Does it seem impossible to get predictable results in watercolor? Does it seem fussy and unforgivable? If you are thinking watercolor is difficult, you are not alone.

I found this to be true for many years. I took several watercolor classes and never got the hang of it. I was not achieving the results I wanted and usually ended up throwing the paintings away or hiding them in a drawer only to look at them weeks later….even more disappointed.

I always admired watercolors, whether they were tight or loose and splashy. I didn’t really understand how to get it to work for me…… alas…… was watercolor never going to be something I could work in?

Here is step by step process I use to start a watercolor painting.

Through years of teaching I started to realize people learn in different ways and different approaches. This applies to watercolor as well. I was taught to paint from light to dark and slowly build up form in color with multiple layers. I would grow impatient and before I knew it I had gone too dark, too fast. As I frantically tried to back pedal my out of what I had done…. the painting became a muddy mess! Through working with other artists and students I came to realize you can also use watercolor by working dark to light. This is the reverse way of thinking. It means you need to know where to “strategically drop” color into the dark areas of the object you are painting. Here is how I come up with the strategy:

  • I illuminate my subject with an Ott-lite, using the angle of 11 o’clock at 45 degrees from the picture plane.
  • I make an assessment of where the light, middle tones and shadow areas are.
  • I do a line drawing on tracing paper.
  • I do another contour drawing over the line drawing on a 2nd piece of tracing paper to define the undulations or terrain of the subject.
  • I then do a “quick and dirty” tonal drawing on a 3rd piece of tracing paper. This is done with graphite and paper or tortillion stump. The object is to create form quickly and establish where the darks are.
  • I transfer the line drawing on to my watercolor paper and refine the drawing to make sure it graceful adding any small nuances or details so the drawing is ready for paint.
  • Once the drawing is complete I start color mixing and create an assortment of colors which are in the light, middle and shadow areas. 
  • Using my tonal drawing I know exactly where to drop my colors to create form and juicy color!

If you are struggling with watercolor I would love to help you “demystify” it and get it to work for you. My online course: Wonderful Watercolor is a 12 week step by step class which clarifies and gets you accurately mixing fabulous color with lots of different techniques and great subjects to paint from nature. Checkout the video and see some of the exciting projects we will do together!

Are you ready to have some fun with watercolor?

Perhaps you are ready to join us in Costa Rica! Find out more by clicking here.