I have always loved painting with watercolour paints, but it was always something I'd do if I didn't have the energy or time for a proper canvas. I saw it as relaxing and therapeutic, rather than an actual act of creativity that would lead to something interesting. I guess it makes sense then that the work I created with watercolour's never turned out that great.
For me, mixed media paintings on canvas have always been my go-to for expressing my ideas and allowing myself to experiment with new techniques. Using layers of paint, I never worried about messing up because I knew I could just paint over it. They have always been the most satisfying upon completing, because on a canvas, you varnish it and it's all good to go. So my watercolour paints would be tucked away in a draw, only coming out for days when I was too unmotivated for anything else....until now.
I have had a rediscovery of my watercolour paints, and a whole mindset shift when it comes to using them to create beautiful and expressive pieces of artwork.
Now I know what was holding me back before, and that was this idea that to paint a watercolour painting, I had to sit quietly in a corner and sketch out a detailed design, before carefully using a fine brush to paint soft colours, going over each bit to make it perfect. This never led anywhere because the best art is created not from over-thinking, but from expressing.
Teaching myself new techniques and letting go of my conceived notions about how a watercolour artwork was done, gave me the freedom to experiment which produced the results that I love, and are so different from things I've done before.
This list below is a culmination of some of the things that have changed how I paint with watercolours, and how this type of painting can be as creatively fulfilling as using mixed media on canvas.
Fluid paints, fluid painting.
Stating the obvious: you are literally using coloured water to create the art. I needed to embrace the material for what it was ; fluid, clear, dissolving, spreadable, slow to dry.
It's so easy to try and make the water 'behave' to make it go where you want it to go and sit where it needs to sit, but this results in boring and predictable. The battle between man and material is quite obvious, mistakes will be clear to see, and will ruin the whole piece.
Instead by embracing the water, letting it flow naturally and leaving some areas to blend and react without my control, I found the process much more exciting and experimental, which led to work which had a sense of freedom and expression.
2. Boosting colours by contrast.
Watercolours produce much softer, more gentle shades compared to the vibrancy you can achieve from acrylics or oils. I used to always try to make the watercolours as vibrant as my acrylics, which again, was me fighting to make the material something it wasn't which just doesn't look right at the end.
I still however, like a painting that draws the eye with a little boldness and colour, and I found that the best way to achieve eye-catching colours was not to strive for the dense pigment in the water, or endless layers to make it more vibrant, but to use the white-ness of the paper to create contrast.
On a painting where all the colours are rich and bold, none of them will stand out as rich or bold, but on a painting where the white is used carefully and strategically, picking out just two or three colours to be the focal points, even the softest shade can be made to look vibrant.
3. Mixed media techniques apply to watercolours too
I like to go a little crazy on my canvas paintings with gilding wax, textured areas, scratching into the surface etc. but somehow didn't ever feel the freedom to do that on a watercolour painting. I think mostly the fear of ruining something that seems so fragile and soft held me back.
The other steps I've just mentioned had given me the confidence to experiment further, and I was able to turn my watercolours into mixed media pieces by adding gilding wax, inks, scratches and gold leaf. Bits like this are part of my signature style and made the watercolours I was producing feel and look like mine.
It also opened up a whole realm of possibilities, seeing what material reacts with what etc. This is what will keep me coming back to using watercolours again and again, creating from a place of freedom with no end goal in sight.
4. All about the colour
With acrylics and oils, there is so much to factor in - not just the colour of the paint, but the texture, the thickness, the pigment, the blending etc.
When I paint with watercolours, it's really all about the colours. For me, to be able to focus on just one element can lead to almost abstract results, and I'm not an abstract painter naturally.
There's a reason why humans are drawn to colour, why seeing flowers in the spring makes us happy, why we will turn to look at the rainbow. There are some combinations that just work for us, that draw us in and make us feel something. Regardless of what subject (or no subject) is being painted, it's the colour that dictates how we feel about it.
That's why some people look at an abstract piece and feel nothing - yet someone else feels everything.
This focus on colour has been super helpful for me as an artist, and for my creativity.
If you're new to watercolour painting or have painted with watercolour's for a while, I hope this post has inspired you and encouraged you to maybe try something new. If there's one thing you take away from this, I would say always forget any pre-existing ideas of how something should be done, and let yourself discover something afresh. Especially if you felt like you could never create something successful in a certain medium, it's always worth having another go without the pressure of doing it right.
For those of you who don't paint, I hope you found this interesting anyway and now understand why I've been chugging out watercolours all of a sudden!
Some of the paintings shown in this post are for sale and can be found in the "PAPER ORIGINALS" section of the shop.
Keep scrolling to see more of my latest watercolour work & a little process video!
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Thanks for reading!