Back in August, I got to spend a day up in the mountains with my nature journal. Inspired by the beautiful scenery, my excitement quickly turned to frustration. I didn’t have the skills I needed to capture the landscapes around me with watercolor paints. My disappointment nearly ruined the trip for me. I had to remind myself that I’m a beginner and do not understand how watercolors work. Yet.
I know the way to get better at watercolors is to practice, but to get better faster, I need to practice between my nature journaling sessions. Here are the seven things I’m doing to improve my watercolor skills.
Maintain a practice mindset. Whenever I sit down to nature journal, whether inside or out, I remind myself I am practicing. I need to do the same thing with my watercolor painting. That will free me up to learn from my mistakes and reduce my frustration.
Study. I own several books about watercolors and reading them has started me on the path to a better understanding of what I need to pay attention to. It’s not the same as painting myself, but definitely better than diving in without any guidance at all. This video on watercolor struggles taught me some important facts that have changed my experience with watercolor already.
Play around. I’ve taken the time to make charts and mix colors and compare the paints I have from different manufacturers. This is helping me to better understand how the paints work, as well as supplying me with references I can look at as I experiment with mixing.
Practice with guidance. The most helpful instructional videos are those you can work along with. John Muir Laws has especially meaty ones that cover basic watercolor techniques and how to work with a waterbrush. I’m also planning on attending all the sessions about watercolors at Wild Wonder 2020.
Paint with just one color. I’ve done this before and want to do more of it. Taking the color mixing out makes it easier to focus on water control and building up values. (Note: it’s easier to do with a paint that can achieve a dark dark so that you have a full range of values to play with.)
Practice some more. Though I am not great at doing things every day, I keep thinking I should be painting a landscape a day, possibly the same landscape. I’m sure this would be a great way to get better at watercolor and landscapes, as well as building up a record of how the landscape changes over time.
Paint anyway. In the end, I have to allow some time to just have some fun. I need to take a deep breath and paint even though I don’t know what I’m doing. A lot of the fun of painting is instant color. I like watching the paint spread and mix on the paper.
Do you struggle with watercolor? What do you do to improve?