Let watercolor flow to keep it clean

Snoqualmie Falls - 12 x 16

Snoqualmie Falls - 12 x 16


 Muddy color and dirty wash are the most common struggles I've heard from the students. While there can be many factors, I believe the biggest reason is we don't let watercolor flow. I often say let it flow. Watercolor is alive, it does what it wants and our job as a watercolor artist is to "work with it" not "control it".

 To be able to get our hands off and let the watercolor flow requires confidence. Confidence in yourself, and confidence in watercolor. If you have confidence in yourself, your brush stroke will be decisive and clean. You won't try to fix your shape by keep going back to it. If you have confidence in watercolor, you will be comfortable to leave it for it to dry without trying to keep disturb it. Because watercolor can look different after it dries, what you see is not usually what you will get. So it can look the way you want when you first put it down, but after a few seconds or a minute, it can change. And that becomes a problem for many people. I often see students going back to a perfectly good wash with a small brush and keep digging back into it. Because they fall into the mental trap of trying to re-create what they've seen in the first place. However, that's often the worst time to go back into a wash because you are disturbing its flow and creates bad cauliflower edges. 

 Much like my kids. The more I try to control them, the more they resist and end up not working out. Because I demand the result I want from them. However, that's not how individual works! If I guide them in the right direction and let them work things out themselves, they usually made the right decision. More often than not, they actually surprise me with their good judgment and choosing to do the right things. I am training myself to give them more choices and ask open-ended questions such as "what do you think will happen if ____" or "what do you think you can do here?" Working with watercolor is very similar. You can end up very frustrated if you try to control it and demand a very specific result. But if you just keep an open mind and guide it in the direction you want, influence it slightly and react to it, it can surprise you! So stop taking a small brush and dabbing your way through.

 Sure, it might not turn out exactly the way you want, but you never know if it will turn out BETTER than you think. To me, that's the fun of watercolor. When you let go of micromanagement and let it flow, you can fully enjoy what watercolor has to offer you! Keep a big vision and plan your painting, but once the brush is down and the water is flowing, let it flow!