Monday, August 17th, 2009

How To Start And Finish A Watercolor Painting

1. Get out the supplies

The first thing you want to do is gather what you’ll be painting with and what you’ll be painting on. It is important that the first step isn’t, “Think about what to paint,” or, “Think about past artwork,” especially if you can become discouraged easily. Instead of drawing a creative blank or recalling past disappointments first, just get out (or go buy) your paints, your watercolor paper, paintbrushes, a jar of water, and optionally a paper towel or cloth to wipe excess paint onto, or to take paint off the paper with.

My very portable supply set: Paints, Water, Brushes, Pad

My very portable supply set: Paints, Water, Brushes, Pad

2. Set up the work area

I like to work on a flat table, but depending on the size of watercolor paper, I sometimes work right on my lap, with the paints and water on a table or the ground just next to me. Buying a “pad” of watercolor paper is great for this, and over the last decade, I’ve continually decreased the size of my pad (currently I am working on a 6×9″ Canson pad).

Lighting is key. Try to place yourself in an area with lots of ambient light. If a single light source is used, your head or hand or some other thing can get in the way quite easily. Painting under blue sky is quite nice too.

3. Start lightly

Put some paint on the paper, but water it down a lot. Experienced painters will work the highlights first, but inexperienced painters who don’t know what to paint will want to try a few things before settling on anything. The point is to get painting quickly, and not to worry about coming up with something grand that people will swoon over. If you start light, you can ease yourself into the painting naturally.

4. Manage your time

The arrangement of time plays a significant role is a painting’s character, and in a painter’s mood. A painter can easily succumb to the “perfectionist” attitude, slaving over a painting for what seems like eternity. While the perfectionist attitude may not be a bad thing, often we are left with unfinished works (when paintings don’t arrive at our envisioned ends) which can stack up and erode our confidence in the long-run.

We need to finish pieces. This has always been difficult for me. If something takes too long, my mind goes sour and I start to identify my dissatisfaction. Often I’ll throw a piece to the side and start a new one right away, looking for satisfaction above all.

True, patience grows with practice, but of course it also helps to be aware of your own behavior.

So finishing one in a set time is a great way to proceed if you are someone who grows dissatisfied over time. If you want  to finish a watercolor painting quickly, take about twenty minutes (10 to 20% of the total time spent painting) to be creative. Let yourself be completely free in this first while. After this, buckle up, because it’s time to do the work.

5. Work it

In this stage, it is helpful to embrace your breath. You will spend the majority of your time bringing your creative ideas into focus, painting objects, negative spaces, using lighting concepts and color. Since most of your energy will go here, it helps immensely to actively relax yourself. Let go of everything else, and simply bring the product of your mind and hand to the page.

6. Date it, sign it

Once finished, date the back of the painting for future reference. You might also like to sign it, although signing the front can bring a different feel to your painting, so you may want to use the back.

A recent work of mine: Color Architecture, 2009

A recent work of mine: Color Architecture, 2009

7. Find a frame

Matting is in my opinion an incredible asset to a painting. Find a frame with matting so that your piece is just slightly larger than the window in the matting. I often make the matting myself, but certainly the professionals know where it’s at. Functionally, the matting can keep the surface of your painting from touching the glass, which is a good idea.

8. Hang it up



Chris Gerber is 33 and lives in Vancouver, Canada.

After graduating from a B.Sc (Physics major) program in 2007, he spent seventy days in Southeast Asia with the goal of discovery, on both personal and cultural levels.

Since his return, he has resisted automatic entry into the work-force, spending his time instead wondering how best to serve the world.