Watercolor Lessons 1 – Intro and Style

Pen on journal

Watercolor – Lesson 1: Style

I’ve decided to write down a few notes and tips on what I’ve learned, often the hard way, about watercolor. My hope is that it will be helpful to others as they begin their journey into this compelling and challenging medium. I intend to keep each post as short as possible so you don’t have to wade through a lot of nonsense to get to the meat. I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty details of how to paint watercolor. There are plenty of great resources for that. Instead I’m going to give you personal experiences and insights into things that I feel have not been sufficiently or succinctly covered elsewhere. If you’re interested only in the lessons and not my normal blog posts, you can search for them by category on the right. This first one is going to be a little more long winded.

A brief history of me:

I’ve been painting for twenty years and change, but up until the last six or seven, I’ve worked almost exclusively in oils, with a little acrylic and computer on the side. I’ve sketched in watercolor from time to time, but it wasn’t really a medium I focused on. This is unfortunate, because now I adore it. When I first started, I scoured the internet, comparing supplies and trying to figure out the best way to get set up. That’s where I’m going to start. Materials. Or, should I say…

Style: The Horse Before the Cart.

This is huge, something most sites and books don’t discuss, and will determine all the factors to follow, including what you’ll buy to get set up. The style in which you work with watercolor will determine the supplies you use. Far more so than in other mediums. Now, I know what you’re thinking:

Craig, I’m new at this. I have no idea what style I’ll work in!

I understand, but here’s what I recommend. Look at books and websites and find artists that make art that really moves you. When I first started, I loved the often dark, always mysterious, almost oil like work of modern artists like Alvaro Castagnet, Joseph Zbukvic, Dusand Jukaric and Thomas W. Schaller.

But here’s the kicker, and it’s really important in the quest to finding your own style. What you love, and the way you work, are not always one and the same. I remember when I was a young student at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, I had done an en plein air oil painting that my teacher liked but wasn’t what I wanted in my work. She told me that one of the biggest mistakes artists often make is to fight what comes naturally.

Brilliant. Of course, I promptly ignored this advice for a good ten years and struggled on trying to make what I was inspired by, but I’ve come to realize how wonderful that simple advice was. Once you let go, it’s like the proverbial weight from the shoulders. Don’t fall so in love with a style or a type of work that you think you have to do it yourself. It’s okay to love something, and just look at it. If you love a style, by all means try to work that way, but if you find yourself naturally going a different direction, then don’t fight it.

You are, however, going to have to buy materials. In the next post, we’ll look at the style you like and talk about matching some brushes, papers, and a setup to the way you want to work.




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