DON'T BE AFRAID TO PAINT WITH WATERCOLORS Try this exercize.


Twelve years ago I decided to get a grip and TRY to paint with watercolors.As usual I tensed up, by stomach got knots in it and I felt this sinking feeling. Well it’s hard to master.

We are afraid of making a mistake, of doing something foolish, of looking ridiculous and we are afraid of FAILURE. I told myself I was afraid of wasting time, wasting paper, wasting paint and wasting my mind with worry but really I was afraid of failing.

Somehow I got through it, and painted this very neat, careful, pinched, teeny, restricted and very lame little safe watercolor of a white and yellow bowl with teeny, weeny little yellow flowers. It was kinda cute, not all THAT embarrassing, and I forged on.

In this article I’m going to give you an exercize that if you have never painted with water colors, will give you confidence to forge on, so stay with me.

Those little kids we send off to school come trudging home in the afternoon with their paintings of wild colors, peculiar shapes, eyes and ears that float across the page, and they are magnificent in their abandon and innocence. We need that same abandon. Honestly they are every bit as fine as Salvador Dali or Picasso. Don’t you think so? I have my grandson’s masterpiece on my wall right now, framed and everything, and it’s wonderful. Ask you child to tell you about the painting, and never ever discourage his efforts. Children’s Art is perfect art.

Anyway here’s how you get started. Buy a big pad of cheap sketch paper, a lot of cheap watercolor paints,(one of those little boxes with cute little squares,) some big brushes and go in a room by yourself. Decide to waste time, paper, paint and your mind for at least two hours. Throw the paint on. Play with the water, dabble and dab and be a kid.

Here is a simple approach. On your sketch pad draw a big bunch of grapes. With your small brush paint a few grapes with clear water, (don’t let the wet grapes touch) then lightly dab some colors around the edges of each grape, you can use purple, green, pink or anything that suits your fancy. You will see the paint spread and blend into something quite pretty. This is how water color should look, light, clear, clean and blended.

When you feel a little more comfortable with the paint, water and yourself, treat yourself to a watercolor pad of paper and find yourself a big flower. Get a real beauty from the yard and put it in a glass in front of you, then brush water all over your paper, and start adding color in thin washes. You may be really surprised at the results. I often start with a light pencil outline then I paint one petal with clear water. I may start at the outer edge of the petal with orange, let it spread, then add a little yellow and perhaps a little purple at the small center of the petal for shadow. This is a fun technique.

The grapes in the fruit picture were painted one at a time. I sketched in the grapes then painted each with clear water, dabbed a tiny bit of color on the edges and let it spread. Your results will surprise you. The secret is to not let your paint get dirty by applying too many coats to the same area.

Practice, practice, practice and patience and you will be surprised. Don’t worry about the results. One of the biggest helps in painting in any medium is learning to observe. Take a strawberry and really examine the surface. It is not a red blob, it is white, green, red, purplish and pink in spots and there are tiny little indentations with little fibers. It is amazingly complex. Try painting it. I do the same thing with a bird nest. You will learn to really see what it is you are painting and that is a big help.

For strawberries I paint them one at a time, first with water, then a very pale pink or pale green, then quickly add some reds and purple for shading.The shiny areas on these strawberries in the painting are simply pale pink areas. You also will see pale green to suggest a berry not quite ripe and then the tiny indentations are darker red and then a tiny little hair like fiber in mustard. I had to paint strawberries for weeks before I was able to really SEE these colors and gradations and details.

After you gain a little confidence you can splurge on a few tubes of Grumbacher water color. They are expensive so you will want to stick to basic colors, the primary, red, blue, yellow, and the secondary, purple, orange and green. Also buy a tube of black, brown and white. That should be all you need for now along with some little plastic mixing bowls so you can mix some different shades and hues. Watercolors tube paint does not dry out like acrylic paint so just use a little bit in your bowl and mix to get some different looks. In fact I take a big old dinner plate and dab colors all over the plate and I mix in the middle. When I finished painting I just leave the plate as it is. You can add a little water when you return to your painting and the paints will hydrate so you can use them again.

Here’s another tip. Apply a wash of shadow such as the bottom painting of a vase with yellow spider mums. You can see a purple shadow to the left of the vase and at the bottom which I washed on after everything was dry. This is a little tricky, you need to practice it and use a lot of clear water to prevent a line.

May I brag a little bit? I went from teeny and tight to pretty big and pretty bold and was able after ten years of practice to sell my paintings on Ebay for $150.00 to $250.00. That ain’t so bad huh?

And honestly I have failures, a lot of the time. I quickly tear the failure into tiny pieces and shove them to the bottom of the trash basket just in case there are watercolor spies and judges in the area.

I really hate failure.

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