I forget my art supplies … so I bought a donut

When I travel, I pack art supplies in case I have down time at the hotel. This trip, I’m in Athens, Georgia, and I forgot my art stuff. Perfect excuse to visit the local art store!

Painting the view out my hotel window with my new travel set.

The k.a. Artist Shop is a really cute art store. It makes me feel like a kid in a candy store – everything looks pretty, and colorful, and I want it all.

I like visiting independent art stores. The Artist & Craftsman Supply in Charleston is another one of my favorites. It has everything and it’s employee owned which is cool.

When I lived in Manhattan, I loved visiting Kate’s Paperie in Soho. Sadly the store is no longer around (as far as I know). Such a colorful, creative store to visit.

At k.a. I bought a new sketchbook. I figured it was a good excuse to sample a different one and update my watercolor journal recommendations post. I also bought a Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolor travel set. The watercolor pans come out, making it convenient to replace and or swap out colors. Unwrapping each color felt like I was unwrapping Starbursts, without the sugar.

Winsor & Newton Cotman Travel Set

After the art store, since I was out in the rain already, I figured I’d try Zombie Donuts. Wow! The freshest, lightest, fluffiest donut I’d ever had. I should have bought more.

Back in the hotel, my donut eaten, I set up my purchases near my big window and started unwrapping each color and testing them out. It’s always good to know the colors in your palette – read this post: Painting Tips for Beginners.

I have to admit, I’m not loving the new sketchbook. It’s mixed media paper, but I don’t think it’s suitable for watercolor. The paper is coming apart as I paint. See my sketchbook/ journal recommendations here. Paper is so important with watercolor!

A few days after I wrote about my time in Georgia, I traveled to upstate New York. We were staying by a lake. Unfortunately one day was pouring. Good thing I had my paints with me!

For more travel watercolor supply recommendations click here.

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12 Tips to Improve your Watercolors

1. Look before you paint. I’m so impatient I want to dive in and start painting. I need to remind myself to stop and observe before my brush hits the paper.

2. Paint the same subject over and over. Painting is seeing. The better you see your subject, the better your paintings will be.

3. Play in a sketchbook regularly. You’ll feel more free to experiment. A sketchbook takes away some of the pressure and the fear of “ruining” a painting. My favorite is the Canon Mixed Media XL.

4. Add more layers of detail for more realistic looking paintings. Don’t forget to allow for drying time between layers.

5. Invest in thin brushes for finer details. I use a 3/0 brush and 5/0 brush. These brushes have made a huge difference for me.

6. Create a color key of all your paints. Paint each color at the darkest (less water) and the lightest (more water). This color guide will help when selecting your colors. It will show you what your paints are capable of.

7. Mix your colors from the primary colors. Even though I have tubes of paint in many colors I often use Winsor & Newton cadmium red, cadmium yellow and ultramarine blue to mix almost all of the colors in a painting. I especially do this when painting seascapes, as it allows for more natural looking ocean colors and allows me to mix more variations on the blues, greens and browns.

8. Create shadow colors by mixing a color with its complement. Sometimes using black for shadows can be harsh and unnatural looking. Instead mix a color with its complement. Colors across the color wheel are complements – red and green, blue and orange, etc. If you need a color wheel – I have a printable one in my Etsy shop – click here.

9. Use painter’s tape to mask areas and to “draw.” I use painter’s tape to tape my watercolor paper to a piece of cardboard to keep the paper from buckling when it gets wet. I also use tape to help me paint a straight horizon line. Sometimes I use it to “draw” a shape and mask an area.

For example a couple of pieces of tape can create the shape of a lighthouse. Then you can freely paint the sky without having to paint around the lighthouse. You paint right over the tape and then peel it up (carefully), when the sky color dries.

10. Add white back in by using white gouache. Instead of leaving white areas blank (the color of the paper), I often add back the white at the end of a painting using white gouache. Gouache is thicker and more opaque than watercolor. I use this when I’m painting seascapes.

11. Try new things and experiment. It’s easy to get comfortable in the way you paint. But it can be beneficial to mix things up. I was “stuck” using 6” x 6” paper until I accidentally ordered bigger. I never went back!

12. Learn from others. Read a blog post, watch a YouTube video, do a painting tutorial. Getting other people’s perspectives and painting tips can be invaluable to your painting process!

I have variety of printable tutorials and video lessons that teach watercolor fundamentals and techniques while you create a beautiful final painting. Browse painting tutorials here.

Coneflower painting lesson

Read Next

Watercolor Wisdom – 12 tips from 12 years of painting

watercolor wisdom – 12 tips from 12 years of painting

Learn Watercolor

Learn the fundamentals with fun painting exercises and projects! Click here for more info.

This post contains affiliate links to products/brands I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!