Watercolour: It’s just not that kick ass… is it?


The Foot Doodle and Big Drama

The foot was a doodle, but I had wanted to continue my experiments with watercolour to bring some life and colour to it.

The root of it is that I don’t really trust watercolours.

I feel much more comfortable with a medium where I can block in the darks first in a monotonal style, and paint/ colour over any subsequent errors. Watercolour seems like a whispy-light medium which involves a lot more control and patience than my instincts prefer.

However, I am often on the move and watercolours are lightweight, cause minimal mess and can be used relatively easily with a small sketchbook.

I love their vibrancy, and am often attracted to watercolour illustrations (see Gatto Bravo for masterclass).

But I’m one for big drama. Dark darks, light lights* and I’m not afraid to do a hefty amount of crosshatching to achieve it. I couldn’t bear to take my paintbrush straight to paper for the foot, and subsequently there is some cross hatching.

What YouTube taught me about Tone

It turns out, directly, not that much, but I’ve had some time this afternoon to conduct some investigations into how to tackle watercolour overall.  I have discovered four inspirational characters who have made me (quite radically) reconsider the medium.

Mike Chaplin: Experiment

For the Tate, Mike Chaplin presents 3 short videos, outlining his thoughts about line, tone and colour, as inspired by a Turner exhibition at the Tate Modern in London. There were several gems to be had among these videos, but the best lesson for me was the use of studies and paint experiments, including by Turner himself (!) to build up technique and understanding of the medium and the effects to be had.

Alvaro Castanget: Less Control, More Passion

No one could accuse Castanget’s watercolours of being wishy-washy: bold colours, dramatic contrasts, and the fairly effortless suggestion of form, rather than some kind of slavish struggle to capture it. Castagnet has a very latin spirit and the swagger of rock star. It’s fair to say there is a lot of joy in what he does.

Joseph Zbukvic: Tell a story

This is a more serious chap, but he starts by defacing a photograph in the name of creating a more “interesting story”, and creates a tram from nowhere!

So I’m feeling reasonably inspired to try some new things!

* and unfortunately frequently a wide range of muddy mid tones 😦

8 thoughts on “Watercolour: It’s just not that kick ass… is it?

  1. Oh watercolour is totally kick ass, but it is super challenging and not very forgiving. Your paper will make a huge difference, regular sketchbook (not watercolour paper) seems to soak up pigment and water really quickly so you don’t have much room to move paint around, often getting a hard edge that’s hard to lift. I was finding the experience frustrating but then tried proper watercolour paper and found it a better and easier experience. You can work dark to light too, but it’s good to practice mixing enough rich pigment to make those darker really dark. If you’re using student paints (particularly pans) it’ll be harder to get those rich darks. Make sure the paints are moist when you start using them (I spray mine with a mister and let it sit for a few minutes). Again it varies between brands how well they will rewet, but you want almost a tube consistency. You can lay in the darks and use a damp or slightly wet brush to pull those darks out to soften the edge and create form. You could also layer light layers and go increasingly darker but you have to make sure the paper is bone dry before applying the next layer or you end up getting muddy. The best thing to do is just play and experiment, for every “rule” you find there’s someone who breaks it, see what works for you. BTW I think your foot looks great, even looking past the hatching I can see a lot of great tones and love how you weren’t a slave to accurate colour. I want to see more!


    1. This is great advice! I had always thought the building up of light layers was the main way to go (hence I found it frustrating and and lost patience). I may just have to invest in some watercolour paper 🙂 to try to work “wetter”. I have a few days off work so I’m due to try some dark into light now and see how that feels! Thank you for the advice and encouragement 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad that I could maybe help, I know how you feel, I’m very impatient and hate working in layers. If you check out Charles Reid most of his work is done dark to light and all in one go.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This looks great! Watercolor really is challenging, I think it´s a lot harder than oil, for example. What I learned painting with watercolors: learn to let go, you can´t control them completely; don´t pay attention to any “rules” if you want interesting pictures. Watercolor is quite anarchistic. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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