Friday, September 12, 2008

A few tips about watercolour

Having had a week with a lot of watercolour oriented posts of one form or another I thought it would be good to finish with some personal insight into the wonderful world of watercolour.

Tina painting in Candi Kuning Market, Bali
8" x 6", watercolour in Conte a Paris sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

There's a reason I gave up watercolour. I could say I wasn't any good at it but the real reason is I didn't practice enough.

I also happen to very much like dry media too and have always said that the connections I make with the paper work better when I can feel the quality and intensity of contact between dry media and the support.

On the other hand, you could easily restate that as "I can't get a brush to do what I want it to do" when it connects with paper. But then I hardly gave it a chance. I simply didn't keep working at it until I got mastery of my brush and could do with it what other artists can do. Put simply I didn't practice enough.

Notwithstanding that I did learn a few things about watercolour along the way - so here are my tips about watercolour! Guess what? It's all about practice, practice, practice!

Watercolour Painting Tips
  • Practice colours before applying colours - Always have a piece of paper exactly the same as the paper you are working on to hand (colours respond differently to different papers so it's always best to use the same paper). Before you put any new colour onto your work, first try it out on spare paper. Look at how it compares to the colour it will be placed next to and adjust as required - BEFORE you touch your painting. Try out that glazing you think might work - BEFORE you touch your painting. This one learned while watching a watercolour demonstration many moons ago at the Bankside Gallery - home of the Royal Watercolour Society.
  • Practice mark making - use your spare paper to practice calligraphic marks with your brush. Like a golfer teeing up - get the swing going BEFORE you take your best shot!
  • Practice drawing with a brush - it's curiously liberating. You don't need to use a pencil at all. You can draw in or place reference marks with a very pale mixture of a non-staining colour. This tip came from Tina's husband, well known watercolour artist and tutor Paul Riley. It sometimes takes a bit of time to work out how different brushes work for drawing and which is the brush you feel most comfortable 'drawing' with - but it's time well spent.
  • Practice drawing people - in pencil or pen, or charcoal and ink (whatever) - and it then becomes a lot easier to draw people using only a brush (Tina was drawn/painted only using a brush).
  • Practice painting negative shapes - you can draw positive shapes by painting the negative space. I've always thought all good watercolour artists are really good at edge control - and the way they they become good is they practice, practice, practice!

Every time I look at watercolour exhibitions I want to go and get my Schminkes out again and have another go! Maybe I will..............

Watercolour - Resources for Artists

What are your best tips for using watercolours?

I'm also putting another one of my 'resources for artists' compendium sites together - this new one is going to be about watercolour. If you'd like to highlight any good sites for tips about watercolour which you'd like to pass on this is the place to do it. Tips can be about anything and everything - which brand is best, how to paint whatever, which paper to use - anything you like just so long as it's about painting with watercolour.


  1. Your comments are quite true.

    I am not an accomplished watercolorist simply because I don't use the medium often enough. My forte is dry media, even if I wander into the 'wet' side now and then.

    I completely agree about testing colour swatches and glazes on another sheet is farrrrrrr less stressful than watching your hard work dissolve, literally, before your eyes on your original.

  2. My experience with watercolor is that watercolor is a very a discouraging medium. It gives you many surprises that you don't like. Sometime, the more you do, the worse it becomes.

    My suggestion is, when you feel discouraged, you put it down for a while and use something else to paint such as acrylic and oil. After a while, you come back to it again. In this way, you master it bit by bit and finally you will control it well.

  3. I too like my dry medium. I have trouble controlling a brush also. When I use a brush, I use a waterbrush and pan watercolors and mix right on the pans. But give me a colored pencil or graphite any day.

  4. My best advice for using watercolor is to allow for spontaneity.
    And use a brush that's almost too big. A great book to look at is Joseph Zbukvic's, Mastering Atmosphere and Mood in Watercolor.

  5. That's an impressive brush painting of your friend, Katherine. You might surprise yourself if you try watercolours again.

    Every time I've stopped painting for a while, it feels like I'm starting from the beginning again - a bit like exercise ;)

  6. As a painter, I am passionately in love with watercolor. I love its flow, transparency, the feel of the brush on the paper, the way it dries in varigated puddles on the palette. I'm drawn to watercolor as well when I am viewing art by others.

    It makes me sad that watercolor doesn't get the same respect and value as paintings in other mediums.


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