Your Best Watercolor Tips
February 14, 2016 5:53 AM   Subscribe

I've been trying my hand at watercolor for a couple years, but I feel already like I'm just repeating myself. I'm not looking so much for exercises (work big! work small! do a monochrome!) as I am tips you've come across that made your watercolors better. I generally work abstract. If it matters, I use Holbein paints, various brushes, and cold press paper.
posted by mermaidcafe to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best tip: know your materials! Using single-or-few pigment transparent watercolors has been a big help to me, as it really simplifies color mixing. Hilary Page's Guide to Watercolor Paints book on can help you identify pigments, transparency, staining properties, etc. I bought my own copy after I found myself checking it out from the library for the third time.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 6:19 AM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Taken any classes or workshops? That can be a big help. Big issues with watercolor are working too opaque, not enough value range, using the white of the paper, letting the paint flow rather than being too tight. If you feel like you're repeating yourself a class or a book with exercises can help as can going and looking at other people's work. What are you aiming for? Are you repeating the same composition? Same palette, not learning with each piece? Hard to give more advice without knowing more.
posted by leslies at 6:19 AM on February 14, 2016

Try strategically using a resist to keep some parts of the paper white.
posted by jenmakes at 7:29 AM on February 14, 2016

Are you using masking fluid?
posted by Jacqueline at 7:42 AM on February 14, 2016

You can buy white deviled egg serving platters, they have a dozen or two dozen depressions where you can grade wash colors or even ink tones. I collect them when I find them on sale. I like white ceramic palettes for mixing color. Watercolor palettes are expensive, I bought a twelve depression tray on sale for five dollars, yesterday. You can also buy large white plates or platters at thrift stores, they make great wash palettes too.
posted by Oyéah at 8:49 AM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Artist friend says, try introducing dry brush and gouache. A toothy paper can handle repeated applications of material, and don't forget you can dig back into the paper.
posted by cocoagirl at 9:42 AM on February 14, 2016

Instead of using 'various brushes,' commit to using the very best brushes you can afford. A good brush will have some springiness and precision, even when loaded with paint. Winsor & Newton Series 7 are highly regarded among the artists I've known.
posted by Bron at 10:01 AM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Niji waterbrush pens were a gamechanger for me.. You can fill them with water to pick up paint, or fill them with inks or just makes everything easier, and they're great for travel. I also use markers and waterproof ink pens to add details, and a white ink pen to do highlights if I don't feel like breaking out the masking fluid.

I'm not a traditionalist anymore - I used to only use watercolors. But now that I've added in pens and markers, I actually like it the process lot more because it feels more dynamic and I can get effects I could never get with just watercolors alone.

If the paper texture is starting to bore you, get some hot-press paper and see if you like it better. It's smoother, but I like it.

There are great watercolor speed paints (time lapses of a full painting process from the sketch to finished) and tutorials on Youtube for inspiration as well.
posted by ananci at 11:04 AM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Practice, practice, practice. Alec Longstreth's 100 Watercolors shows his process for using the 100 Themes as ideas for each one. He also lists his supplies at the end.
posted by jillithd at 3:39 PM on February 14, 2016

It's difficult to answer this question without knowing what sort of effect you are looking for. The Artist's Manual by Angela Gair is a $25 book Chronicle publisher, that has soup to nuts applications of materials and techniques effects with pictures of media and examples of effects. It's the best book I've seen on materials and techniques, and I recommend it to my students for studio classes. I worked for a very large art materials manufacturer, and I can answer some specific "What's wrong with this picture?" technical questions for you via email if you like.
posted by effluvia at 3:55 PM on February 14, 2016

Work on your drawing skills?
posted by Oli D. at 4:11 PM on February 14, 2016

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