Right attitude when watercolour painting

I often hear people say that watercolour painting is really difficult or that it takes years to learn. Even so I find some students can get very upset with themselves when they do not quickly start producing good work. They look at other peoples’ work and wonder why theirs hasn’t gone so well. So what is right in all of this?

Well firstly while watercolour is more difficult to learn than some other painting mediums it does not necessarily mean it will take years to learn how to paint good paintings. What is certainly true is that we all come to this medium with different life experiences, in my case I had studied engineering which had developed my observation skills and helped me get a better feel for what the water was doing on the paper (this happens to be critical), others have had experience in other mediums so their understanding of colours may be more advanced, while others bring a love of design or anything creative which can help with the more spontaneous sections of a watercolour painting.

The first watercolour painting I did in class.

My first watercolour painting done in class

However apart from our previous experiences there are some things we can all bring to our early watercolour work. The first is a desire to learn and more importantly to have fun with our watercolour painting. Having fun is very important I feel, especially if you are taking on this subject in your later years as a pastime for some of your spare time. You should never lose sight of your desire to have fun with this medium. Take a moment as you paint to marvel at the beauty of the watercolours flowing and mixing on your watercolour paper.

In addition to having fun and a desire to learn. The right attitude should be a belief that with practice you will succeed, sure there will always be something you can improve, but you should always acknowledge what has worked with your painting first before looking at what hasn’t worked. In time you will find more and more passages have worked and less haven’t. Look at the areas which haven’t worked with curiosity rather than disappointment. Look at what has happened and how the effect could have come about e.g. letting the paper dry too much before going back in with a very wet brush, too much water in your mix, not enough water in a mix, painting too slow, etc. By analyzing your work this way you can improve it in future paintings.

Sometimes when we are having difficulty with an area and can’t solve it then that is when we should go and ask other artists if they can advise on a solution or a reference, or we can look into the watercolour books in our library (I have about 150) or these days we can do a Google search of the internet and will most probably find something there to help out. When I first started with watercolour I loved the challenge it presented and treated everything that didn’t work with curiosity and interest. This attitude helped my work to progress.

I my classes I am always tasking my students with more challenging pieces to paint. I do this to keep them progressing. For most people (but not all) the idea of always painting the same subject, because we know we can succeed at it, would be quite boring. For this reason, I keep challenging myself with my watercolours and actually get quite excited when I see a piece that makes me think , “Now how was that done?”

So for those of you that sometimes get upset with your work, I hope the above is of some use.

Keep painting with curiosity, observation, and the conviction that you will succeed and you will certainly produce some nice watercolour paintings. Have fun painting!