Saturday, February 1, 2014

My Watercolor Journey

               click on pictures for a larger view

I have a long picture heavy post today..... grab a cup of coffee, put your feet up and read away....

Over the last couple of  months  I have received a number of  messages asking me about my supplies, books that I could recommend, specific colors and paints, and of course secrets to a successful watercolor painting! I have emailed each one of them and shared whatever little I know. But one email this morning prompted me to compile this post. It was touching to note that I had inspired her to pick a paint brush 'again' but she was a trifle disappointed with her work and all I could do was assure her that she would definitely get better with practice.

I am grateful for all the lovely and appreciative comments you leave on my blog but frankly I am no artist and my work has not always been the way you see it today. As you go through the pictures you will be able to get a better idea of my struggle with this medium and that struggle continues even today. As I got better and better at what I did, I started to raise my own levels of satisfaction, what would have given me tremendous happiness 5 years back is mediocre today. I keep raising the bar with every piece I paint.

Watercolor is not an easy medium. In fact I started this journey about 20 years back, but it's been only about a year or so that I have been confident of opening my sketchbook in  public. Although to be very honest, I still write the name of my subject beside my painting .. just in case it is not obvious! When I show my  husband  my work, I ask him to first recognize the elements in my composition....I ask "what does it look like?".....he replies ...sometimes instantly..."orange" and sometimes with hesitation..." hmmnn ..hmnnnn... looks a bit like an orange but could even  be  .....!"
.... now that's a have to explain your compositions mean complete disaster to me!

But today I have decided to  open my sketchbooks and also  share some not so great paintings with you just to show how every one of us was a beginner at some point and hopefully encourage someone out there to not give up!  I am sure some of you are doing  a much better job than I did when I started!

When you are just starting, the cost of supplies can be  intimidating . The supplies I started with were student quality paints and paper. But if I were to do it all over again, I would perhaps go for artist's quality paints and paper. The difference is huge and saves one from a lot of frustration. So save up and get yourself one basic 6 or12 color set of artists paints which automatically teaches you how to mix your own colors!

The same for paper, please do yourself  a favor and get some good 140# paper. Stay away from the lighter weight ones. They buckle and when you are a beginner it's hard to handle. I would buy a sheet of paper and trim them and make my own sketchbook with just a string to keep them together. I seriously believe that fancy stuff does not make an artist. It's only now that I have got myself some new sets of color.

Paper is expensive, I  use every little scrap front and back !

I prefer pan colors, since they are easy to carry outdoors.The sets below have been with me a very long time.The one on the left is my first set of 12 by Winsor and Newton -sketchers box, it was student quality which I used up and then refilled  with artist quality paints. I also keep some black pens for ink and wash in my field kit.

If you can afford just one brush, buy the best you can. Here are some of mine..they have seen a lot of paint!I have a couple of Kolinsky sables, a waterbrush, a travel brush and black pens.

I just cannot stress enough on the importance of a sketchbook. It's a wonderful way to document your progress. I never tear a page if it does not turn out right. I leave it in as a lesson learned. It helps you grow. When I look at my old books, I often laugh and wonder how I even reached this far! Truth be told..I cannot draw, I just can't draw! I reach for a brush more than my pencil! A sketchbook helps me loosen up and most of my work there are thumbnail sketches.

Most of these are done on location...

I make notes wherever needed about  the technique used and always date my work.

And now to show you what practice can do....

The pictures below show the same painting done over a couple of years ...yes it took me years to understand what was missing in my earlier was light!  Watercolor is known for its reflective quality and I just could not understand how that was achieved. I was using my oil painting techniques for a watercolor painting....go figure! I had nobody to guide me or critique my work, so I became my own critic and although I ended up being too hard on myself, I guess that is what pushed me towards getting a better control over this medium..

As is obvious, the one towards the right corner was my first one..overworked, water to paint proportions just not right..a total failure!

The next one - top left- was a bit better than the first , and I did display it just so that I could  look at it every day and study it.

The last one - bottom right -was done 2 years later, when I had learned how to mix my own colors and the importance of light had dawned on me !

a closer look at the first one(left corner).. this is why I don't throw my failed helps me compare.

Second attempt..

Third attempt ( bottom left) and remember I am talking about just the grapes, the leaves need a LOT of work! This one was ' better' than the rest but if I were to do this again, I am sure it would be even better, has to be, I have 4 more years of practice behind me now!

 Composition taken from the step by step book-'Wonderful Watercolors with Paul Brent'

The above composition is not mine and I had taken it from a step by step book, which brings me to the topic of books, while I have none to recommend personally as each one has their own pros and cons, I do remember the  time when I would  use step by step books to practice, now while they have their pros, the biggest con is that our final painting does not even come close to the one shown in the book whatsoever!

This is what I said at the beginning of my post, I totally understand the frustrations, I have been there!

And none of the books warn you of the mistakes you might make and they are all professional artists with years of experience behind them and we as beginners end up being disappointed because our colors don't match nor does our "supposed to be an orange" look like theirs! 

Here are some landscape comparisions..

The skyline was done 8 years back. The hard edges in the sky show how I struggled to work wet in wet and the paper and paint would often dry on me!
The birch is recent .. last year I guess..I have a better hold of that technique now. But I still need to work harder.

Watercolor pencil used on damp paper has left strong deep lines...

I am just scratching the surface here, when it comes to my failed work..I could go on and on but for now I shall close and hope this was interesting and worth your time and if there is just one thing you can take from this post ...I am hoping that it would be to never give up!

As a watercolor enthusiast who has yet to travel a long distance to be an artist, the journey continues for me......



  1. Thanks for sharing your artistic journey with us. Your so called "failures" are MUCH better than anything I can draw/paint. Thanks also for your inspiration.

  2. Thank u for sharing your journey. I love ur work and love seeing your emails everytime. Ur work is gorgeous

  3. You are much too humble and hard on yourself. Your work is very lovely. This was a very helpful blogpost. I would like to try more serious water painting and it's nice to get some direction on how to get started.

  4. Beautiful journey of your paintings sanketi your work and soo hard you work for perfection ..Thanks for inspiring and sharing your paintings ..I always think only oil paintings works great for the shadings ..but water colors do wonders .. your every card and painting tells a story.. Thanks so much for sharing how you make your cards in previous posts thrilled to see.. just Wow!! :)

  5. This is such an inspiring post, thank you so much for sharing your experience to enrich us.

  6. Wow..thanks for sharing your experience. .have not given this medium a serious try.. but I always love to stop by and admire your work. .keep up the good work. .you have definitely inspired me to try it soon. .

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this - it's timely for me as I just recently picked up the brush for another try with watercolours! I've always been attracted to this medium above all others but I'm usually disappointed with my've given me the inspiration to try and stick at it - to practice and practice more! Thank you!

  8. Hi Sanketi,

    I just had to stop by and leave a comment after reading your blog post. It was very uplifting to read that your amazing WOW skills didn't just appear over night ... I guess I'm among those who tend to forget that great results take practice, and a lot of it. It was very inspiring to read about your journey, but don't sell yourself short: even the pieces you described as your early work and categorized as being not very good are pretty decent (not to say, impressive!). I understand that as your skills grow, you look at your previous work more critical, but your are really gifted, Sanketi. Thank you for sharing your cards, art, drawings... with us. I love to look at them and I take inspiration from them and from you for my own journey, which has just begun. All the best to you, Sanketi!

  9. Thanks everyone, I am so glad this post was helpful and inspiring !

  10. So glad I ran on to this.Very interesting and informative!! Thanks for sharing. Especially sharing your mistakes. That takes guts!!! lol Actually, I thought your mistakes weren't that awful but I definitely could see the improvement. That was very helpful!!!

  11. Your work is beautiful, Storyteller. I'm beginning my own journey with watercolor for two primary reasons: 1) I've wanted to try it for decades, and 2) I'm writing a book in which my main character is a plein air artist, so I need to feel what that's like. Your lovely work and words inspire me.
    Because of Christ,

  12. I am so in love with watercolor and I loved your post!!! Thank you so much!!! I am a beginner and I too struggle and this inspires me so!!!

  13. Thank you for the inspiration from one beginner watercolorist....loved reading you journey! I am inspired!!!

  14. Your work is lovely and I look forward to seeing more videos.

  15. Your work is a good tutorial for me who wants to start painting a scenery and make a card out of all your work.thanks for sharing it with us. What number brush are you using?



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