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3 Watercolor things you just learn by doing

Watercolor is my favorite medium. Sure, you can say I’ve never even dabbled in oils or acrylics, so I can’t really have an opinion, right?

You can say that. But I’m having too much fun to switch over right now. It’s like you fall in love with a musical instrument and call that instrument your favorite instrument, despite not ever touching the 1000 other instruments out there.

I’m not a likely watercolor evangelist. Usually when you think about watercolors, you think about Great Aunt Hilda who painted flowers and birds. While that’s great and all, that’s what almost everyone thinks of when they think of watercolors.

If I told you I painted nude women, you’d probably list watercolors dead last as the medium you’d think I’d use. But watercolors could surprise you. Some of us push watercolors past their limits, and our watercolors often don’t even look like watercolors.

The best thing about watercolor? The more you do it, the more you learn. And the more you learn, the more you can offer newer watercolor artists.

So here are three things you learn from just painting. As I’ve mentioned last year, I’ll do one of these articles at least every six months. (The possibilities are infinite).

Some colors are more opaque than others

Watercolors are always transparent and gouaches are always opaque, right?


Well, not really.

Some watercolors are a lot more opaque than others. The general rule of thumb is that the darker the color, the harder it is to cover up. Black? Forget it.

That’s not always the case though. Hansa Medium Yellow by Daniel Smith does a great job covering up something else. You’d think, a yellow? In this case, yes.

It’s just one of those things you learn by working with the same colors over and over.

I’m not a hardcore brand stickler. I got my Daniel Smith, my Winsor and Newton, my Blick Artist paints, my M Graham, and most recently, my Sennelier paints. Love most of them except for an occasional color that has me scratching my head why they even made that. So far, I probably like my Sennelier the best.

But back to the point, you really need to paint with each color and learn everything about it, including its opaqueness. They vary between colors and even between each brand’s interpretation of that color.

How much water is enough and how much is too much

You could ruin a painting with too much water. You can also not get anything done with not enough water.

Where’s the happy medium?

That’s something that comes with time.

It also matters your painting surface. I absolutely love painting on watercolor boards because you can go absolutely crazy with water. The only drawback of a board is it’s easier to draw on watercolor paper. Other than that, you don’t have to worry about too much water.

With paper, you do. And 140 lb paper? Some is better than others, depending on the brand.

The lovely Allie

I haven’t used 300 lb paper yet. Just haven’t. I’ve even experimented with watercolors on wood before, but still haven’t gotten around to 300 lb paper.

Why? Who knows?

How much is enough and how much is too much is something you learn with time. I sometimes go too crazy for 140 lb paper. It’s one of my faults. I get so used to painting on watercolor boards that when I go back to paper, I often try to push the paper past its limits.

You don’t have to make this mistake. It’s just a personal thing. (I do the same thing with my musical instruments and cars too).


So many things can cause watercolor muddiness. I wrote an article on that awhile back but I really should go back and update that article.

Too many layers of paint can cause muddiness. Mixing the wrong colors together can cause muddiness. Heck, not changing your water often enough can cause it.

What is muddiness? You’ll know when you see it. And when you see it, you’re more often than not wanting to throw that painting straight into the garbage.

So just paint more. And take notes. Take lots of notes.

I have watercolor journals where I write down everything I learn. I also do my experimentations in them. Or on cheap watercolor paper.

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Drinker with a painting problem

Awhile back, I wrote about painting under the influence of absinthe. Except now, I do things differently.

Now, I light the sugarcube. It makes a lovely blue flame. And it helps break the sugar down better, giving the drink a richer flavor.

Highly recommend to fellow drinkers. I’ll have to post some videos of the absinthe in an upcoming post.

For now though, I just finished this lovely painting of Roxy. I call it Absinthe Girl and I imitated the absinthe color throughout the painting. I used a sort of monochromatic effect to give it that look.

I also sort of honored Mucha, who’s one of my all-time favorite artists. Except whereas he used a lot of oranges and reds, I went with greens. For obvious reasons.

Roxy as Absinthe Girl

Drinking makes you loose

Does an artist have to drink to be a good artist?


But it sure helps.

Alcohol makes you loose. I get nice and loose and ideas just flow. Great for writers as the pen just moves when the writer pours himself some enjoyable bourbon over ice. Great for artists as the brush flows once the wine enters the blood.

Heck, look at all the great American writers who had drinking problems.

No, I don’t recommend getting yourself a drinking problem. But to completely deny that drinking had a role in the great American novel? Asinine.

I’ve painted four women now. Allie, Roxy, Sophia, and Jin. I’ve drank with all four of them. Well, of course not when Allie was pregnant or breastfeeding obviously.

But when drinking, words also flow. And as a Romantic, if there’s no bond between us, I’m not going to paint you. It’s that simple.

I’ve made one of my models cry once. Not in a bad way. Won’t tell you which one though. With me and Allie and me and Roxy, we’ve poured our hearts out so many times together. Both Allie and Roxy know things about me. Bad things. Things I don’t want the public to know.

I’m a flawed man. Deeply flawed.

But I don’t keep everything bottled up inside. I learned that’s when a man goes mad and kills somebody.

You gotta let it out every once in awhile.

When I was young, I used to wrap my hands, put the gloves on, put the mouthpiece in, and I’d punch a friend in the face as he punched me in the face. Afterwards, we’d get a drink.

Better than a therapist.

I’m too old for that now. Nowadays, I take a punch to the face and my face doesn’t heal. I used to be like Wolverine. I’d fall off a rock, lose some blood, and be cherry within a few days.

Nowadays? Nope. I take forever to heal.

So it’s booze and painting for me.

Booze helps that brush flow, like it helps the author’s pen.

I’ve been a whiskey guy for awhile. When I say whiskey, I’m good with Scotch, Irish whiskey, Bourbon, Japanese whiskey. All four are great. An old fashioned or a Manhattan for mixed drinks.

The absinthe thing is a recent thing. Didn’t like it the first time I had it.

Over a decade later though, I decided to give it another shot. And fell in love with it.

Anyways, that’s Roxy as Absinthe Girl. We had such a great time with that painting that we’re gonna do another one. And maybe a third and a fourth.

Who knows? I like to not have a plan. I just drink and paint.