Watercolor is all about water! Too much, not enough, water on the paper, water in the brush, water in the paint, dirty water – even water in the air! Practice awareness and control of water and your watercolor painting will improve.
How much water is on your palette? Is your paint dry? Freshly squeezed from a tube? Wet from use?
How much water is on your brush? Dry? Just dipped in water? Tapped on the edge of your water container? Squeezed? Sponged? Dripping?
How much water is on your paper? Dry? Just painted on? Slightly damp? A pool of water? Soaked through? A bit shiny?
How much water is in the air? Are you indoors or out? Humid day? Dry day? Is a fan or wind blowing on you? An evaporative cooler? Dehumidifier? These factors will effect the speed at which your painting dries out – and how quickly you must paint for certain techniques.
Is your water dirty? If your water is a murky mud color your bright yellow may not pop. The water cannot get cleaner than itself and will transfer – slightly – through your brush to your other colors. Not super sensitive, but keep an eye on this. Frequency of water changes vary with the colors being used. I usually change my water out a couple of times during a painting session. I like to dump it on my plants (if painting with non-toxic paints).
This is how the visible start looks (after my perfectly executed mental painting, of course). I’ve got my book pages down and I’ve drawn my dragonfly. I am trying out a new idea with the pages arranged haphazard – like a gust of wind blowing them away.
I usually have my whole composition decided before I start on the final piece. This time, I kept making decisions and changes as I drew! I didn’t want to damage the watercolor paper with multiple drawings and erasing, so I used tracing paper to sketch and then transferred the final lines onto the watercolor paper. For this painting, I placed the dragonfly first, then made the eucalyptus branches work around it.
I don’t know about you, but I love old books. When the vintage typography, and beautiful language combine with engaging and informative writing my brain lights up. And if that subject is art? I just can’t resist. Just such a winning combo is found in these three books by Eliot O’Hara from early 1900’s: Watercolor Fares Forth, Making Watercolor Behave, Making the Brush Behave.
Here is what I use to make one of my favorite grays – and some other lovely neutral colors: Ultramarine (Green Shade), Jaune Brilliant No. 2, and Light Red. I am using Da Vinci and Holbein watercolor paints here, but you can use a different brand or a student grade paint or even a similar color combination from a Crayola watercolor set!
I like to have a little porcelain palette for mixing special color combinations like this. It keeps my main palette more organized and clean.
I’ve squeezed a tiny bit of each color into their own wells in my mini palette. Add water and transfer just a bit of the Ultramarine (blue) and Juane Brilliant (peachy-cream) into a new well. Playing with the pigment ratios I can create a whole new array of gray tones! (You can see just five variations to the left of the paper pictured below). If I want a darker, warmer option, I can do the same process with the Light Red (seen with the angular swatches to the right in the photo below).
This is a really fun exercise to try and see how many different colors you can make from just these two or three base paints. Once you become familiar with the types of neutral colors you can create, you can go back to that color for a painting. Just mix up a big batch in a fresh well!