just paint! Paint boring stuff if you have to; when you are actively painting is when the ideas will come.
- Slowing down a bit to observe the painting will help you develop a sense for what the painting needs and work more intuitively with the painting.
- If you want to paint a subject in a new way, try changing the angle. Get down low, up high or zoom in to create a new, more interesting perspective.
- Ideas are not born in a vacuum. Use a prompt – an image, a word, a color, a shape – to kickstart an abstract or intuitive painting.
- Everything might have already been painted before, but no one else can paint it in YOUR way.
- Don’t push creativity to perform on command. Show up and immerse yourself in the process without expectation of results.
- Artists get to show the world in new ways; it’s okay (even encouraged) to use your artistic license to edit, exaggerate and embellish reality.
- Creativity is most often awakened through play.
- YOU are the most important thing you bring to your art.
In this twenty-six year journey, I’ve learned that final item is true most of all. We would see more joyful, satisfied, fulfilled artists if we all embraced this truth and gave ourselves permission to get really personal with our creative practice. It applies to every aspect of the artistic journey; our supplies, our technique, our ideas, our process all combine to create a result that reflects the artist we are willing to allow ourselves to be. When I share a painting that has no reason to exist except it makes me very happy, I get to enjoy the reward of seeing it bring the same joy to others. Not everyone, but to those who see what I see, we are united in a way that transcends speech and touches hearts.
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Did you learn anything as you read these lists? Is there a piece of advice that has impacted your own journey? Do you have a differing viewpoint on some of the suggestions here? Let’s talk about it! Leave a comment below:Recommended2 recommendationsPublished in