Question for traditional artists and the learning process
This may be a weird question but I thought I'd ask it anyway.
I'm a lifelong musician and when I am learning a piece, if there is a trouble spot in the music, I break it down and play the spot over and over again. I then play the whole piece again slowly enough that I can master the trouble spot in context and then gradually work the piece back up to speed. In other words, I isolate parts that I can't do and work on them until I can put them back into the piece as a whole.
When I paint (in watercolor) however, I feel like I either paint a successful piece or don't. I can't "slow it down until I get it right," or "work on one corner over and over again."
I thought about trying to apply the same sort of approach by saying for example, "Everything in this piece looks good except that tree. Let me paint a dozen trees and then try to paint the piece again." The problem, of course, is that it's easier to play a song again than paint a whole picture again.
It's also harder to practice painting than drawing because I can practice hands, feet, gestures, forms, etc. in a sketchbook anywhere, even in front of the TV but it's hard to walk around with a watercolor palette everywhere I go. Or should I?
What kinds of things have you done/do you do to level up your painting skills besides just paint picture after picture and hope you get better? Do you isolate issues and practice them? Do you re-do paintings several times until you get them the way you want them to look? Do you walk around with a watercolor kit practicing? I'd like to develop a more focused approach to leveling up and would be interested in what others do.
Melissa_Bailey last edited by Melissa_Bailey
@demotlj hi Laurie!
The short answer? You should do what works best for you. Not much of an answer, I know. Learning a skill or technique in watercolor can be just like learning a piece of music. It requires time and experimentation ... and a dash of bravery, too. It's brave to embrace what can feel like failure.
If you haven't already, you might want to check out The Mind of Watercolor on YouTube. There are a lot of great tips and advice on that channel. One of the things that Steve advocates, and that I have also found helpful, is to learn painting techniques that you can apply to various situations, instead of learning how to paint one object, then learning how to paint another, then...
Another thing I've found helpful is playing around with the watercolor -- seeing what it can do. What if I add more water here ... what happens? What if I use less water? What happens when I use my finger to smudge? What things can I use to create texture? How can those textures be used in different applications?
When I play around, just having fun experimenting, I find that it's essential for me to use the brushes, paints, and paper that I'll use in my illustrations, because the supplies you use can greatly affect how it feels to paint, how the paint reacts, and the end result. I've learned so much doing this! Before I start a project, I usually take some time to experiment with the color palette I'm considering, how those paints work together, what effects I can get out of them, and what techiniques might work for visual storytelling in the illustration.
Some artists shy away from using their "good" supplies because they're expensive and don't want to waste them. I personally think that's a mistake and after I worked out the actual money I'd be "wasting", I don't worry about it anymore. Experimentation using artist quality supplies will cost about $2 in paper and pennies worth of paint. It costs more to rent a movie or buy a cup of coffee. And painting is more fun!
Watching YouTube watercolor channels and experimenting has helped me become more comfortable with watercolor as a medium. And there's also just jumping in and painting an illustration -- that has helped me too. Even when it doesn't work out, I've learned what NOT to do!
Because everyone approaches their art in a unique and personal way, what works for one artist might not work for another. Hope you can take away something helpful from this rambling message!
@melissa_bailey I do subscribe to Mind of Watercolor and I have watched lots of other Youtubes and taken Domestica courses. In fact, sometimes I think I have wandered too far and wide trying so many styles that I haven't gotten really where I want to be with any one style. I don't feel like I've achieved a sense of consistency yet -- the feeling that when I sit down to do a painting, I know what my process is going to be and how to more or less bring a vision into being. One day I can paint something I really like and the next day I paint something that looks like a five year old did it.
I think maybe doing some small daily warmup exercises might help just focusing on techniques. As you said, if I feel more comfortable with a variety of techniques, I may be able to understand when to apply them better.
And of course, maybe the problem is my brain and my desire to have a sure-fire deductive plan that will lead me from point A to point Z in an "easy 30 days, money back guarantee!"
Melissa_Bailey last edited by
@demotlj yes, it sounds like you have the knowledge -- now might be the time to sit down with your paper, brushes, and watercolor and just paint. Use the knowledge you've acquired ... or not. See what works for you.
Not sure what your setup is, but what I've found to be helpful if I'm experimenting and want to paint a picture is to print out a sketch that I've already done. I print right on watercolor paper, usually at 50% so the lines are light. That way I don't have to spend time drawing or composing a piece, I can get right into painting. And if I want to try different techniques or colors, I can print it out again and keep experimenting with that same sketch.
If you're looking for time-saving tips so you can focus on experimenting and painting, you might want to try it out.
@demotlj This reminds me a short independent comic I read years ago called Ping Pong. The author was studying classical music all while growing up and decided to start learning to draw when she got to college, enrolling in traditional animation.
In the comic she describes how for years, her music knowledge taught her things about drawing and once she became adept enough at drawing, for the first time she experienced the reverse: drawing taught her something new about music. She describes how all the arts seem to communicate with each other (like a match of ping pong) and they can all teach you more about each other
So I think you're on to something about isolating! Sure you can't redo the painting as easily, but I feel like the answer is so close to the surface. If you mess up something in a painting, then you can practice that thing later in your sketchbook over and over until you're more comfortable with it. But also, BEFORE you start painting you can do studies to help you nail the final: color studies, tone studies, anatomy studies of each figure or animal, etc. This can help you practice until the big recital!
In that sense, painting is very similar to performance arts like music. You can practice and practice but it all comes down to that one moment, on show night. Same with painting: without CTRL+Z you only have one chance to get it right, but it doesn't mean you can't prepare beforehand!
@nessillustration As I read your answer, I realized that you are right in saying that I should approach a painting more like a recital than a practice session, that it should be something that comes together after I have planned out and practiced the parts of the painting. I do plan the drawing and composition of a painting, (lots of thumbnails etc.) and have even done value and color studies, but I do those all on the iPad and then I transfer the drawing to paper and plunge right in with the painting instead of doing studies in watercolor first.
Now that I think about it, it's obvious that would contribute to my frustration with the results!
carlianne last edited by
I do have a portable watercolor set up and I love being able to just pop it out and use it. I'm going to share some of my affiliate links.
Basically I use a water pen instead of a brush and a portable water color set like these (I haven't used these ones, but so cool they have different tips!)
And then I use a portable windsor watercolor set (ohhh this one has the pen in it already!)
I then just have some paper towels and a watercolor sketchbook with me. They can't take a ton of water, so you could also just bring a pad, but for quick sketches this is what I use:
And then regarding learning one step at a time. I do think it's helpful to not think of it like "paint a tree" and "paint a house" but more like. "practice ding a watercolor wash" "practice painting opaquely" "practice brighter colors"
I do this with all areas of art and I find it EXTREMELY helpful to focus. I had a teacher in college that recommended I choose the "thing I'm worst at" and just focus on improving that until it's no longer the "worst" thing and then move onto the next. So I would practice just gesture drawing, or just value etc. and then apply those to a full illustration.