My Watercolor “Why”

When it comes to art, it’s good to know how to do something… like watercolor. But it’s important, too, to know why we’re doing it.

Earlier this morning I was reading along in No Fail Watercolorand I stopped in my tracks when I came to these words:

Keep reminding yourself why you want to learn how to paint with watercolors in the first place.

Good question!

I didn’t have any good answers, however. At least no immediate response that came to mind. I had to stop and think about it.

Mostly I thought about all the reasons why I might not want to learn watercolor. I wasn’t being negative, just looking realistically at my past experiences and comments I’ve made through the years since I began pursuing art.

  • I don’t want to be a watercolor artist, really.
  • I’m not serious about learning watercolor.
  • Watercolor is far too tricky for me.
  • I’m just not good with watercolor techniques.

Those are valid points, to be sure. Yet at the same time, I find myself coming back to watercolor over and over again. I have fun with watercolor. Even though there are frustrations, I think the fun factor outweighs them.

I enjoy watercolor, I think, mostly because I don’t take myself seriously with it. Whatever I do with watercolor — or usually with my gansai — is done for fun. I’ve also found watercolor a good way to “get started” with art whenever I’m feeling reluctant.

Think back to the spring and summer of 2020. We’d just purchased our lovely “grandma-grandpa” house (as my husband calls it) and for the first time I had a real art studio — and was so intimidated I was afraid to do anything! Watercolor helped me break in my studio. I had fun making colorful bookmarks, playing with abstract expression, and sharing my paints and brushes with the grandkids.

Following last spring’s flooding here in the studio, I once again turned to watercolor to help me ease my way back into working in the studio. It was simple enough to grab my gansai and a waterbrush and just enjoy painting.

As I drew my way through a summer crash course in graphite, I enjoyed coloring in many of my bad drawings. Color didn’t make them any better, but it did make them brighter!

I like watercolor for a lot of reasons. First, of course, there’s my gansai. I doubt that I would be having so much fun with watercolor projects if I were using traditional transparent “western” watercolors. I love the Japanese set with their slightly more opaque colors. Using gansai has made watercolor much more enjoyable.

I like watercolor, too, because — as I pointed out in a recent post — I can do it very inexpensively. Because I’m not striving to master the medium, I can have fun with cheap papers and cheap brushes.

Another advantage is that watercolors are convenient. While I love working in my studio, there are times when I do want to paint in other locations. I like sitting on the front porch, drawing and painting. I enjoy taking my gansai upstairs to the kitchen and making colorful pictures with the grandkids. When I go to art club meetings, my gansai always goes along, and oh, how I enjoy heading out to the hiking trails with my nature journal and my Japanese watercolors.

Another reason I enjoy watercolor is because I can do a lot of practical things with it. Besides the colorful bookmarks I made last year — everyone in the family has a set — I’ve also used watercolor to create covers for the notebooks I’ve bound, and for the tops of the origami boxes I’ve now learned to make. I’ve used watercolor to create Christmas cards, and I’ll be doing a few Halloween cards in coming weeks. I’ve even made several gifts with watercolor, such as the little “doodles set” I made for my mother-in-law last year.

Using watercolor well is tricky, yes. At the same time, using it casually is actually a fairly simple thing. And with my new “just let it be whatever it is” attitude, it’s getting easier all the time. I’m not fretting about mistakes. I’m not trying to create watercolor masterpieces. I’m simply having a good time playing with paints.

So, if I’m content with what I’m doing now, why am I wanting to learn more, improve my techniques, and push myself to become a better watercolor artist? Whoa… let’s back up there a bit. Indeed, I do want to learn more about watercolor, gouache, and gansai, and sure, I’d be happy to see improvements in watercolor techniques like creating flat washes or doing color gradients. But pushing myself to become a better watercolor artist? Nope, that’s not really part of my plan.

Let me go back to what I said earlier. I don’t want to be a watercolor artist. Not really. I don’t want to “get serious” about watercolor. I just want to know enough to enjoy the medium, to improve my techniques enough to get better results, to have more knowledge I can share with the grandkids when we paint together.

Why am I learning watercolor? Because it’s helping me develop a lot of the right attitudes about art. It’s teaching me not to take myself seriously. It’s showing me that art really can be a lot of fun. That’s my why of watercolor.

 

 

5 Comments

  1. Yup, water colours really do deserve an entire blog article just dedicated to them. Water colours, simple as they may seem, are not really the easiest medium to work with. And when I ‘take them seriously’, it gets all the more frustrating at times. Knowing that this medium is actually a break for you is quite a satisfying thing! You are actually able to see it as fun! Even when I try to take it lightly or for the sake of enjoyment, eventually I end up going behind some or the other detail, which is not quite the purpose of making a water colour painting. This results in a painting that should take an hour at max, days to complete. So it’s really great that your watercolour ‘why’ is fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep. 🙂 I got so frustrated with watercolor in the past that I swore I’d never try it again. But now that I’ve learned to just “play” with it instead of trying to actually do art, it really is relaxing and fun. I don’t care if my paintings end up with drips and splotches and blooms. It’s just something relaxing to do. For me, it’s almost like a “warm-up” before I do other art projects. I can play around with colors and just do whatever I want because I’m NOT taking myself seriously. That casual attitude is carrying over to my oil painting and drawing, too, and it definitely makes art more fun.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good post! Honest opinions.
    I think this medium can feel more difficult or problematic when you paint with watercolor on a small paper. Any painting or drawing, including watercolor (I’m doing traditional when we leave white spaces white) comes out way better when we go big, at least 20 x 16 in or 51 x 41 cm or larger. I only do very small 11 x 14 in (28 x 36 cm) watercolors when I’m traveling.
    There are simply many things one cannot do on a tiny or small size painting. My friend who was also a well-known watercolor artist said once: it takes a tiny mistake to damage tiny painting and you have to really make huge mistakes to damage huge painting. It always works like that.
    On a large size paper you can do great washes, especially on thick Arches or similar cotton papers, you can implement direction of light, values, shadows, lots of contrast, meaning volume and dimension. It also makes bigger impact on the viewer.
    I’ve taught numerous workshops and art classes, and for some unknown reason, most people are convinced initially that they have to paint tiny things. It’s worth a try and feeling a big difference with going big or really big.
    I like your blog and how you’re finding your place among different medium options and

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, I love the idea of “going bigger” with watercolor. It would be like having a bigger playground. 🙂 And more room to mix colors and do different things. I do have a pad of large watercolor paper. It will be fun to try larger paintings now. Thanks!

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