I have gathered up all the “watercolor how-to” books I’ve had sitting around the studio, and I’ve put them away. This was part of my much-needed studio clean-up, but it was also part of my decision to “go it alone” with watercolor, to stop reading about techniques, to stop looking at demonstrations, to stop following along with other artists and strike out completely on my own.
Now, instead of doing various watercolor painting “projects” from books or tutorials, I’m using my watercolor lesson time to come up with a project of my own. In doing this, I can look back at previous paintings and see what I like — how did I do that? I can see mistakes — oh, I don’t want to do that again! I can explore new ideas, practice different techniques and learn as I go. It’s a bit of a sink-or-swim approach, and so far, I’m pleased with the results I’m getting.
Here is this morning’s “on my own” project — Sand Dunes
In this photo, I’ve added a white frame using my “Paint” program. I just “guesstimated it” free-hand, so, yes, it’s a wee bit off. I’m doing this because there is an actual white border around the painting, but against the white background of this blog page, it disappeared. A very important tip I recently learned from a talented watercolor artist is to always tape off your painting to leave a white border. For some reason, she said, watercolor paintings always look better when surrounded by white. And, she’s right. So, from now on, my first step for any watercolor painting I do will be to tape the edges.
From this painting, I learned exactly how important the right color choices are. The deep yellow ochres and the rich violets create an interesting complementary color scheme. I’m undecided, though, on whether the pale blue in the upper right really “works” in this painting. You can probably tell that I wasn’t happy with that part of the sky and attempted — at a very late stage in the process — to brush in a bit more of the pale blue.
Another thing I learned — in addition to the white borders — is that it really is important to keep the white of the paper showing through. Those light/white values add a lot of interest and dimension to this simple scene.
The next lesson here is “don’t over-do”. Earlier, my skies looked gorgeous. I had a very pale blue sky with warm gold adding a slight glow. But, I was unsure. Was it all too pale? Was there too much contrast between the blue and the gold? I tweaked. And I tweaked a little more. And unfortunately I tweaked too much and turned my beautiful sky into an overdone mish-mash of colors.
One additional tip I’m putting to good use is this: always use the largest brush possible. Almost all of this painting was done with a large, one-inch flat brush. The smaller details were touched in with a small, angled brush.
If you look very closely, you’ll see that I started to add in a number of bare trees but then stopped myself. Why would bare trees be on a sand dune? I blotted them out the best I could.
I’m happy with this painting because it’s a good starting point for me as I figure out for myself just how to create the loose watercolor effects that I like. From here, I can make adjustments, drawing upon the knowledge I’m gaining through personal experience, and move closer to creating watercolor art that truly represents who I am and what I love.
Another advantage to doing this “on my own” is that I don’t have anything to compare it to. I can’t look at a book or a video and say, “Well, it was supposed to look…” My painting looks exactly the way it is supposed to look because it’s all mine. I really like that feeling. I’m excited to do more watercolor painting now, all on my own.