Watercolor is an enchanting medium for painting. The simplest of materials allow you to evoke lush, flowing landscapes and forgotten memories. All you need is a brush, paper, a handful of pigments, and some water. Its simplicity makes it a perfect hobby for anyone who’s looking to pick up art as an adult.
Yet, for all its accessibility, watercolor can be a frustrating medium for the beginner. Working with the flow of water is often counter-intuitive. It almost behaves of its own accord at times. The speed at which it dries can alter the working surface. You could mix colors on the palette and find that they dilute too much when applied to the paper.
These qualities endear watercolor to experienced painters but often make it difficult for newcomers to learn. And when you’re starting any hobby, you thrive on the combination of challenge and progress. Maybe one day, you want to hang your art on the walls of your home or have fine art printing services reproduce it for sale. But you won’t get there without effective practice. Here are some methods to help you out.
Make it easy
Everyone who offers advice on improving at watercolor (or any art form) will tell you to practice. Consistent practice will inevitably lead to progress over time. But if you’re encountering difficulty with watercolor, you need to acknowledge that and approach practice with intent.
Many hobbyist painters start out wanting to emulate a particular artist or paint a scene that inspires them. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But if you always practice that way, you might be setting the bar too high, too soon.
Make it easier to focus on something specific during your practice. Set your initial goal. It could be how to blend a perfect gradient or to improve your overall composition. Then remove everything else that could complicate the process. If you’re drawing from a reference photo, stick to something minimal, or even mundane. Simplify your decisions, and you can concentrate on improving one specific skill with each session.
Use your best materials
Watercolor painters know that besides the different colors of paint, you can also work with varying types of materials. Brushes come in varying sizes and shapes. Paper can have different textures and weights. The grade of materials can also vary. So-called ‘student’ pigments are more affordable but tend to mix poorly or create works of poor archival quality.
It can be tempting to work with inexpensive materials. After all, it’s just a hobby, and these are only practice works. But if you’re serious about getting better, you’ll eventually want to work with the best materials. And this is a medium where you get better as you grow more familiar with the materials involved. So it’s best to practice from the outset with the best quality you can get.
Limit your tools
This might seem to contradict the previous point, but when you want to practice for deliberate improvement, try to limit your tools. Recall that you want to make it easier to focus on a specific aspect of your painting. Well, having a fistful of brushes and dozens of colors on your palette might not help you in that regard.
Painting with a limited palette reduces your options. It gives you more practice mixing those pigments. You become intimately acquainted with how they behave on the paper. You can even do a single color study and hone your execution of value, form, and composition.
Revisit your work
Deliberate practice following these guidelines can yield rapid improvements in the different aspects of your watercolor technique. But it can also get boring if you get carried away. It could take the fun out of what should be a relaxing and enjoyable hobby.
Art enthusiasts want to experience the joy of progress, and there’s a way to incorporate that as part of your focused practice sessions. Once you’ve been practicing long and consistently enough, try to revisit your older work. It could be something you did last month or half a year ago. Then attempt to repaint it, only better.
Apply everything you’ve learned, and step back and compare the two pieces. You might even want to share the results with your friends for their feedback. As long as you’ve been practicing with intent, it’s inevitable that the new piece will be a step up from the old one.
Used sparingly, this practice technique can liven up your sessions and give you a measure of how far you’ve come. It should also serve as a promising reminder of how much better you can continue to get.
Remember, good watercolor practice isn’t about creating gallery-worthy images. It’s all about sharpening your skills and mastery of the medium so that you can consistently paint and achieve the results you envisioned.