The things I love best about watercolor its purity and simplicity, pigment + water, no other medium is as basic. I believe the most beautifully painted watercolors are those that make the most of these attributes. In order to work successfully in watercolor, an artist must possess the confidence to allow it to be fluid, loose and unpredictable. Yet I see so many watercolor artists who choose to beat it into submission or rely to heavily on “techniques” that distract and detract from its essential simplicity.
To paint successfully with watercolor, I believe an artist must be in command of the following skills:
- Excellent drawing skills and confidence in drawing, including the ability to draw with a brush
- Strong understanding of the importance of values and their relationships
- Knowledge of color theory and how to create a harmonious palette
- Confidence to logically react to the painting during its development process
- Ability to know when a painting is finished, ensuring that it does not become overworked
Painting in watercolor can quickly become frustrating if an artist does not possess these basic skills. Yet many watercolor instructors do not focus on them, choosing instead to put the emphasis on medium specific techniques and “tricks”. Having these skills will further an artists ability to work in any medium, hence, they should never be ignored or overlooked in a class or workshop.
In my watercolor classes and workshops, I always have students begin by learning to paint with watercolor monochromatically. A beautifully executed painting in one color is far stronger and more pleasing to look at than one that is washed out and overworked in full color. If you can draw and understand values, you can do anything, so that should always be the place to start. Once an understanding of this concept is achieved, you are ready to move on into working in color. When this level is achieved, it is time to focus on color theory and mixing for maximum clarity and vibrancy–in other words how to avoid washed out colors and mud!
If you are struggling with any of these issues, there are several things you can do:
- Take a drawing a class! Learn to be in control of your painting from the start, remember, if you can draw, you can do anything!
- Take a course in color theory, learn how colors work together and understand their relationships to one another.
- Practice drawing everyday from direct observation (not from photographs).
- Have patience, don’t expect immediate results and be relaxed and logical about your progress.
- Enjoy the process, the more relaxed you are, the quicker you will see results!
The Right Start: Watercolor – Workshop at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey
For artists in the NY Metro area looking for a beginner watercolor workshop, I am offering on on Sunday, March 8 at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey in Summit. The workshop focuses on all of the concepts outlined above and is perfect for anyone new to watercolor or struggling with any of the issues mentioned. The registration fee is $100 plus a $30 materials fee. Call the art center at 908.273.9121 for more information or register online at their website.