You Can Learn to Paint with Watercolour in an Art Store

I run regular learn to paint with watercolour workshops for beginners at Wellington’s art store – Gordon Harris. The workshops are held in a room adjacent to the main shop. It’s a wonderful creative endeavour between the art supply shop and art tutors. They run a variety of workshops with different teachers.

I love facilitating these Gordon Harris workshops. It’s a pleasure for me to watch as students become acquainted with art’s most mercurial medium. Watercolour has a reputation for being hard, the most difficult medium, having a will of it’s own, temperamental and sometimes just plain stressful. It can be all of those things (so can all mediums!) when it is being used in ways that work against it’s nature. When we are learning to paint with watercolour, if we understand it’s nature, we can work with it.

Watercolour is water based and it’s nature is to move in water, to flow through water to create different effects. It is primarily the water that carries it, not the brush. With oil and acrylic painting, unless they have been very thinned down, we move the paint around primarily with the brush. With watercolour it is more a sense of encouraging the paint to move in the water and allowing it to settle without too much manipulation. Quite often once we’ve applied our paint to wet paper, we drop the brush, tilt the surface and encourage the paint to flow through the water creating the glorious, atmospheric effects so inherent to watercolour.

These dark leaves were painted by  a student using this method. The dark green was applied over a light wash and then the paper was tilted to create the soft tonal blends and highlights. I think she achieved a wonderful result. The lighter leaf to the left was a fluid, right hemispheric play, coming from the shoulder and keeping the brush moving on the paper. I think it’s beautiful and a fine example of expressive watercolour doing it’s mercurial thing.

Pretty much in heaven, taking two days out of my frantic life to learn watercolour. OK, I will still have to work eight hours tonight but I will have the pleasure of a perfect colour wash to keep me going.”

Though we don’t want to ‘fuss’ with watercolour too much, we can recover when things go awry (as they do – art mirrors life!) Sometimes we can recover by flooding the offending area with paint and water and other times we recover with a barely damp brush on paper that has begun to dry off. As a commissioned portrait artist I have made recovery strategies a fine art! In the last stages of a big portrait, it’s comforting for me to know that if I foul up somewhere, I can recover. It’s comforting for people when they are learning to paint with watercolour, to know that they can recover too.

We had a play with pen and wash in the last half hour – this is a lovely example of using a wet brush and painting directly onto dry paper with broad strokes. Everyone who wants to, can learn to paint with watercolour.

This is just want I wanted.”



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