Module 10 — Paint Like Water

Do you ever find yourself asking, “How do I paint this subject in watercolor?”

It can be helpful to flip this question around, and ask instead, “What subjects, effects or styles would watercolor naturally work well for?” Or, “How can I design a painting around my favorite themes that showcases the beauty of watercolor or make use of a watercolor effect I really enjoy?” 

Watercolor actually has an enormous range of possible looks and effects, but there are definitely some things where it has advantages over other media, for example, soft edges and lovely smooth blends of color. Many wet-into-wet effects would be difficult to mimic in other painting media. 

While some people choose to work in watercolor primarily for its ease of cleanup, portability or low toxicity, most of us chose watercolor primarily because of these unique watercolor effects. If that’s true for you, why not be strategic about designing paintings where a “watercolor look” is naturally suited to what you want to express. 

Module 10 Thinking Prompt—What is Watercolor Good For?

NOTE: I’m using watercolor as my example, because most of my viewers paint in watercolor. If you work in another medium, substitute that medium. The same concepts apply. 

Why did you choose watercolor (or whatever medium you work in)? Which of your reasons are practical considerations (or compromises)? What, if anything, about the look or behavior of watercolor drew you to the medium? What watercolor effects or natural behavior do you like to exploit or showcase in your paintings?

(If the answer is “nothing”, is there another medium that calls to you more? Is there any way you can work in that medium—or something more closely related? Or can you adapt how watercolor is typically used so that it would have more of the properties that you prefer?)

Module 10 Activity Prompt—Let the Water Move the Paint

In most painting media, the brush (or other tool) moves the paint. If the artist doesn’t take action to move the paint, it just sits there. In contrast, many of the hallmark effects of watercolor are a result of allowing the water to move the paint. 

In this activity, let’s explore wet-into-wet effects and think about how to exploit them. What do these effects remind you of? Where could you let some watercolor effect do most of the work of suggesting something?

There are lots of ideas out there in other books and videos for wet-into-wet techniques to try, so I won’t try to describe them all here. But, if you’re new to watercolor and need some ideas to get you started, you might want to watch a bit more of the video than usual to give you some options. 

Some things to pay attention to:

  • dry paper vs. damp paper vs. wet paper vs. flooded paper (so wet there’s a puddle on the surface) vs. paper with spattered or sprayed water droplets 
  • lots of liquid in your brush vs. a small amount of liquid in your brush
  • dropping color on wet paper vs. dropping color into another still-wet color
  • different behavior for different pigments (some pigments are “bossy” and shove other colors away; some pigments settle quickly and others move farther on wet paper and others move dramatically)
  • behaviors of mixtures vs. single pigments (some interesting effects occur when a pigment that settles quickly is combined with one 
  • dropping in water or color when the wash is beginning to dry (lose its shine) to create intentional blooms
  • using gravity or blown air to move the paint vs. leaving it flat
  • dealing with (or exploiting) the puddling that results when the paper starts buckling

Module 10 Journaling Together Video

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