Do you ever feel that you’d like to be more spontaneous in how you express yourself through watercolor but aren’t sure how to make the shift?
Here are three ideas I keep in mind during my painting practice that you might find helpful.
Have an idea of where you’re going with each piece.
When deciding what to paint, have some idea of what your subject is, and some idea of how you’d like it to look on paper. Being spontaneous when painting doesn’t mean you have no plan. Like taking a vacation we need to have a plan, and welcome the unexpected and interesting surprises as we travel on our way. That’s the fun part!
What I do is to begin by thinking of subjects I like to paint, then gather image references and take photos of things related to the topic. I then make thumbnail pencil sketches to play with compositions that might best express my vision.
Before beginning to work I prepare all the supplies I need: clean water, enough color prepared, brushes, paper towels, extra sheets of watercolor paper. Looking around for the right tool when it’s needed is frustrating and interrupts the flow of my work.
Work on more than one image at a time
Watercolors need time to dry between layers and sometimes it’s just hard to be patient so we push on, pressing our luck because we want to see a piece finished. I once thought that working fast equaled being spontaneous, but I’ve come to understand differently. Occasionally we need to quickly apply a touch of paint before a layer of water dries, but most of the time working steadily and patiently is the secret to producing a fresh-looking watercolor.
What helps me be patient is working on more than one image at a time. Moving from one watercolor to another allows each watercolor layer to dry sufficiently, and that attention shift, between one piece and then another, stimulates interest. Having that little a break first from one painting and then to another is just enough time to permit for a refreshed perspective on the progress of the work.
Take imperfect action
As artists, we are always seeking to better express ourselves, no matter what our present skill level. But the fear of making a mistake and revealing our ‘artistic inadequacy’ can prevent us from exploring new ideas.
Taking action, however imperfectly, and embracing the fear of the new, is how I face this issue. I also find that it helps to maintain a consistent practice and paint something new several days a week. Even if I can only work for a very short period of time in a day, I do my best to stick to this schedule. And I also remember a favorite quote: “Don’t aim for perfection, aim for ‘better than yesterday’!”
Ultimately, what matters most is that we inspire and feed each other with our work. Our personal and creative growth as artists comes from our commitment to the process, not perfection, and this commitment is what will determine our progress.
So what are you going to paint today? If you’d like a suggestion here’s a prompt that might give you some ideas.