Navigating the Watercolour Conundrum

Navigating the Watercolour Conundrum

Watercolour might be one of the hardest mediums for artists to begin using, but the challenges of watercolour are worth the effort. The use of water in the paint makes it a tricky medium to handle, but the results are astounding. The pigment in the paints granulate, shift, and blend from one colour to another with seamless proficiency. There are a multitude of effects and moods that one can achieve with watercolour, and all of these reasons make watercolour a worthy medium to pursue.

Because of these properties, watercolour can be intimidating to those new to it, but it doesn’t have to be. Watercolour does live up to the hype if one can overcome the challenges and use it proficiently. It’s a medium that any creative can appreciate and excel at, but it takes determination and patience — both with one’s self and the paint.

But how do we shift our initial fear of watercolour, and learn to use it to its full potential?

Mindset is everything.

We go into watercolour believing that it will be our bane, and the constant struggles we face with the medium enforce those fears. But if we adjust our mindset and approach watercolour with a more positive outlook, it can helpfully impact the experience.

When we first dabble in the medium, we’re afraid of failure. We’re afraid to fail because all we hear is that it’s hard and only the most skilled creatives can navigate the terrain. This simply isn’t so. Believing other’s negative expectations of something — especially in creativity — hinders us. 

A positive mindset for watercolour experimentation is vital for a good outcome. Of course, the pieces we create the first time we use watercolour won’t be perfect, but it can still be an incredible experience. Shifting the mindset away from fear and intimidation allows us to accept the mistakes we’ll make. Find the good in the experience and in the learning process!

Dabbling with watercolours thriftily.

We might not be sure whether or not watercolours are right for us, but giving it a shot and trying them out doesn’t hurt. So, what if the best paints are too pricey for someone on a budget? It can be especially hard for students wanting to learn a new medium with little budget leeway.

There’s a simple solution that won’t break the bank, and it’s practical enough for any art student and creative on the budget!

Don’t buy it all, and don’t buy the most expensive paint, paper, and brushes straight away. Now hear me out. I’m not advocating to use cheap art supplies for clients, professional work, student projects, etc. But, before we spend a large sum of money on a medium we aren’t use to, it can be thrifty to wade in slowly. Purchase a few of the better, low-end options (such as store brand sets and tubes). While it’s not suitable for finished work that will last forever, it’s good enough for experimenting.

Another option is to buy one large sheet of excellent watercolour paper and one or two tubes of quality paint. It won’t cost too much, but it’s enough to get a feel for the paint properly.

Use the right tools.

Even though you might be in the experimental stages of watercolour, it’s important not to skimp too much on either the paper or the paint. Using the cheapest paper and paints might be the exact reason why a creative is struggling with the medium. 

Using the cheapest watercolour set the art store offers is one cause a creative might have a horrible experience with a truly incredible medium. Cheap colours will be off, they won’t layer or glaze properly, and they won’t be as translucent. Nothing will turn out well. 

The same goes for paper: use actual watercolour paper. Don’t use bristol board or sketch paper. They aren’t made for handling water washes. Watercolour paper is, and it can impact your experiments. The 100% cotton options are always the best route.

Experiment constantly.

Experiment, experiment, experiment! This is important when understanding watercolour. We might experiment once or twice, decide we like it, and dive right in; but there are so many facets to watercolour. Continuous experimentation helps us become proficient. There are washes, dry-brush strokes, layering, granulation of the pigment, etc.

By the way, a low-end watercolour sketchbook or pad is good for watercolour experiments! 

Embrace the watercolour mishaps.

If we’re a perfectionist in our work, then it can be difficult to let watercolour work for us. Being open to the fact that we can’t predict watercolour frees us to embrace it more. Watercolour is a free-spirited medium. Once we realise this and let it work for us, it can transform our style and pieces tremendously — especially if we see the mishaps as quirkily charming.

Watercolour is a patient process.

The hardest part of watercolour might be the temptation to give up before we had a chance to really understand it. Water is an integral aspect of the medium, and it isn’t easy to control. The answer to this is to not be in a rush. Let things dry, shift, blend, and granulate. Be patient with it.

Upgrade as your handle of the medium grows.

Once we decide we want use watercolour seriously, what then? The next step is to gradually begin using better tools without blowing too much money. Upgrade gradually. Artists are constantly growing, and we create a lot of pieces that will never see the light of day. It’s a part of the growth. Slowly upgrade paint quality alongside that growth. Procure the next tier of paint little by little. Once we’ve reached another level of skill in our watercolour and creative work, we can upgrade, gradually, again.

Watercolour isn’t hard to use, but it can be complicated to understand. It isn’t like oils, acrylics, or gouache. If we approach it without assumptions, positively, and patiently, we’ll find that watercolour actually does work for us very well.

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