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Everything I Wished I'd Known When I Started Painting with Watercolor

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In 2008, I was painting a theater set with donated leftover acrylic house paints when I remembered that, at age sixteen, "if I was going to be an artist," that I would work in watercolor. Then and there, I set a new goal of learning to paint with the medium. As soon as I told myself I would do this, my next thought was, "But you're too old - 45 years too old." You've missed your chance, and you have no formal training". This was followed by an absolute miracle of a thought "wait a minute – the next five years will pass whether you do this or not. Why not find out what's possible?" 

I found my kids' watercolor set, some mediocre paper and started painting. The results were just as mediocre as the paper. The colors were dull, but I was hooked! I learned more about paint, paper, and brushes, and with much doubt and slight panic, I began to paint from my own source photos. I had not yet developed the discipline of drawing and relied on graphite transfer or the grid method to draft my paintings. In 2012, the youngest of our children entered middle school; I rented my first studio and began teaching others what I'd learned (and wished I'd known at the beginning, especially color theory). 

A decade following, I've acquired skills and developed an art practice that serves me and my art when I approach the paper. I keep my focus on the process and consistently get results that I feel good about. If you think it might be too late to learn to paint, I want you to know that I understand how you feel. You may want to skip the intro and get right to the lessons - no time to waste? I get it. I'm notorious for doing things backward. I wrote the glossary before the complete text to get clear about what I want to tell you. 

I wrote this book to fast-track your understanding of watercolor and its unique qualities.

About My Art

  • I work primarily in watercolor, ink, and pencil. Incorporating the line's honesty connects us to our ideas' outer edges - a traceable element - allowing us to define a thing's interior landscape. Hence, the use of the line throughout the pages of this book. 
  • You'll see different kinds of paintings throughout the book. I wanted you to see the skills that make up my art practice and the ways that I express through my art.

Book's Layout and Design

  • The chapters are presented sequentially from essential beginning skills to further application as ability develops. The beginning is the best place to start if you are new to working with watercolor. Experienced painters might prefer to go straight to the chapter that addresses their technical weakness and proceed from there. 
  • The materials page is included in each chapter because this book is also a diagnostic tool. Some who are already painting with watercolor might want to jump to the chapters about color theory and circle back to paint-to-water ratios, for example. Also, we didn't want you hunting for the materials section each time you turned to a new chapter. 

Technical Information 

  • I am new to writing and publishing a book. In researching my options for getting this information into your hands, I learned that the industry is changing. How artwork is made for print is changing, how we consume books, and how we market books. For example, most children's book artists are digital artists or traditional painters who have learned digital art skills in children's picture books. Traditional painters are the minority, as it becomes standard practice to commission people who create with software, digital brushes, and other digital tools to emulate the look of watercolor on the page without water, paper, paint, or brushes. 
  • All the illustrations are hand-painted and/or hand-drawn by me - there are no digitally painted images, illustrations, stock photos, etc., included in the book. 
  • I scanned or photographed all the drawn and painted elements of the book and took special care to ensure that photographs of the various watercolor brush techniques are accurately depicted and achievable to those who commit to regular practice.
  • All the finished paintings are made from life or from my source photos of the subject. Painted between 2017 and the publication date, they read like the original paintings. 
  • In some instances, the texture of the watercolor paper (or background of the painting or line drawing) is digitally removed. The image with transparent background is pasted onto a white background to ensure consistent print quality and white balance and space throughout the book. 

Chapters one-three: Learn three watercolor techniques that focus on water management, paint-to-water ratios, and brush techniques necessary to successful painting with watercolor. Mastery of technique and following the order in which we build out or layer a watercolor painting is essential. 

Chapters four-five: Learn to mix the color wheel using three primary colors - red, yellow, and blue. With practice, mix any color you can imagine or see for all your paintings. We join color theory using the principles and techniques from the first three chapters, combined with discovering color preferences. These elements, along with mark-making, are where we begin to identify and strengthen our individual voice, painting with watercolor. 

Now, back to the glossary. It contains all the words I thought you might need to know so that you can continue what you started here with competency and confidence. For this reason, you will not find all of the words from the glossary within the main text. Backward, I know. Or is it? 

What do you mean by the essentials? 

This book does not pretend to be a single source for your development as a watercolorist or artist. That's why it has the essentials with a few dozen extra words in the glossary and varied examples of artwork. This book attempts to be a guide that whets your appetite for more. More of what? More knowledge, more inspiration, and more of the things that will keep you moving forward toward your goal with watercolor or making with anything that interests you.

Why combine Watercolor Technique and Color Theory? 

Completing technique exercises when we don't yet know how to paint can feel tedious. Learning color theory without context is difficult to remember. Combining technique and theory makes the process more exciting and challenging, with results that inspire us to return to our practice. 

What's in your toolbox? 

I want you to know that you can teach yourself to paint and get results that you feel good about with a few new tools in your toolkit, a little bit of knowledge about watercolor's fluid characteristics, and some encouragement. Let's get started!