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Why I Became a Watercolor Artist

Updated: Jul 27, 2019

It was really a very simple choice, watercolors dry faster than oils.  Paint something in oil paints and you’re waiting…

Six month later you can varnish your oil, maybe a beautiful summer meadow, but now it’s December, and it just doesn’t seem as relevant.

I love painting in oils, I really do.  I love the vibrant colors. That’s why I gave up acrylics long ago, (even though I’ve heard they’ve gotten better). I love the way I could start out with dark colors and go to light, adding in the highlights last, in stunning contrast to a dark background. I even love the way they smell. And the way they blend beautifully together.

I really kind of forced myself into watercolors. I thought about doing some local art shows. I actually did the Dunellen “Art on the Green” twice and it was wonderful to get my art out there for the public to see, and to my amazement, admire! The only thing I had an issue with was that I could not paint something and have it to sell the next day. I’m so impatient! Arg.

But, let’s go back about 25 years.  I took my first watercolor class at the local high school. I was pregnant with my son and I had always wanted to learn watercolor, and I just wanted to have some fun before the responsibilities of motherhood kicked in. Here is my first creation-

Not the most painterly of paintings, and I was told by the teacher that I did not use the paints the way watercolors should be used. The painting should have been more free form, letting the paint go where it wants to.

That did not at all appeal to me at all!

Fast forward about 20 years- I consider taking watercolors up again. I also was working at Pearl Art & Craft, so I had access everyday to a variety of paints, quality paper and a whole lot of books on the subject.

What really turned things around for me and made watercolor my medium of choice was a book by Kathy Dunham called Artist Projects You Can Paint-10 Floral Watercolors.

I had loved colored pencil in college and I was good at realistic illustration and having complete control over my medium. In this book it showed step-by-step instructions on how to paint a realistic looking flower. Also, painting from light to dark, and being in control where it counts (like not painting over your whites and lights) and letting the medium work for you, such as a blurred background, letting the paint go where it wants to, to create a unique design. I painted the #3 Cone flower-

Ms. Dunham supplies the line drawing to start with, and steps on mixing the paint, creating washes and putting in details to follow.

I love this book because it gave me permission to use watercolor in a controlled and intentional way, not the way I was originally taught!

Since then, I had decided to take an adult night school class. This time I had a teacher that really help her students to explore what watercolor can do. Even using it like a gouache straight out of the tube, with beautiful results.

Feeling very ambitious, I decided to enter Jerry’s Artarama’s self portrait contest. By then I had studied Mary White’s Book, Painting Portraits and Figures in Watercolor

She shows how to mix colors for different shades of skin tones and the composition of a good portrait. Also, there is a feeling to all the portraits beautifully displayed in her book that capture the subject’s personality and essence. Here is my self portrait that I entered into Jerry’s contest-

I did not win or even get a honorable mention, but I’m pleased with my work.

Another book to consider for watercolor portraits is Secrets to Painting Realistic Faces in Watercolor by Carrie Stuart Parks & Rick Parks. There is a CD included in this book and Carrie shows exactly how she paints a young girls face. It’s like magic and so beneficial to actually see the process.

I furthered my studies in watercolor at the South Puget Sound Community College, in Olympia, Washington, where I learned to use a waterproof ink (like micron)  to draw out everything and then paint over it. I liked the way it looked but it felt a little bit like cheating. It wasn’t “Old School” watercolor painting, but it was different and a useful tool for creating shadow and definition. Unfortunately I don’t have any of that art to show here because I left it out there.

When I moved back to New Jersey I finally made the leap to go to one of the best art schools around, Du Cret School of Art. I took the basic watercolor class, and learned about how to incorporate elements into the art that made my realistic style into fantasy! One of my favorite assignments was to create a painting a steampunk theme pictured below-

I also learned about myself that I could complete an assignment every week and also come up with subject matter, even though a lot of times I would spend the first hour of class with no idea what to do until some idea would come to me and I could complete the assignment.

My latest inspiration is Soon Y. Warren. Her watercolors are amazing and I can’t even get close to the detail and vibrancy of her artwork. In her book Painting Vibrant Watercolors-discover the magic of light, color and contrast, she explains her use of masking fluid, the delicate way she creates texture and detail and much more.

Below is my painted titles Nasturtiums on quilted table runner-This was inspired by Soon Y Warren’s style-

A few more resources you may want to look into are:

I hope this post was helpful in getting you started or furthering your enjoyment of watercolor painting!

The Blog contains affiliated links, and I hope my enthusiasm ( and pictures) shows that I have actually read and executed the lessons in these wonderful books!

Joanne Perkins

P.S-If you like my watercolors, click here to see my Etsy shop JMP studio

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