How To Become A Really Good Artist, Part II
A Short Watercolor Practice Video
One Way To Practice The Art of Watercolor
Of course there are many ways to do many things and become really good at them, and each one of us, may come up with a specific way that we prefer. This is merely one way to become a really good watercolor artist, and it’s the way I find the most effective for learning and progressing in my watercolor technique. I just hope it will benefit you as well.
I would say that watercolor is not easy to learn, or maybe for some it comes more naturally. However, for me, it takes practice, and lots of it. And even with all of my practice, I still prefer to keep my watercolor art simple. Just a simple line drawing, and then a bit of watercolor here and there. Once in a while I will endeavor to add more details than normal, but for the most part, “Keep It Simple Sweetie” is my thinking when it comes to watercolor.
By “simple” I mean simply finding a small, easy or simple subject. One that looks like you could make a reasonably accurate drawing of it. Even better, trace it if it’s flat, as the Maple Seed Pod shown in the video below. This seed pod was truly an ideal subject. It laid on the paper somewhat flat and I could easily trace around it and then straighten the line drawing up a bit until I had it just right. A leaf would also be an excellent subject for this very reason. Because it was flat, it was also very easy to measure which also helps in getting the drawing as close to the original as possible.
The simpler you keep it, the more likely you are to finish it. And finishing is also key when you practice. When you take time to finish it, you give it a full chance to become all it can be. Sometimes we too quickly throw a piece of art away that very well could have just been going through its “ugly” stage. It has been my experience that almost all of my art pieces have gone through this ugly stage. Yes, it’s also true that some never made it out, but at least I gave them a chance.
Another way to keep it simple is to not involve a lot of different watercolors. Especially as a beginner watercolor artist, you may want to keep your colors to a minimum, and keep your mixing to a minimum. It’s very easy to muddy your colors by adding too many different colors when mixing. By holding your subject up to your watercolor palette, you will be able to pick three or four different colors you can easily see in your subject. You may even be able to see only 2 colors at first, and that’s okay. Keep it simple! One last thought here - using your brush put a bit of the color you can see in your subject down on your white palette, then next to it you can make another area of the same color that is watered down for a lighter version and then next to that add a bit more pigment of the same color for a darker version.
Note: In watercolor you’ll want to begin with your lightest colors, then slowly after each layer dries, begin to add darker colors for shading and toning, then your most darkest colors for detail work.
A good way to see the different shades you can pull from one color is to draw 6-8 small squares in a row from left to right. Take the color you are considering, get your brush wet and dip it in the color to transfer it to your white palette. Do this several times so you have plenty of paint on your palette. Now wet your brush and pick up some of the color then paint all each of the 8 squares starting from one end of the square and swiping your brush across to the other end of that same square. You should be able to cover the squares in two or three single left to right strokes. Let this dry.
Once the first layer is completely dry, repeat again using the same paint from your palette - only this time do not begin with the first square, leave it with only the first layer of paint and begin with the second square and go all the way across the rest of the squares. When you complete this all 7 squares you will have the first square with only one layer of paint, then the next 7 with two layers of paint. Repeat again, only leave the first two squares and begin with the 3rd square. Let this dry completely.
Continue in this manner. When you have completed, you will have all the different shades you can get from that one color. This is helpful for creating shadows on your subject.
If you would like to become really familiar with your watercolor palette, you might consider making a watercolor chart - You can see my idea on this HERE.
You will need to have some decent supplies to practice watercolor. For watercolors that are not terribly expensive, you can purchase a small kit by Prima. You can find my post on this lovely watercolor HERE.
And here is a quick video of me opening my newest Prima Watercolor Palette called Currants, Click Play on the photo below…
As you can see, the colors are just lovely. I have 8 of these little palettes and I use them almost daily.
Next you will want to have a decent watercolor brush. You can find a good beginner’s watercolor brush at Michaels, if it’s available to you, or you can order one through Amazon online. I wouldn’t spend a lot of money on a watercolor brush at first, but it’s important to get one that has a nice fine tip on it. Once you have given yourself time to practice and really decide that you want to continue with the art of watercolor, then it will be necessary to buy a nice watercolor brush. Be forewarned, the brush can be very expensive. You can read about my favorite brushes HERE.
Of course you will need some watercolor paper and this again can be purchased from a craft store or online. I would recommend not spending a lot at first and then as you decide to continue on, try out some more expensive watercolor papers and make a bigger investment, you might even consider emailing the maker and ask for some samples of their papers. You can usually obtain these at a minimal cost. You always want to choose 140 lb paper to begin. Some people like cold pressed and others like hot pressed - you decide.
Lastly, you will need a pencil and a ruler. You can begin with a regular pencil for now.
For those of you who are interested in the exact supplies I use, here’s my list:
I use both Prima and Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolors - I purchase both in 1/2 pans online.
I purchase my #2 Sable Watercolor Brush from Billy Showell. I have heard that her synthetic brushes are very nice as well, but have not tried them yet.
I do not use traditional watercolor paper, but instead use Handmade Paper made by Silk & Willow.
For graphite, I use a Set of 12, Faber-Castell 9000 Series, Graphite Drawing Pencils which I purchased from Amazon.
This sounds like a lot, but it may help to remember that watercolors last a very long time. I have had mine for over 4 years and they are not even close to running out. When you find a watercolor paper that you really like working on, you can wait for a sale and stock up on a few pads. Your graphites will also last a very long time if you take good care of them. The item that wears out most quickly will be your brush. Unfortunately, it can be really expensive for a new one. I buy mine three at a time, and I stock up again before my third one is warn out.
The best place to find a subject to practice on is to look around your home, or on the path as you take your daily walk, or out in your garden when you go out to cut some Beautiful Roses or Dahlias for your vase inside.
In the following video, you will find that I found a few beautiful Maple Seed Pods that had fallen from a tree at the barn where we board our horse. It didn’t take any effort on my part to notice these beauties just lying there on the ground beneath my feet because their colors were so bright and they naturally caught my eye.
I simply found 3 or 4 that were not cracked or broken and stored them in a safe place in my car for the ride home.
We all have things around us that catch our eye daily. It could be a beautiful tea cup that was handed down from your Great Grandmother, or one you were given from a friend, or one you may have found in an outing to the antique store. It could be a rose that you clipped this morning from your garden or from your neighbor’s garden after you asked! It could be a pinecone or a small stick with moss growing on it that you found on your afternoon walk. Whatever has caught your eye today, that can be your subject. Only one thing I would suggest for practice, keep it small and simple at first. Choose something that you feel you can draw using simple lines, with colors that you can see clearly.
Once you have your subject in possession and you have some uninterrupted time, I’d say at least an hour, then sit down and with a practice sheet of paper, either trace your subject if you can or using your ruler begin to draw it out. Keep practicing all over your practice sheet until you have a drawing that you are pleased with.
A Short Video
In the following video, you will notice that I have my subject right in front of me, and I have drawn out my version of it and then have lightened the graphite with a putty eraser. You will want your graphite to be as light as possible, but still be able to see it. Once water has come into contact with graphite, it can be quite difficult to erase, so keep it light.
From my watercolor palette, I chose colors that were closest to what I could see on my subject, and then I began to paint. Click play on the photo below…
Time To Practice
Once you have your subject, have drawn it out several times on your practice watercolor paper, and have lightened the graphite, you can then begin to paint it. Don’t rush. Give yourself lots of grace. Take your time and allow yourself to loosen up and enjoy the moment.
You will want to have something to lay your colors out on. A white metal palette like what you can see in my video, or a simple white ceramic plate will do just fine. Just be sure it is white so you can see the exact color of your paint. Also, be sure to have a paper towel or two on hand.
Swish your brush in a handy cup of clean water, dab it lightly on your paper towel, and then carefully pick up some of the watercolor you have chosen. Begin with the first color, then transfer it with your brush to your white palette. You will need to make a good swatch of the color in one area on your palette. You can then water down some of the same color and add more pigment for a darker color.
Do the same with the other colors you have chosen, creating three or four swatches of each color on your white palette to work from.
Study Your Subject
Let’s take a moment to really look at and study our subject. Where does each color begin and end? Is there one color that has a darker and lighter version on your subject?
What do the edges of your subject look like? Is the color lighter or darker along the edges? Are there some noticeable lines or groves that you may want to include in your painting? Is there an area on your subject where light is shining on it? Take note of these things.
You may even take time to Google your subject and find out some scientific facts about it. You can also look up the Latin name for your subject and include it on your painting.
Since you have several drawings of your subject, you can relax and just practice your painting. Begin with the lightest colors and once they are dry, move to the next darkest colors and so on. Save your darkest colors for your detail work.
My Next Post
In my next post about becoming a really good artist, I will talk about working wet on wet, wet on dry, and dry on dry. It’s fun to consider the different techniques, but all in good time.
I hope you have enjoyed this new post, but most of all, I pray it is of benefit to you. If you have any questions about watercolor or the practice of becoming a really good artist, please do not hesitate to contact me at the email below or at the Contact page above.