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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.