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Ideas for Successful Watercolor Painting

Updated on July 30, 2019
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

My painting of 'Ghost Cats'
My painting of 'Ghost Cats' | Source

Images Have A High Entertainment Value

Why do we bother with art anyway? Images captivate and motivate. They can change people’s minds and hearts, create “awww” moments or terrifying ones. It is no wonder that the best and often most memorable children’s books are picture books. They help children learn to read by motivating and stimulating a pleasant visual response first and help to build stories and understanding in a child. Pictures books help children to see and experience things that they may never be able to see in life: exotic and extinct animals, far away places and buildings, events in history from long ago, etc. Pictures and drawings are at the very heart of learning new things.

Illustration for a children's book
Illustration for a children's book | Source

Images are Engaging and Emotional

Images are engaging and evoke emotion in us. We can empathize with an image, placing ourselves into space yet from a safe distance. Images are processed by the right brain, where emotions are also processed. From the earliest age, we have been taking in images and tying those with how we feel at that moment.

A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.

— Brad Henry
The Seagull
The Seagull | Source

My Mantra

When teaching watercolor, my mantra has become, "be free" because so many of my students are afraid of the water. Jump in. It won't hurt. So what if you create something that won't hang in the Louver, or even in your home. It's not about that. It's about the joy of painting. The freedom and happiness the combinations of color bring to you are far more important. Then if you end up with a masterpiece or even a happy accident, it is an added bonus.

You might not make it to the top, but if you are doing what you love, there is much more happiness there than being rich or famous.

— Tony Hawk
The Gymnasts
The Gymnasts | Source

The Mystery

Remember that some of the best art in the world is art that leaves you asking questions. The artist has left something of a mystery in his style, in his composition, in his subject matter. If you stand back and ask yourself, "Who lives there" or "Where does that path go" or "What are they talking about" or "How does that blue take my breath away," that's great art because the viewer has become emotionally involved.

When you paint, try to leave a little mystery, a little left unsaid, a line or two missing. This is why many experts say there is a point at which the painting has become "overworked." We artists tend to be perfectionists, but in this one instance restrain yourself. You will love your work more for it.

Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life.

— Wayne Dyer

Backwash Or The "Blossom"


Avoid the “Blossom”

I like to start by wetting the sky portion of my paper first to ensure even coverage. Remember you don't want too much water; enough to make puddles causing the "blossom". If the paper is too dry you may get streaks in the sky. If this doesn't bother you, then fine. But I like a smooth, even blue in the heavens. You can mix a small cup of thinned blue for the sky to guarantee an even overall value. If you do this you will have to go back over the upper portion with more blue to give it more intensity.

Palm Sunset
Palm Sunset | Source

Sunset Sky

Sunsets are fairly common because of all the awesome color in the sky. There has to be some planning in painting them because of the transition from one color to the next need to be smooth and gradual.

With your large brush, paint just water over the whole piece of watercolor paper. Now using long horizontal strokes, start with purple or blue at the top and change colors every couple of inches. The sunset should be purple or blue, then red, orange and finally yellow at the bottom.

For fun, you could paint reddish-purple clouds in the upper sky.

The thing about sunset is that everything else goes dark. When the sun has set enough to color the sky, there isn't enough light to give clear details about anything else around you. So everything is in silhouette. After painting a sunset sky, all you have to do is paint outlines or silhouettes of the rest of the landscape. A very successful idea.


Rainy Day

To paint a rainy day, you start the same as with any sky, by painting the paper with clear water. Then streak on the dark colors of indigo, ultramarine or Prussian blue and violet. Tilt the paper so the colors run at an angle.

If the paper has started to dry, you may need to spray with water to keep it running or uses a brush and clear water to keep the run smooth. Sometimes the paint will hit a "dry" spot and travel around it. That will ruin your rainy day look.

Lay the paper flat again and wait for it to dry to add the hills and fields or details to the painting. In this example, I got in a hurry and my hills bled into the sky a little. The answer is to wait for the sky to dry completely before painting anything else.

All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.

— Walt Disney

Don’t Be Afraid of the Unusual

Try something you have never seen before. In this painting, the glow of the sun has made everything look yellow. Even the sky is completely yellow. The contrast of the purple with the yellow make this work. This isn't photo-realistic but it is a mood you are creating. Don't be afraid to experiment with color. The only one that never really looks great is green unless it is for fantasy effect. There are even times when a brown sky sets a mood.

Almond Blossoms
Almond Blossoms | Source

"Almond Blossoms"

To me, a ruined painting is only an experiment on what not to do next time. I have many pictures that were not successes and I will never show anyone. They weren't failures exactly; they were learning experiences. Don't be afraid to have a few.

I consider "Blossoms" to be one of those unsuccessful paintings. I wanted to paint a girl in the almond blossoming trees along the Blossom Trail (as spot locally known for lots of blooming fruit and nut trees). But the sky blue in between the branches looks like missing puzzle pieces and the blossoms are too busy. They take away from the focal point too much, which should be the girl.

Final Thoughts

Watercolor is an easy and cheap way of experimenting with color and images you may never have ever tried before. If you have any thoughts or questions please feel free to write them in the comments below.


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