Recently I painted a pile of leaves in watercolor. It was an easy relaxing process:
Collect a few leaves
Trace the leaves
Mix fall colors from yellow, red and blue
Work wet and encourage the colors to bleed and blend.
Believe it or not, I’m often more interested in how it feels to sit and paint than what the final results are. Sure, there is satisfaction in how a painting comes out and sometimes frustration when I can’t achieve my vision. But the process of sitting and painting is…the best.
I shared a video on how I created the watercolor pile of leaves painting. Grab your paints and give it a try!
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Want a comprehensive guide to getting started in watercolor? Check out “Beginner Watercolor Exploration.”Learn the fundamentals. Practice with exercises and projects. Discover a love of watercolor!
Wood burning – I love this wood burned acorn by Italian Artist Liliia of SorrisoDesign. “The design is hand drawn, then carefully and lovingly burned into the solid wood bead with pyrography technique.”
Since the start of my blog “My Creative Resolution” and my regular creative practice, I’ve been hugely inspired by the seasons. Creativity literally opened my eyes to the changing landscape. That first fall, I was in awe of the fall foliage. It was like I’d never seen it before!
With fall in mind, I just developed a new step by step painting project – Watercolor Fall Farm. Watercolor colors blend and bleed into one another making it the perfect medium to capture the changing leaves.
In my previous Watercolor Basics posts I covered paper, brushes and paint but there are a few other items that are also important to have on hand.
Water – With watercolor paint, you need water to dilute your paint and to clean your brushes. I like to have two containers of water on hand so I have a backup when the first container gets dirty. Jars, cups, mugs, all work well. I prefer the container be white or clear so I know what color the water is.
Paper towel – the simplest ingredient but so important. I constantly dab my brushes on my paper towel to absorb excess water.
Scrap of paper for testing what’s on your brush before you touch your paper.
Tape, cardboard, ruler and pencil – Before I start painting I always tape my paper (with painter’s tape) to a larger piece of cardboard (the back of an old pad). This prevents the paper from buckling when it gets wet. Another thing I often do is tape the horizon line. I measure and mark both sides of the paper and then apply tape from one side to the other.
Egg cartons – I have paints in my palette. I have a mixing tray that contains commonly mixed colors and then I have tons of egg cartons! I use the top of the plastic egg carton as another mixing tray.
Mug – to hold all my brushes, pencils, etc.
Ipad – for viewing reference photos.
Phoneand earbuds – for taking photos and listening to my favorite podcasts while I paint.
There are several types of watercolor color paint including – pans (or cakes), tubes, and liquid. Many paints are available in student and artists grades. Student grades are a more affordable option, but usually have less pigment.
Pans (or cakes) – When I was starting out I associated watercolor pan sets with the paints I used as a child. I have since learned that the pans available today contain rich, saturated colors and are widely used by many watercolor artists. Just like my Sakura Koi travel palette!
Tubes – I started with tubes and have stuck with them. I was originally gifted a set of Van Gogh tubes. The set includes a variety of colors. It’s a great set to start out with. As I used up my Van Gogh tubes, I began replacing them with Winsor & Newton tubes. I also began adding other colors (like pink and purple) with Winsor & Newton tubes, sometimes with their student grade brand Cotman.
My Palette – I squeezed small amounts of most of my colors into my palette. I reactivate dried paint by mixing it with water. Sometimes I work directly from the tube and use a mixing tray or the top of a plastic egg carton to add water or mix colors. You don’t actually need tons of colors – I often create paintings from primarily just three colors – Ultramarine, Cadmium Red and Cadmium Yellow.
Liquid – Watercolor paint also comes in liquid form. Some liquid watercolors – like the ones below – have an eye dropper top. This seems like a great way to guarantee that you mix the same colors every time – just keep track of how many drops you use. My friend uses liquid watercolors and her colors are rich and vibrant.
Which type of paint you use is a personal preference. I don’t think there is a wrong answer. Pick one to try and see how you like it!
Tip – always keep a scrap piece of paper nearby to test the saturation of a color and/or your color mix before touching your painting!
If you have ever stood in an art store paintbrush aisle, you know how overwhelming selecting brushes can be. There are brushes for every medium, synthetic and natural brushes, and brushes in a variety of shapes and sizes. I have a variety of brushes but in truth I only use a few.
Here are some tips for selecting brushes:
Round brushes are the most commonly used brushes for painting in watercolor
Thick and thin. If you could only buy two brushes I would recommend a medium sized round brush for larger areas (like a 6 or an 8) and a thinner round brush (like a 1 or 2)
Natural vs. synthetic. Synthetic brushes tend to be more affordable and are a good option (especially when you are just starting out.)
Over time I’ve learned:
Flat brushes are great for horizontal lines. I use flat brushes for certain details when painting seascapes.
Very thin brushes (less than 1s) are great for fine lines and detail.
I rarely use bigger brushes (10+). I may use them to wet a background or to paint a gradient in the sky but I primarily use size 8 and smaller. It’s a personal preference that may have to do with the size of the paintings I most commonly create (8”x10”). My choices may also have to do with style I paint in. Some artists paint in a looser style perhaps using larger brushes, and some in a much tighter more realistic style, perhaps using thinner brushes.
There are also specialty brushes for creating certain types of lines like a fan brush. More often than not, I stick with the brush in my hand instead of switching brushes.
Caring for your brushes:
Wash your brushes and lay them flat to dry on a paper towel.
Don’t leave your brushes sitting in water. It will cause the paint on the brush to chip off.
Use an old brush to reactivate dried out paint. I’ve squeezed my paint into a palette. When I want to use a color, I mix it with water. To protect my newer brushes I use an old brush to stir the water into the dried out paint.
The more you paint, the more your own personal preferences and brush needs will emerge. Start with a few round brushes and add from there.
Whenever I travel I bring my watercolors with me. I have a compact travel set that is the perfect amount of colors. Painting while on vacation is a great way to experience a place. I take photos while I’m out with my family and paint during downtime at the hotel. You notice so much more when you are painting something. I’ve painted in NY, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and even France.
It’s Back to School time, so I thought it would be a great time to go back to basics, Watercolor Basics. Let’s talk about paper. When I first started out in watercolor I was using the wrong paper. Watercolor paper is specially designed for watercolor paint – it has texture, absorbs the paint, and can withstand a good amount of “working” at your painting before the paper starts to break down.
I resisted at first because I wanted a very white paper. I was using a paper that had a coating on it and the coating was preventing the paper from absorbing the paint. Eventually I found watercolor papers that were the cool white I wanted. Once I made the switch I realized what a difference the paper actually makes.
“In a nutshell, the terms “hot press” and “cold press” refer to the paper’s surface finish or texture. Cold pressed paper has a slightly bumpy, textured surface. But hot pressed paper has a smooth surface finish. You will also hear artists talking about the tooth of the paper.”
Before I paint, I trim my paper to 9″ x 11″. This creates a painting that fits nicely in mats and frames for 8″ x 10″ artwork. Before I started trimming the paper my paintings were too long for the mats and too much wasn’t visible in a standard mat. I use this mat set for 8″ x 10″ artwork. It includes the mat, backing board, and a clear bag to protect your matted artwork.
Always tape down your paper to a board using painter’s tape. I use the cardboard back of old art pads. The cardboard needs to be larger than your paper.I use a painter’s tape like this one. I prefer tape that is less than an inch wide. The reason for taping down your paper is that water and paint causes paper to buckle. Taping your paper to a board helps keep the paper flat.
It is important to use the correct side of the paper. The side facing up when you take a sheet off the pad. If you have trouble keeping track – make a small pencil x mark on the back side of the paper.
Even though the paper is made for watercolor — Don’t rub your brush too hard or the paper will start to come apart. This can also happen when you overwork a section of your painting.