I received a very kind compliment recently, my paintings remind them of Dan Burt’s paintings. I’d never heard of Dan Burt but, man, I know his work now!! Totally amazing – PLUS totally incredible colour!!
This led me to think about the misconception about watercolour – that it’s wishy-washy, subdued, delicate and painted by Victorian ladies. YES 150 YEARS AGO!! We’re now in the 21st century and along with my peers, watercolours are now a contemporary medium painted in many styles.
I’m known for my strong colour – that’s how I see the world, that how I want the world to be. I love the challenge of watercolour – it’s not for the faint of heart! If you’re happy to paint on the edge of your seat from time-to-time, watercolour is the best medium! Skydiving is not the only means to get an adrenaline rush!
Many years ago I made a deliberate decision to paint stronger vibrant colour. It was a natural step for me, as I’ve always put unusual colours together. As I embarked on my professional artist’s journey, it seemed that, partly due to the lack of appreciation for watercolours back then, my work needed stronger colour to stand amongst the strong colours of opaque medium.
A tiny 5ml tube of watercolour is confusing, how far will that tiny 5ml tube of paint go? Quite far if you are painting small once or twice a week, not far enough if you paint big every day. Buy artist’s quality paint and the little 5ml tube will go even further. This is going to sound strange but, buy 100% cotton rag paper and you will notice good quality paint goes even further and is more vibrant.
A good practice for the watercolour painter is to start with a tiny amount of paint pigment and add water to make a nice puddle to paint with. Next build up some stronger colour with more paint and less water, then even more paint and much less water = DO NOT ADD MORE WATER, do not “clean” your brush between washes. Please note creating a large area wash is all about starting off with lots of water and then reducing the amount of water while you are increasing the amount of pigment. By dipping into your water pot too often, your brush’s water ratio will be out of whack and in danger of diluting your wash and creating blooms where you don’t want them. This practice will grow your understanding of water-to-paint-to-brush-to-paper ratios.
Further the watercolour painter should be mindful of the same water-to-pigment ratio throughout the whole painting. Even with a good command of values, a watercolour can look insipid without a good variety of pigment strength.
Another weapon in your armoury for vibrant colour is to remind yourself to lay down your colour confidently and then DON’T TOUCH IT! Hands in your pockets – walk away!! Continual fussing and excessive brushstrokes lead to dull colour.
When glazing colour or layering colour, to add richness and vibrancy, consider using the same colours/pigments ie if you are painting a lemon, then paint the same colour in both washes. For example if I underpaint and let blue flow through my lemon and then the second pass (glaze) is yellow, my lemon is unlikely to be a bright saturate colour. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m saying think about your colours and how you want to use them, what you want to achieve.
Add a good glob of fresh artist’s quality paint to your palette every week, let it set up overnight. Before you begin your painting session, give it a spritz of water and you’re good to go! Continual scrubbing at dry paint (aka bird poop = poor quality paint) will distract you from creating.
It’s imperative to use the right brush for the job at hand. A small brush will not help you to lay down a sky wash – it won’t hold enough water to form a bead, your previous marks will dry too soon and you’ll end up with brush marks and blooms. For beginners, too big a brush with a good point and fat belly will do a good job for you. Practice with it and learn how to use it, with a good brush it is possible to paint a whole painting, start-to-finish, with just this one brush.
ciao cari pittori
let me know what you think in the comments below!!
It’s great to be back in Lucca where there’s a painting on every corner and more! Hence I’ve been choosing colazione caffe’s for sketching out opportunities.
Yesterday’s sketch afforded me 2 discoveries for this subject, both based on chiaroscuro, a chequerboard if you like. Aka alternation = light/dark, light/dark, light/dark. Given that some of the dark might be not so dark and some of the light might not be so light – in other words, a full range of values is required – every shape should have a different value to it’s neighbour – this difference might only be a 1% variation.
So what were the 2 gems I discovered?
Even though the sketch and the painting will be contrejour, I will be able to use similar values to tell my story. Values make the impact, colour is just cosmetics.
Something more to think about, these shapes did not conveniently place themselves correctly for me, I made them happen, as I was sketching these wee ideas presented themselves to me so I pushed them into my painting concept – I’m the artist!!
non ferma cari amici!!
Learning a new set of skills can be daunting, scary and hard. A big problem for adults coming back to art after many years is high expectations – too high expectations. If you haven’t done any drawing since you were 7, you are likely to be picking up where you left off.
Unless you’ve been able to continue your drawing, development is unlikely – you know what it’s like if you haven’t played piano for years (I can’t play my flute anymore, it’s very old and needs maintenance [as do I!] but obviously I haven’t practiced for a long time and my embouchure not up to scratch). Maybe you haven’t played golf for a few years only to return and find your swing is off.
Your drawing, painting and creative muscles needs constant attention – regular and frequent SMALL STEPS and exercise. Remember the steps it took for you to learn how to write your name – the dotted letter diagrams we followed? Learning to draw and paint is a similar process, incremental baby steps are required.
Many people tell me they can’t draw, I am a firm believer that we are all born creative, however, some of us get the chance (or make the chance) to pursue creative endeavours or maybe your creativity is pursued in a different way. I’m referring to my super creative engineering husband, among many, one of his skills is creating solutions for his clients.
More than talent, desire and perseverance are keys to learning and developing a skill in drawing. Few people do not have the ability to learn to draw, if you can sew or knit, play golf, write a letter, you can learn to draw.
More important skills are patience and observation along with key tools - time and focus.
Time to relax and enjoy the process of creating without the pressure of having to make something. As soon as the artist decides to create a masterpiece – today is the day – it’s all over. Too much pressure makes us focus on all the wrong emotions and decisions, performance anxiety (I’ve only got today to do this), we’re too focussed on the result instead of enjoying the moment and focussing on what the paint is doing on the paper.
Whether you want to be a professional artist or you just enjoy the process of creating, it’s important to exercise your creative muscle regularly and frequently – just like a body builder or marathon runner the more you practice the more you can flex your muscles.
Poetry in watercolour is made in the freedom of the here and now.
ciao bei pittori!!
PaintBox Tips, secrets, random thoughts,
Poetry in watercolour is made in the freedom of the here and now. Amanda Brett
Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working - Pablo Picasso
There are no mistakes in watercolour, just some extra surprises!!
What my readers and viewers have to say
Your emails are so informative! I must confess I've watched a couple of your demos from beginning to end, and it makes me want to watercolor!!! I've only ever painted with oil or acrylics and haven't know how to begin with WC. Your content is excellent!
Thank you for your tips. They inspired me to practise and I realised I haven’t been loading the brush properly. I learnt about adding more paint, and not water, to washes. In today’s tips I like the idea of painting with purpose. Your tips are very helpful. I very much appreciate receiving them. Elizabeth
Hi Amanda I enjoyed your post and generous tips. Looked up Dan Burt I begin to see that you can colour any subject to give it pizazz so long as the tone and form is correct Certainly adding value now to my attempts Thanks heaps Annie
Yes very wise words. Agree with not fussing and agree with comments about good quality paint. Well written and inspirational as always. Cheers Janet xxxx
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