How (Not) to Learn Watercolor

Are you tired of enjoying watercolor? With these quick tips, you’ll be slogging your way through an unpleasant learning experience in no time. Focus on the destination, not the journey. Remember, the goal is to become perfect, which is both normal and attainable. You’ll know when you’ve arrived! Hold off on everything good until that … Read more

How to Gift Your Art Without Stress

In various periods of my life when I’ve been big into art in a public way, I’ve had friends and family ask for art as a gift, or received comments at the holidays such as “Gift-giving will be easy for you this year since you can just give your art.” This is always intimidating, because the idea of giving my art as a gift can be stressful!

At the same time, I have happily and successfully given my art as gifts on a number of occasions! In this post, I’ll offer tips on how to come up with a great gift idea and keep your stress level low.

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Doing the Thing When You Think You Suck At the Thing

Sometimes you just have to paint cats on it and live to fight another day. A galaxy night sky I was disappointed in, November 2021.

Being a beginner is hard work. Old hands take a lot of things for granted: They know their equipment. They have the basic equipment. They’ve built up muscle memory. They know what style they do. They have a style. They can reliably produce at least a few types of images. They don’t have to look absolutely everything up. 

Why can’t I skip to the step where I’m good at things? 

Here’s what I’m beginning to wonder, though. Is there a point where you feel you are good at things? 

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Do you have to be able to draw to do watercolor?

I drew a lot of magic anime girls when I was a teenager so the idea of drawing doesn’t bother me in theory, but I went into watercover very nervous about my ability to draw landscapes – things like mountains and trees – which I had never practiced before. Tutorials that started with drawing made me nervous. How can I paint something if I can’t draw it?

After working at watercolor drawing and painting for the last year, I believe that they are different, but related skills. It’s definitely possible to learn to paint something without knowing the techniques for effectively drawing the same thing. So if you can’t draw, or don’t really want to learn because paint interests you more, don’t worry. But you may learn more than you think about drawing through the process of watercolor.

Quick sketches showing different ways of composing the same scene: mountain peak in the middle, or mountain peak on the side?

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It’s okay to be basic.

A postcard-sized watercolor painting of a bright purple, red, and yellow sunset over the ocean with silhouettes of palm trees. "Wish you were here" is typed over it in a script font.
(c) January 2022 by Billy Idyll.

I mentioned last post that I’ve been reading a lot of watercolor books, some of which I find off-putting. But even among those that I like and that I learn a lot from, I’ve yet to read one that does not, at some point, completely alienate me by making a little dig at something I like. Usually, it’s bright colors. 

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Rules vs. Tools

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of watercolor books from the library. It is a great source of hidden gems, but I’ve also waded through a lot of material that does nothing for me and, if anything, turns me off the medium. I’m glad I didn’t find those books first! 

Nothing alienates me quicker than an approach to art that is rules-based: “Do this, not that.” “This is wrong, this is right.” “No. Incorrect.” I thought art was subjective! I am simultaneously too freewheeling and too analytical to accept rules-based systems, because in addition to being rigid, they also tend to be contradictory. Any system of art rules invariably ends with “Rule 10: Break the rules,” which invalidates the whole system.

That’s not to say that I don’t want any information or tips. I am reading a book to learn, after all. Teachers can also go too far the other way, simply saying “It’s all up to you! Everything is right! There are no rules! That splotch you made looks great!” And like… I guess I don’t disagree, but this is not helping me learn to paint the way I want to paint. It feels almost like knowledge-hoarding where the teacher does know how to achieve certain effects but won’t share. 

So how can a teacher thread the needle between being unhelpfully rigid and unhelpfully vague?

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Why I love watercolor.

I’ve tried various types of art, but there’s something special about watercolor: it feels like all the skills I’ve honed in various other art forms – photography, pen and ink, colored pencil – are coming together into one perfect mega-medium. Why does it appeal to me so much?  The real answer is that it’s totally … Read more

I am not a watercolor teacher.

I’m a learner, like you. I got my first watercolor paints last Christmas 2020, didn’t open them for three months due to laziness/fear/what if I’m not good at it, and then finally picked up a brush and… wow. Got hooked. Over the last 9 months, I’ve learned how to achieve certain effects pretty reliably, and … Read more