My Watercolor Journey

Original post here
click on pictures for a larger view.

               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. very interesting and inspiring. I posted my very first go at what I called 'real water colouring'. It is not good but I loved having a go. Thank you for this post, your work is so fabulous it is good to learn how you have progressed.
    Here is my link...if you promise not to giggle!

  2. Great post! Thanks for showing and discussing the history and progress of your work. You are naturally gifted teacher/communicator!

    So encouraging to read a post like this! Thank you

  3. Thanks you so much for sharing your journey. I am just starting out in watercolour and it is a great inspiration to read your post. Thanks for the tips and suggestions too!:)

  4. Thank you so much for your inspiration and honesty!

  5. I was going through your beautiful blog and came across this. Beautifully put together! Thanks so much! I'm a big fan of your work. :)

  6. this is amazing!!! it really inspires me to want to learn this!!!

  7. are truly humble about your talent. Thanks so much for sharing your journey and how you've refined your technique. Hard to believe you "can't draw" especially when it comes to your landscapes with so much detail. I appreciate you "opening up your sketchbook" and your guidance on not skimping on quality supplies. I've been hearing this from others like Krisitna Werner and Jennifer McGuire, too, and have taken their advice after trying lesser quality products. Happy to say, I just invested in a set of Gansai Tambi watercolors and have noticed the difference in paper among brands regarding the texture and how it absorbs the pigments.

  8. You are amazing. Thank you, and thank you so very much for opening your heart and your sketchbook here.. Just yday I was trying one of the scene you've made and I was soo frustrated :) The colours weren't rich enough.. my painting was pretty enough. you know the rote..
    I think I'll get myself some good colours :) Thanks so much.. you are simply wonderful.

  9. Thank you for sharing! You have great talent! Your work is awesome! Thank you for inspiring! The weim House

  10. What an inspiration you are to all us watercolor beginners! I can't stress enough how important it is to keep on going, b/c even our less successful paintings are a tool for learning.



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