Straight Lines?



  • There may not be an answer to this but.... I’m trying to learn traditional watercolor and am having difficulty keeping my edges straight. When I look at other’s paintings, like Lee White’s, I notice that the lines and edges aren’t perfectly ruler straight either but his look artistic while mine just look like I have no brush control (at least to me). So what are the qualities do you think that make an imperfect line look artistic and what makes it just look wrong?



  • Watercolor may be a bit different, but for inking straighter lines, it comes from keeping your wrist locked and moving your arm from the elbow or shoulder. The "How to Ink" class goes over some great exercises to practice brushpen control, and I think these could apply to watercolor brushes.



  • @demotlj I struggle with straight lines as well, or also just clean lines around curves too for a lot of my traditional painting. For the practise I have done in watercolour I would say lightly draw out your lines and if you do wet on wet, watch where you put your water ensuring it is parallel snug with your drawn line. Your paint will only go where there is water. As well try to keep your paint on wet on wet consistent, so the colour doesn't look less where you don't want it. And then I agree with @carriecopa about hand and wrist and arm control, because a shaky hand is hard to make or continue a straight line like drawing with pencil.

    🙂 Heather B.



  • I'm going to second @carriecopa and vouch for the exercises in the 'how to ink' class. Though I'm using them for control with a brush pen I'm sure they'll help you with watercolour strokes. I've been doing a page of straight lines every day for... oh, geez, seven months and it's awesome how much more brush control I have now.

    As for what makes a line look artistic and what makes it look just wrong... That's a really good question. I don't think I could tell you... Looking at your instagram your straight lines look perfectly artistic to me.



  • @art-of-b Thanks for the encouragement though of course I only post the ones that turn out ok!



  • @carriecopa @Heather-Boyd I did watch the inking video but hadn’t really thought about applying it to watercolors which was just dense on my part 🙂 I’m also though just trying to figure out what makes one imperfect line look artistic and what makes another imperfect line look wrong. Maybe it has to do with perspective and its relationship to other lines in the painting. Maybe a wobbly line in the right perspective is better than a straight line that’s cockeyed, kind of like a wrong note in music played in the right key and melodic progression will sound better than a note completely out of sync with the key and melody line. I stare at people’s paintings trying to figure out why some things work - colors, lines, and shapes — even when they are not absolutely accurate. Art is kind of mysterious to me still 🙂



  • Hmm interesting question. If I had to take a guess? Keeping the line weight appropriate and making sure you are keeping the integrity of your overall shapes? Those are two things I can think of right off the bat. I'd encourage you to post some of the work you aren't happy with. It might help us pinpoint how to get those shaky lines to work more for you.



  • My hands shake at times, so I have a similar issue. I find that most people don't really notice too much anyway, but here are some tips I learned from watercolor and inking. What helped me the most is switching tools. You may be using more of the brush than you need to, or your brush may be too big, so try some smaller or shorter brushes until you have more practice. Not too small, but explore a little. @carriecopa and @Heather-Boyd both mentioned not using your wrist, make sure your elbow is planted somewhere sturdy so you can pivot from there rather than the wrist. If all else fails, and since it's the age of computers, no one is stopping you from cleaning up edges in Photoshop using the clone tool or sharpening edges with a watercolor pencil. Although, since I come from comics, I have less respect for my original artwork than most, so purists may differ about that.

    To be honest though, I can see from your warbler you have pretty good brush control based on the white spaces in the feathers and the straight stick he's sitting on. That along with the improvement I can see between the bird and your lion, makes me think you just need to keep practicing and you'll get there. Your stuff is soft, so you could try playing around, using more pigment and not allowing the water to pool on the page if you want to try to get closer to Lee's style, but I like the softness too.

    That's a lot, sorry I'm working on not rambling on here, but I hope this helps.



  • You could use masking tape applied with a ruler to keep your edges straight on buildings and things that need to be straight.Also for your lines maybe use an ink brush pen instead of watercolour.



  • @demotlj

    It really comes down to brush control and understanding the medium. From what I've seen on your Instagram, you do seem to have some experience with this. Practicing making a variety of marks and filling up pages with just mark making will help you understand all the marks you can potentially make and use in future paintings. When practicing your brushwork, knowing when to slow down and speed up will also help. Certain marks require patience, and others require knocking it out in one fast sweep. Figuring out how your hand comfortably holds and wields a brush with help you make the lines you want 🙂



  • I’m by no means a traditional media artist, but I thought I’d share a trick I use when I (very occasionally!) work in watercolor or gouache. To do lines and small details I switch from a brush to a nib pen and load the nib with watercolor instead of ink - you can do that easily by “painting” with a loaded brush on the nib. I find I have much better line control with that type of tool than with a brush and you can vary line-width easily depending on the pressure and type of nib.
    Nib pens and nibs are also much cheaper than good quality brushes!



  • @smceccarelli has a great idea with the nib pen! That could be really helpful especially for small details and adding drawing over what you've painted. That could be a nice solution to your problem. I know western calligraphers sometimes load their nibs with watercolor and gouache, as well.

    But since you are trying to increase your experience in traditional watercolor, I would suggest investing in a good brush. It doesn't have to be too expensive, but it has to come to a nice point and hold a good amount of water in the belly. A size 6-12 depending on brand and quality would be great. You'd be surprised at the number of different marks you can make from very fine lines to luscious washes. I held out for a long time, but once I invested in one good brush, I didn't have to fight so much to get the marks I wanted. I can use that brush for an entire piece and get everything done I need to get done. If you already have a pointed round, then changing up some of your technique would be a good idea.

    Have you ever seen chinese calligraphers hold their brushes? They hold them perpendicular to the paper, have a lovely fluid range of motion, and get great lines. Holding the brush like that with just the tip on the paper will help you make those lines. Calligraphy brushes can be a great option as well, because they are generally cheaper than sables and can make a gamut of marks.

    Sorry if I'm rambling: I just love talking watercolor materials!



  • These are all great ideas. I’ve been able to spend more time practicing now that I am on vacation and I’ve found that using the correct brush size and better arm movement definitely help. I’ve also started using a cheap protractor to check and tighten up some of my angles because I often end up with buildings on a slight tilt. Thanks for the help — I’ll keep at it.