Why I Don’t Like Watercolor!

May 16, 2023

Ha! I bet I got your attention, didn’t I?

If you know me at all, you know I absolutely LOVE watercolor as a medium. So what in the world do I mean by that title?

W e l l… I guess I was stretching the truth a bit to make a point. I should have confessed, “What I find really challenging about watercolor!” Most likely, you could easily finish the rest of this post, because if you’ve been using watercolor for any length of time, it doesn’t take long before we ALL encounter some of the same challenges. Am I right?

Here are two of my pesky challenges:

1) I find it challenging that some of the effects I like best, and want to incorporate into my paintings, require PATIENCE – like letting a wash thoroughly dry, so I can come back in with some crisp vibrant shapes laid on top. Or letting an initial glaze sit overnight so the next day I can add a beautiful overglaze which doesn’t soak into the first.

So often I know I should stop, but I just keep going and trying to make the paint “do”, what it will ONLY “do” if I give it a chance to dry first... S I G H!

It reminds me so much like LIFE! I’ve done a few laps around the sun (!), so I know much of life requires a good ole “sit it out in the waiting room.” There is so much of life I can’t resolve, fix, or hurry up. Life plays out in it’s - own - good - time!

2) The second challenge I experience is perhaps similar to the first, but different in its own way. It’s the challenge of not over-controlling or over-working a painting, because there’s beautiful magic that happens when I let go and enjoy how the colors play with each other - all on their own. Don’t you just love it when “loose” happens in your work? Some of my most favorite pieces are ones which I could never duplicate because the paint just took over the music and created its own dance.

So why is it so hard to STOP and put down that brush? You’d think I’d learn!!

There again painting mirrors those uncomfortable life-lessons! Often I have to remind myself, “I can’t change that – let her or him make their own decisions - I’m not in charge.” Sound familiar? I’ve learned there’s not much of life we CAN control – even in our own lives. It’s been famously said, “the only thing we can control is our own attitude.” So True!

Sooo, is there hope? How do we deal with these challenges? For those of us who lack that desirable virtue of patience, what can we do?

Some artists work on a number of pieces at the same time so that they can work on one painting while another dries. If you’re plein air painting (outside), the sunshine naturally helps as well. And if you’re really impatient, using a blow dryer is a quick fix, but beware… if your painting is too wet, you might get a runny mess!

All these are viable solutions. For me, it’s just being conscious of the need to wait a bit …and by simply working on another part of the same painting, it often achieves what I’m after.

As for the second challenge of trying not to over-control or over-work my paintings, one of the standard solutions is to use larger brushes. When you use larger brushes, you avoid getting too caught up with those tiny, fiddly details. You can stay loose with larger mark-making and let the paint do it’s magic.

Another helpful tip I’ve found is painting more often. Sometimes painting in greater quantity helps me become less precious about my outcome. Many times I’ve experienced painting on the back of an old “flopped” art piece, or on a scrap piece of watercolor paper. Surprisingly, often the painting turns out great, because I was so relaxed and not trying so hard. Painting more often also serves in our muscle memory… the more you do it, the easier it becomes. 

All that being said, challenges are good for us.  Hopefully they keep us ever striving to do better and learning how to be the very best artist version of ourselves. Plus, I do think it’s a bonus that while we are creating art, we can also be inspired how to better live our lives - by relaxing and trusting the process. So raise your brushes in the air my friends, and let’s salute the virtue of patience and the lovely art of letting go!!!!