Try Plein Air Painting This Summer… Get Outdoors!

Summer and the longest days of the year have arrived; it’s the perfect time to get out for some fresh air, to relax, and to paint. Painting outside in nature can be fun and different, whether you make it a field trip to the woods, a park, a nature preserve, or just sit out on your own doorstep. If you’ve already planned a trip to the beach, gather your sketchbook and paints to take along. Take a few painting supplies when mountain climbing. When you reach the summit, you could rest while doing a quick sketch and painting of the view. Or sit on the dock at the lake to paint the clouds and water. A change of scene can encourage close observation and inspire us.

Ocean view inspiration.
Summit View Inspiration.

MATERIALS.

Before starting out, consider your supplies. Keep your art kit on the small and lightweight side since you’ll be carrying it with you. Pack it in a bag ahead of time, so you’ll be ready to go when the time is right. 

In my kit I include a small sketchbook (that I use to record color and weather observations, to create thumbnails, to make sketches and contour drawings, to experiment with color matching (i.e. as a test sheet), to make notes of ideas). I also pack a small ‘block’ of watercolor paper (which is easy to hold on my lap for painting). I suggest including a watercolor travel palette like this one from amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Winsor-Newton-Cotman-Water-Colour/dp/B000PD3LY4/ref=sr_1_23?crid=1T41EILMKX301&keywords=winsor+newton+watercolor+set&qid=1656615455&sprefix=winsor+neton%2Caps%2C128&sr=8-23.  (When the paint in the small half pans has been exhausted, I refill the pans from watercolor tubes in my choice of colors.) The above set includes paint, a travel brush, and small water pots as well as a water container. If your paint set doesn’t include a brush or two, water in a container, and a water holder (for painting and cleaning your brushes), you will need to add these to your kit. If you prefer, water brushes (which have a water reservoir attached to a nylon brush) are available, so added water would not be necessary. I have some water brushes, but personally I don’t find their quality to be very good. A pencil, eraser, paper towels (or tissues), a viewfinder, perhaps some water-soluble drawing pencils, and watercolor pencils are also good to bring along. Depending on how far I will be going, I might also bring a hat, a folding chair, and something to drink. 

I enjoyed making my own small accordion sketchbook to take on outdoor sketching trips recently. I cut a full sheet (22X30″) of watercolor paper into three strips, attached them to each other, and used two pieces of leftover mat board for a cover. I keep it closed when not in use with a covered elastic headband. The finished sketchbook size is 4X6″; it opens into a continuous painting area of about 6X72″, or 18 pages on one side, and 6X64″, 16 pages, on the opposite side.

Handmade Sketchbook With Mat Board Cover.
Handmade Accordion Sketchbook Opened.

HOW TO CHOOSE WHAT TO PAINT.

When you arrive at your destination, look for a comfortable, interesting spot. The first part of your process involves looking around to get familiar with what’s in front of you. Look closely and think about what draws you in. Take your time. If you have a viewfinder, use it to help you pick your subject for painting. (You can make your own viewfinder by cutting a rectangle out of white card stock.) Looking through the hole, move the viewfinder closer and farther away from your eye to “zoom” in and out.  Wait for a composition to come into the frame that appeals to you. 

Wood Pile Inspiration.
Bare Trees Inspiration.

You can also plan a composition by drawing several quick thumbnail sketches in your sketchbook to begin to translate what you see into two dimensions on paper. See this blog post for more information on the advantages of thumbnails: Hold Your Horses!, (7/17/2020), https://leemuirhaman.com/2020/07/17/hold-your-horses/ . Sketch out various viewpoints or arrangements of the scene to find your preferences. Pick one of your thumbnails to paint, without overthinking.

TIPS.

There is no need to include everything you see in your painting. In fact, your picture will be stronger without including every detail. Observe the scene closely, but allow yourself to improvise, be spontaneous, even play, using what you see as your starting point. Feel free to paint smaller and quicker than you usually do, since the light will shift and the weather can change unexpectedly. If desired, use your smartphone to snap a couple of quick pictures of the light or colors just in case you need the information later.

Notice big shapes and a range of lights and darks. Look for patterns, color combinations, or shadows, for instance, to focus on. For more information about how to think about shapes in your artwork, look at Simplify Your Watercolors By Focusing On Shapes!, (7/16/2019), https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/07/16/simplify-your-watercolors-by-focusing-on-shapes/

Barn Shapes Inspiration.
Purple And Green Cabbage Color Inspiration.

YOU GET TO CHOOSE.  

Outdoor painting is a good way to start moving beyond copying because you don’t use others’ photo references. You get to decide your own subject and your own focus during your painting session. Paint what you find most interesting. You can choose to include or leave out whatever you wish. Since you will be in control of determining your main concept, edit out anything that is not important to the story you will be telling in the painting.

MANY APPROACHES.

There are many ways to approach outdoor painting. Generally, outdoor paintings tend to be done more quickly and loosely than studio paintings because time available is limited. So, simplify and try not to get bogged down with details. Instead, one way to begin painting is to use light washes to block out the main areas of color on the paper. Then work on the lightest areas first. You can gradually build up and intensify colors as you proceed to create depth and detail. 

One artist I know begins by loosely painting colored shapes first, then drawing line and detail later when the original colors have dried. She uses various materials for these later layers, sometimes choosing more watercolor, or perhaps Pigma micron pens, Faber Castell Pitt pens, or Caran D’Ache Neocolors. Another artist friend will start with a loose, very light pencil sketch before applying any paint. Yet another artist I know makes a lot of separate watercolor marks (squiggles, dashes, dots, lines, blobs), but no washes of color to describe the scene, much like pointillism. When the color on the paper has dried, this artist lightly softens marks to merge colors, fill in white space, and create shadows.

FINALLY.

Give plein air painting a try, especially if it’s new to you. You may just fall in love with it. It can be fun to experiment with something new and different. 

Paint what inspires you. And when your painting session is done, your outdoor painting can stand on its own or become the basis for a later studio painting.

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Find Your Inspiration And Create Original Work!

When first learning to paint, I wanted my paintings to look exactly like the references I used. I desperately hoped to acquire skills and technique so I could recreate the work of other artists. I searched for watercolor instructors to take classes so I could learn how to copy! After all, isn’t that how we learn? We copy and practice, taking advantage of another artist’s suggestions about color, style, and composition. Over time, I became an excellent copier, and I became more confident in my painting skills. However…

MOVING BEYOND COPYING.

Copying started to bore me. Ugh! My paintings were technically well done, but there was not much of me or my personality in them. For instance, my painting of a luna moth on tree bark was accurate, but now it seems a bit flat and static to me. At some point I realized that there had to be more! 

Luna Moth On Bark Watercolor Painting.

Things definitely got more interesting to me when I began to alter and interpret references. In a painting of Boston Marathon runners, for instance, I removed some runners and transformed one into one of my sons, who ran cross-country. I painted my first granddaughter as the young girl on a carousel. Another granddaughter I painted with a pile of gingersnaps that she had absconded with. This was a much more satisfying way to paint!

Wren and Gingersnaps Watercolor Painting.

I really began to want to move beyond copying. I soon yearned to learn how to design my own work and tell my own stories in my art. At the same time I continued to study watercolor technique and composition, knowing that I still had more to learn.

PERSONALIZE.

I don’t think anyone can tell you how to create art work in your own style. No one can tell you what issues are important to you. You have to do that for yourself. We are each unique individuals who see the world based on our own experiences and interests. Your style, like your handwriting, cannot help but come out. But style is more likely to emerge when we stop copying every last detail of an image and begin to interpret references.

Listen to yourself (notice your feelings) to better understand how to create work that has meaning for you. Worry less about whether your art is ‘good enough’ or what others will think of your work.

HOW?

Sometimes you don’t know where to start to create ‘original’ art. I remember not knowing how to design a painting or even what I wanted to paint. I felt at a loss and uncertain. I had to get to know myself better and become more confident even while I was learning more about art. I needed to reconnect with my own intuition and become more aware of my own preferences and feelings. And trust myself. That kind of growth is not likely to happen all at once – it certainly didn’t for me. I often felt that I knew better what I didn’t like than what I did like. Gradually, though, I noticed being drawn to some topics, some compositions more than others. I found myself wanting to eliminate certain parts of a reference or to combine two reference photos to build a scene more interesting to me. I was even excited to take some of my own photos to use for reference. With time, I began to acknowledge my own independence and value my own opinion. It remains an ongoing process; it isn’t always easy. I continue to wean myself from over-dependence on others’ photo references. 

LOOK INWARD.

To begin to reduce a dependence on copying and using other artist’s ideas, start to look inward. Look for your own inspiration. What  interests you? What excites you? What gives you joy? What kind of painting do you enjoy seeing or creating? 

Your heart knows the way. Run in that direction. (Rumi)

Experiment and try new things. Notice where you lose track of time and fall into the enjoyment of painting. Are you fascinated by landscapes and paintings of the outdoors? Do you prefer flowers, or a still life? Could you spend all day exploring colors? Does it thrill you to see paint flow? Or would you rather paint lots of details close up?

There is no formula. What do you want to create? What would you paint if no one was looking? What makes you happy? What do you always return to in your art? That is your inspiration.

What do I like? I find I really enjoy painting landscapes, the outdoors, or scenes relating to the disappearing traditions of New England. I seem to be searching for the forgotten, the lost, the answer that’s always right around the corner – I always seem to be searching. I’m drawn again and again to images of dirt roads, doorways, windows, streams and rivers moving on, distant hills, fog and mist. 

Flowing Forward Watercolor Painting.
Tristan’s Fall Road Watercolor Painting.

DON’T FORCE.

You cannot force insight or creativity or intuition, but you can be open to them. Find a place of calm inside yourself, not of fear, self-doubt, or anxiety, to better notice your thoughts and intuitions. In other words, a fearless open mind will invite creativity in. 

Personally, I find it hard to ‘let go’ of striving, to create a place of acceptance and calm in my mind. My tendency is to keep pushing, to produce results, which doesn’t always end very well. I have to keep telling myself that things happen in their own time, on their own schedule, sometimes when you least expect it. After all, some of my best painting experiences happened unexpectedly when my hand and my brush took off and left my ego behind; then the painting somehow flowed and took on a life of its own. 

Pitcher and Pears Watercolor Painting.

You could describe this letting go and being open as Annie Dillard did in Pilgrim At Tinker’s Creek. She describes one way of seeking not “as actual pursuit” but as putting “myself in the way of“ what is being sought. She adds “Something might come; something might go.” Roger Ebert said it another way. “ The muse visits during the act of creation, not before. Don’t wait for her. Start alone.” In other words, keep on painting but don’t try to force anything.

Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working. (Pablo Picasso)

HOW COULD I DO IT?

A helpful resource to build for yourself is a FILE of inspiring images. You can cut out pictures from magazines (of colors you like, shapes that might work in your art, interesting people, beautiful vistas). Photos taken on a walk could be added to your inspiration file. Gather online images from Pinterest, Facebook groups (such as ‘Landscape References Photos For Artists’ or ‘Free Reference Photos For Artists’ ), or websites of copyright free images (pexels.com , unsplash.com , https://publicdomainarchive.com/index.html , watercolor world (https://www.watercolourworld.org/), Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/), British Library Copyright Free Images (https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/albums)) . Check museum websites for copyright free images ( for example, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/the-collection ).

You can file or organize images by topic to make later retrieval easier.

I look for inspiring images from my photos taken on walks, by scrolling various online copyright free sites, in books, and compiled images from  several of my photographer friends. I search for shapes, colors, themes to adapt for my art.

You could visit museums near you to look for inspiration. Start sketching, whether everyday objects, shapes, or the view out your window, to create images to inspire your art work. Go for walks (and snap your own photos) in the woods or parks, around your town or city. Notice and take note of what interests you.

IN PRACTICE.

Be open to new ideas. When you choose to adapt a reference, use your intuition and imagination to create something original. A reference can be a mere starting point for your painting. This approach often works for me because I think of each painting as a kind of puzzle to be solved. I enjoy the ‘detective’ work of figuring out how I might approach and create a painting. 

Try to notice your own reactions as your work progresses. Does it feel right when you eliminate parts or simplify details? Do the changes make your statement stronger? Could you combine several photos into one painting? Rearrange objects to emphasize your center of interest? Make sure to include both soft and hard edges, maybe lost edges, to encourage the viewer’s imagination? What if you change the mood, season, or time of day? Try to include some visual energy in the painting. Varying the quality of light can create contrast or a glow so that you are not recreating a flat, dull scene. Change the viewpoint by zooming in for a closeup or pulling out to create a distant vista. Altering your color choices can also give a very different feel to the work. Or you can totally shake things up by taking only colors or shapes from your reference to create abstract paintings. You can even paint completely from your imagination, without any reference.

FINALLY.

Experiment. Ask yourself, is this painting working for me? Take credit for taking action even if it doesn’t work. Then keep going! Finding your own inspiration can be exhilarating!

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Ten Fun Things To Liven Up Your Art!

Don’t know what to paint? Disappointed in your last paintings and feeling inadequate? Bored with your art? Need some inspiration? Craving some creative calm? Try something new!

Here are a few things to excite you and help you change your art up:

1.) Invest in a new brush! But, don’t buy just any old brush. As a watercolorist, it’s so much easier to paint well with a decent brush! Here is my new favorite brand. Give yourself a boost with an ESCODA Versatil brush, a SYNTHETIC brush designed to have the attributes of a natural kolinsky. These brushes hold a lot of water, have a firm spring, a sharp point, plus durability. A size #10 pointed round sells for about $20 (on dickblick.com, jerrysartarama.com, or cheapjoes.com). Nothing makes play more fun than a new toy! What a treat!

2.) Take an actual (or virtual!!!) trip to a museum to get inspired. For instance, the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent, Belgium, currently has a Jan van Eyck exhibit up ( through April 30, 2020) entitled “Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution”. While the actual exhibit is closed until April 5, zoomable images can be found at closertovaneyck.kikirpa.be and on their Van Eyck page.

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What art did you enjoy looking at? What did you especially like? Can you borrow some ideas about technique, treatment of light, or use of color to adapt to your own paintings? Track done another museum you’d like to check out. Look at the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibits (https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/current-exhibitions), The Worcester Art Museum (https://www.worcesterart.org/exhibitions/), or The Wadworth Atheneum Museum of Art (https://www.thewadsworth.org/), for example.

3.) Try a new brand of watercolor paper. Make sure it is ARTIST GRADE 100% cotton fiber (NOT cellulose), such as Arches, Waterford, Fabriano, Lanaquarelle, or Indigo Handmade. Most of these brands can be found online (dickblick.com, jerrysartarama.com, or cheapjoes.com). Remember that you can sometimes buy an assortment of different papers, or a pad or block of a different brand – you needn’t buy full sheets. I recently got some Indigo paper from amazon.com and am looking forward to giving it a try. These papers made of cotton absorb paint much more evenly and make it easier to paint well! They are definitely worth any extra cost. Experiment!

4.) Find some inspiration by buying yourself a new or used watercolor book to immerse yourself in. Learn about all the critical ingredients that turn paintings into art with Joseph Zbukvic’s Mastering Atmosphere and Mood in Watercolor or Thomas W. Shaller’s Architect of Light: Watercolor Paintings By a Master. Or look into the amazing John Singer Sargent: Watercolors (https://www.amazon.com/John-Singer-Sargent-Erica-Hirshler/dp/0878467912/ref=sr_1_6?crid=2FWU61E1CBLTR&keywords=john+singer+sargent+books&qid=1585064924&sprefix=%2Caps%2C162&sr=8-6). Looking to shake things up? Try Mark Mehaffey’s Creative Watercolor Workshop. Or, if you’re a beginner, check out Watercolour For Starters by Paul Talbot-Greaves, Let’s Get Started by Jack Reid, or Painting For The Absolute and Utter Beginner by Claire Watson Garcia.

zbukvic.jpg

5.) Gift yourself a new tube of watercolor paint in a color you might like but do not have. Wouldn’t Daniel Smith’s Lavender be beautiful? Try a tube of Cobalt Teal Blue, Quinacridone Gold, or Bloodstone. Fun!

6.) Look at your paints in a new way by arranging them in a round palette (see robax.com) in a color wheel format. To learn how much easier color mixing can be with a color wheel format read my recent blog post Color Choices For a Circular Palette, published 2/11/20, https://leemuirhaman.com/2020/02/11/color-choices-for-a-circular-palette/.

7.) Sign up for a watercolor workshop with a talented artist. Now is the time to plan! Get a couple of your friends to go with you, if you want, and make a day of it. I’m really looking forward to a Robert J. O’Brien workshop with two of my friends at New England School of Fine Art, Worcester, MA., http://www.nesfa-worcester.com/index.html, entitled ‘The New England Landscape’, on May 30, 2020.

8.) Or perhaps you’d enjoy taking an online workshop. Many artists offer online instruction. I have been developing several online art workshops that will be available in the near future. Stay tuned for news, or contact me to express interest. In the meantime, look at the offerings from artists Angela Fehr, Rebecca Rhodes, Anna Mason, or Birgit O’Connor. Courses are also available from Artist Network, https://www.artistsnetwork.com/, or Art Tutor, https://www.arttutor.com/classes. Some classes can also be found for free at jerrysartarama.com. And finally, YouTube has many free videos on watercolor technique.

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9.) Find yourself a new piece of art equipment to help you paint better and LEARN TO USE IT. A gray scale or value scale, for example, can help you create more dynamic and effective paintings by improving your light and dark contrast. Don’t know what a gray scale is? Read my blog post Why Should I Bother To Use A Gray Scale?, posted 5/21/19, https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/05/21/why-should-i-bother-to-use-a-gray-scale/, for more information.

Rankin's value scale.jpg

10.) Finally, try something NEW or BREAK SOME RULES! Don’t take things too seriously. Paint with some unexpected colors, or unusual color combinations. Add some complementary colors that you don’t actually see in your reference image to add interest to your painting. Or zoom in close to your subject to crop out unnecessary details. Change your viewpoint in your picture to either raise or lower the horizon line. Try looking down on your subject, e.g. painting a lake looking down from a cliff. Alter the mood in your painting, perhaps creating a more somber, dark, heavy, moody image. Or try charging your colors ON your paper (see the watercolors of John Singer Sargent, especially his images of sunlight on stone, one of which is below) to add life to your picture and prevent a flat lifeless wash. Or exaggerate your lights and darks. Above all, focus on the PROCESS of painting without worrying about (or even considering) the result.

john singer sargent.jpg

John Singer Sargent watercolor.

Choose one of the ten above suggestions to try – begin with the one that excites you most. Then try another – just keep painting or thinking about your art. Strive to keep calm through your creativity. And ENJOY your painting!

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A Baker’s Dozen of My Favorite Watercolor Books…(Part 2)

Let’s continue here with the second half of my list of favorite watercolor books. Enjoy!

Painting Successful Watercolours from Photographs ( 2015) by Geoff Kersey.      Artists who work from photographic source material need to learn to adapt and improve upon their photo references in order to create a successful painting. Geoff Kersey is a master of this way of working, and here he shows how to create a dramatic painting without overworking or putting too much detail. Reference photos, color charts, and preparatory sketches are shown alongside Kersey’s finished paintings in this book, with full details of the adaptations of each photo reference and the creative process involved. There are many clear tips, lots of advice, and an illustrated glossary of all the painting terms used. I would recommend Painting Successful Watercolours From Photographs to painters who like to use photos in composing their pictures.

kersey.jpg

 

Geoff’s Top Tips For Watercolour Artists (2011) by Geoff Kersey (updated 2018 as Geoff Kersey’s Pocket Book For Watercolour Artists: Over 100 Essential Tips To Improve Your Painting.)                                                                                                      In this wonderful resource, Kersey covers many of the main techniques and methods he uses to create his watercolor landscape paintings. He describes the basics, then begins to teach the reader, by example, how to actually approach and begin a painting. Kersey presents step-by-step lessons for a variety of specific settings, including painting skies, mountains, trees, water, buildings, coastal scenes, and snow scenes.

Geoff Kersey has also written (in addition to the three books of his mentioned above) How To Paint Skies, Watercolour Trees and Woodlands, Watercolour Landscapes, Watercolour Seascapes, Trees, Woodlands and Forests, and others. And Kersey offers video classes on arttutor.com.

 

The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook: Landscapes (2006) by Gordon MacKenzie is fantastic! (Note: The Complete Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook (2010) includes both the original Essential Notebook and this recommended Essential Notebook: Landscapes.)  I use information from this book in my own painting and return to the book repeatedly. MacKenzie presents many techniques in a simple, straightforward, easy to follow manner, but then he adds even more information that is relevant and interesting. The book answered many of my questions about water, trees, skies, colors, ‘fading out’, mood, composition, light effects, negative painting, and so on. You may have heard that some watercolor paints are better than others, but by reading this book I came to understand WHY  ‘good’ watercolor paints are better than others. MacKenzie explains how poorer quality paints can be made from different pigments, with different amounts of fillers, and sometimes with  pigments that are unreliable.

Gordon MacKenzie has also written The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook: Keep Painting! to help you recharge your creative spirit and stay excited about painting with watercolor.

mackenzie.jpg

 

Watercolor Basics: Let’s Get Started (1998) by Jack Reid.                                              This is a great book for beginners! The author covers what tools and materials to start with and proceeds with clear, understandable instructions to describe steps to take to create a painting. He introduces and demonstrates  simple techniques, then begins to gradually combine several of the techniques to show the reader how to paint more difficult subjects. Reid maintains, “After 25 years of teaching thousands of novice watercolorists the simple methods contained in this book, I firmly believe that anyone willing to follow the directions and do the work cannot fail to achieve a successful picture. If I can do it, so can you” (page 9). Upon completion of this book, beginners should be able to produce some of their own paintings without frustration or discouragement.

Reid has also written the excellent Watercolor Basics: Painting Snow and Water (2000).

 

Watercolor Lessons From Eliot O’Hara (1974) by Carl Schmalz, is an out-of-print classic. Schmalz has compiled and shared many lessons from the famous Eliot O’Hara School, first opened at Goose Rocks Beach, Maine, in 1931. Eliot O’Hara has been called America’s greatest teacher of watercolor. These lessons are clear, concise, and specific, and teach the gradual acquisition of particular skills necessary for watercolor painting. There are lots of black and white illustrations in this book, with color plates located in the center pages. The relative lack of color illustrations can make the book appear dated; however, the lessons are packed full of information to apply to your paintings.

I would recommend Watercolor Lessons From Eliot O’Hara to anyone serious about learning watercolor who will not need to be ‘entertained’ with numerous dramatic colored pictures to sustain their interest.

 

Watercolor For Starters: Step-By-Step Projects for Successful Paintings (2005) by Paul Talbot-Greaves is an excellent book for beginners. Talbot-Greaves provides detailed information on basic techniques. His writing is easy to understand. He has a knack for simplifying images and removing extraneous details in his demonstrations so that beginners can be successful right from the start. Talbot-Greaves covers color, tone, many techniques, composition, and so on. Many step-by-step demonstrations, progressing from simple to more difficult, are included.

 

Developing Style In Watercolor (1992) by Ray Campbell Smith.                                    Style is the quality that distinguishes one painter’s work from another’s. Just as people evolve their own distinctive handwriting, so in time painters develop  individual styles. The author explains how the correct choice of materials (paper, paint, brushes) will help in the quest for genuine style. Instead of trying to copy artists they admire, aspiring painters are encouraged to develop fluent brush work, choose a limited color palette, and strive for sound but original composition. Campbell Smith feels that timidity, tightness, and the need to paint exactly ‘what is there’ are the main obstacles to the development of fluent style. The author suggests techniques and brush work for avoiding the above-mentioned pitfalls. This is an inspiring book.

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I highly recommend all of the above books. However, the watercolor books I most love are by Gordon MacKenzie and Geoff Kersey.

 

A Baker’s Dozen of My Favorite Watercolor Books…(Part 1)

I LOVE books! And I really love watercolor painting books!! I wanted to share my favorite watercolor books with you. While looking through my collection and trying to choose the best, I realized that I wanted books that offered specifics and clear instruction while also being useful and practical. I chose some books appropriate for beginners, some for more experienced painters, and others appropriate for both groups and all painters in between. After much deliberation, I share these personal favorites, which are listed alphabetically, by author’s last name:

 

Making Color Sing, 25th Anniversary Edition: Practical Lessons in Color and Design (2011, originally published in 1986) by Jeanne Dobie.                              Color, color, color! Don’t buy lots of tubes of paint – just read this book to see how a few basic colors can create almost any color there is. Dobie’s book may change the way you paint with watercolor.

In the 25th anniversary edition of Making Color Sing, Jeanne Dobie teaches you new ways to think about color and make it work for you, through 31 clear, easy-to-follow exercises. No color exists in isolation; colors are always interacting with one another. As the author explains, understanding color relationships is the key to successful painting.

The lessons on color lead into another essential painting consideration: composition and design. Painting is much more than copying what you see. It involves finding a structure that allows you to organize and thus communicate your impressions and reactions. Dobie encourages artists to experiment with different arrangements of shapes and values to build a dynamic foundation in their paintings. This book stimulates new ways to think about color, generating responses that unlock personal creativity and allow artists to express themselves with paint.

I recommend Making Color Sing to those who have some experience in watercolor as well as to more advanced watercolor artists.

 

Powerful Watercolor Landscapes (2011) by Catherine Gill.                                    This book gives you the “power tools” you need to transform dull, flat landscapes into robust, colorful expressions of your artistic vision. Each chapter focuses on a specific strategy for tackling tough challenges, complete with inspiring examples, hands-on demonstrations, and instructional diagrams to make these strategies easy and fun to learn. Following Gill’s masterful visual instruction, you’ll learn how to:

  • See beyond “what you see” to develop strong foundations in every composition

  • Avoid repainting, overworking, and frustration by focusing on a composition’s unifying elements

  • Become decisive with your values for heightened interest and impact

  • Quickly and easily mix a huge range of clean, rich colors—including vibrant grays and greens—with no more mud!

  • Put it all together, following detailed step-by-step demonstrations of complete paintings from start to finish

The author wants you to get beyond replicating a scene, but instead to start infusing your art with impressions and feeling. Gill can tell you WHY a piece of art catches your eye and HOW to create art with that kind of impact.

Powerful Watercolor Landscapes is NOT a book for someone who wishes to paint exactly what they see before them, but for a painter who wants to create expressive art with impact.

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Texture Techniques For Winning Watercolors (1999, 2014) by Ray Hendershot. (First edition better reproduces Hendershot’s artwork; reprinted edition is reportedly of poor quality.)                                                                                                      Filling in the gaps where other books fall short, Hendershot elaborates on the fine details that distinguish a good painting from an excellent painting. With his guidance you can learn about a range of effective methods to create texture, such as spattering and spritzing, scraping and blotting. If you have previously learned the basic watercolor techniques, Hendershot offers step-by-step demonstrations and hands-on exercises to build your repertoire. This book would be an asset for advanced beginners.

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Painting Nature’s Details In Watercolor (1987, 1991) by Cathy Johnson.                  Johnson offers practical advice on portraying light and shadow, texture, water patterns, plants and flowers, wildlife, and still life. She is a prolific and knowledgeable artist, with a knack for simplifying her images to include the most salient details of her subjects. Johnson helps an artist observe and take note of the natural world’s subtle detail. My favorite chapter in this book is called Painting The Light and offers numerous tips on how to capture the glow of light in your paintings.

Johnson has written many other books (Creating Textures In Watercolor, Painting Watercolors, Artist’s Journal Workshop, Painting In Nature, and others) as well as many magazine articles. She offers mini-classes on her website (cathyjohnson.info). All of her work is appropriate for beginners and more experienced painters.

 

Ways With Watercolor (originally 1949, Second Edition, Enlarged 1963) by Ted Kautzky.                                                                                                                                            Ted Kautzky was a master watercolorist. His book discusses pigments, washes, composition, contrast, and the use of accessories for special effects. In simple direct language, Kautzky shares his extensive knowledge of watercolor. At times you may have to re-read portions of each page to truly grasp all the information he has packed into each sentence. In addition to many demonstrations, he also includes challenging practice material. Many illustrations are in black and white, and color reproductions are somewhat muted, but this limitation should not detract from the valuable information presented in Kautzky’s book.

Kautzky has also written other excellent books, including Painting Trees and Landscapes In Watercolor and The Ted Kautzky Pencil Book.

 

Perspective, Depth and Distance (2004) by Geoff Kersey. (Newer 2017 edition – Painting Perspective, Depth and Distance In Watercolour – is expanded and updated.)                                                                                                                                          Kersey is a good explainer, and in this book he is concise when teaching the theory of perspective, both linear and atmospheric. Then he illustrates perspective with a number of demonstrations, thus making the learning of perspective enjoyable and relevant. He shows how to create depth and distance while painting objects in perspective and allowing them to recede naturally. I recommend using this book to make your watercolors look more realistic. Perspective, Depth and Distance is suitable for beginners and experienced watercolorists alike.

Here ends the first installment of my favorite watercolor books. Check back next week for the rest of the list.