Hindsight is always a bit unfair to our past selves, but it’s very helpful when people ask for advice. Considering what I know now, here are a few things I wish I had known sooner, when I got into watercolours.
Back when I started using watercolours, I would use any paper I had on hand. It often ended up being paper from my sketchbook. Needless to say, that paper was absolutely not suited to wet media. It would buckle so much! It was too thin and not sized for watercolour. It would also scan terribly since it was so wavy and I would have to fix many issues with a photo software. The other paper I used more often was the cheapest cellulose paper I could find. I didn’t know any better and it said “watercolour paper” on the cover so that should work, right? I found out much later that there are two types of fibres used for watercolour paper and they don’t work the same way at all. Cotton is more expensive, but handles paint much better. Cellulose is inexpensive but, in my opinion, much harder to use. I would suggest to my younger self to buy better paper. We can buy good cotton paper by the sheet at a decent price and cut it down into smaller sheets. That’s a more approachable way to try cotton paper. (Once you're ready to move on to a sketchbook, our A4 Cold Press Sketchbooks are a good start!)
This tip is very similar in context to the one about paper. I started painting “before the internet” so content related to painting was less accessible. It didn’t occur to me to seek books about the medium at the public library. I was basically just winging it. When it came to purchasing paints, I grabbed the most affordable set and figured that it would be fine. I was focusing on prices alone since I didn’t know any better.
The experience I had with those paints are what made me quit watercolour for a good five years. I wasn’t able to get vivid colours, or dark ones, and I thought that was as far as watercolours would take me. If I could, I would tell my past self to buy the professional paints I can afford. Even if it takes a long time to build up a palette.
Back when I was starting, it would’ve been to check out the public library for art-related resources. Books are still very valuable and not to be neglected. However, with the internet always within reach, learning has never been easier than it is now. Many platforms offer classes, whether for free or on a subscription basis–Etchr Studio has a selection of workshops to choose from! We can search for any watercolour-related question in a browser and get so many responses. If I had thought to seek more knowledge on my own, I would’ve seen what watercolour can do. It would’ve boosted my creativity a lot more.
I remember using watercolour to add a bit of colour to my drawings, but I never played with the medium that much. This was in part a response to the poor result I would get with my supplies. I was so narrow in my usage of the paints that I quickly felt like I had done everything I could and was now seeking new challenges elsewhere. We also learn a lot from our mistakes and I feel that by not experimenting, I missed out on a lot of useful knowledge I figured out much later.
I wish I had asked more questions to the few artists I knew. How they work, how they use this or that, which is their favourite and why…There’s a lot to learn from someone in a mentor position. There’s a way to ask, of course, but they are often happy to share their knowledge. With the internet, we can also look up for demonstrations or interviews with our favourite painters and learn more in this indirect way. Watching someone else paints is also very informative. It was more difficult to access these resources when I started painting, but I had a few good opportunities that I completely missed. If I could, I would definitely tell myself to ask questions and observe.
It’s only much later that I realised that somehow, somewhere, I lost my way. I forgot the one key element to being creative for me, which is to have fun! It became too much of a routine, with very little personal involvement. Do the steps, get to the end, do the next one. I build up this expectation of what things should be, discarding that it has to be about what I want them to be. Making the process fun is what makes working on commissions much more enjoyable. Even if you get a job for something you don’t enjoy, you’ll still find your fun in the making of the piece.
That sounds like a lot, especially all lined up like that. I eventually found my way back to watercolours, even if I still have a few bad habits to fix. I really enjoy working with them now and I can see so much more potential in the medium than before. I was brought back to it through fellow artists sharing their work online and seeing all they did with the paint. I’m still learning new things everyday, so I might end up with a lot more tips in the future!