"An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory" - Ralph Waldo Emerson.
It is a sad situation but one that allows me the opportunity to change those ingrained, negative beliefs adults often have about themselves. I love being in a position to help and encourage others to paint and realise their artistic potential.
Watercolour painting for beginners can be quite daunting but I have found that most difficulties can be overcome by teaching (or re-visiting) basic techniques.
There have been many, many books written about painting techniques. I know, I think I've read them all, but the more time you spend reading about painting the more fear and doubt you'll have starting. You can understand how to do anything, the difficulty lies in actually doing it. So I want you to just jump in and start painting.
And paint some more!
I've been painting for some time now and I still learn something new every time I put brush to paper. The six areas I identified as problem areas for beginners are still problems for me now, except the bar has been raised.
So, just for now, let's not go into the technical details about paper, paints and specific techniques, let's just play with the watercolour equipment and see what it does.
In addition to painting whenever you have the opportunity here are some things for you to try that will help speed up the learning process.
- Keep using the same brand of watercolour paper. Each brand of paper carries its own unique properties and switching brands will mean it will take longer to identify these properties. In time, having identified the individual properties, you will be able to use that knowledge to pick a particular brand based on its properties that will suit your preferred way of working. But I'm jumping ahead again.
- Use 3 or 4 brushes only to begin with. Get to know them. How much water do they hold? How far across a page can you go before the paint runs out? What happened to the mark the paint made when the brush ran out of paint? What marks can be made by using the tip of the brush or the body of the brush? What happens when you put pressure on the brush and then release the pressure whilst painting a line? How many different brush strokes can you make? Try pushing, twisting and dragging the body of the brush flat against the paper. How does it feel holding the brush like a pencil or holding it more towards its end? What difference does this make to the marks you make? What difference does it make to the marks you produce if you stand up or sit down to paint? Now try each brush in turn.
- Progress will be faster if you allow yourself to "play" with the paint and water in this way. Doodle, write your name, it doesn't matter. Just play and see what you come up with, there is no need to make it a finished picture. Try out the different brush techniques described above. It's not a waste of time or paper as in addition to learning how to handle the brushes you will be learning how to mix colours, how some colours are stronger than others, how much paint you need in your brush to make the mark you want without having to go back and reload, how absorbent the paper is, how long it takes for the paint to dry...and probably lots more.
- Limit the number of colours you use, or use just one. By doing so you can concentrate on tones and shapes rather than colour. You'll discover for yourself that tone is more important than colour in describing what an object is and this in itself is very freeing. In time you'll see that each of the colours have unique properties too. By discovering what those properties are your paintings will improve as you will use your knowledge to pick the paint for its properties and not just its colour. I'll be covering paint properties in more detail in my next article.
- Discover water! Paint and water are the only ingredients in a watercolour painting but water is rarely given enough attention. It is the water that lets watercolour paint do its magic. Why, in that case, would you not want to use loads of it? Beginners don't usually use enough, believing that this will make painting easier. The opposite is true. Using plenty of water in your brush reduces the chance of your paper drying too fast giving you longer to perfect the area you're working on.
- "Mud", the scourge of beginners, is not a reference to the colour of mud. It refers to the rough looking surface of the paper left by the lack of water, or painting over an area before it is thoroughly dry or the use of opaque paint. All of these things will inhibit the transfer of light through the layers of paint making it dull in appearance. To begin with use transparent colours which, as the name suggests, allows the light to filter through the washes of colour and bounce off the white of the paper giving watercolour paintings their distinctive luminosity and light. All six colours on my list of equipment are transparent.
I realise, now I've written this article, that I've gone into a lot of detail. I will be covering the individual aspects in more depth in future articles, but don't let the technical side put you off making a start. The purpose of this article is to encourage you to play with your watercolour equipment. To just see how it feels and what you can do with it.
By the way ~ the painting I've posted here was the scrap of paper I used to test the strength of colour I was using to paint another picture. I just so happened to turn it the other way up and I saw I had inadvertently painted a scene. (Should I be admitting to that?)
* (Ref: Garner 1983)