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Watercolor is all about flow!

One of the most maddening yet rewarding things about watercolor is that it is a fluid medium. That means you can harness but not control the paint - it all about managing flow. Let’s look at harnessing the flow of watercolor to get the best out of what can be a very beautiful medium.

Turner and watercolors

The world famous 19th Century artist JMW Turner took watercolors from a marginalized entity in the eyes of the Establishment onto the world stage as he discovered and mastered the technique. Many argue that his works in watercolor made his name to the point we have the modern art Turner Prize today.

According to art critic Alastair Sooke , speaking to Christies auctioneers ’He shocked his contemporaries with loose brushstrokes and vibrant colors.’

Using watercolors, the artist used to paint atmospheres as well as the hard features of the world he experienced.


Managing flow

Painting an atmosphere is something that comes from a fluid medium like watercolor. In experimenting with brush strokes, different amounts of pigment and water, so you can generate a ‘feeling’ for the object or landscape you are painting:

• The wetter the brush the finer the color
• Conversely the drier the brush, the harder the color
• Lighter brush strokes are good for backgrounds
• Harder strokes are better for the object
• You can mix the paint on the paper to get different colors too

Mistakes however are much harder to manage than oil. You can’t simply paint over the problem like oil as even a thick application over the top will be seen at the end. This is why we speak of ‘flow’ - this maddening/rewarding game we play on the paper with watercolors!


Experience is all

Art is by its very definition not a science. No painting will ever be ‘perfect’ as perfection is only in the eye of the beholder. For you the painter this means you can only learn by doing.

By selecting the right watercolor paints for your works and then getting the paint onto the paper so you will get that practice and learn what works and what does not. It may take years before you ever get close to one of Turner’s atmospheric representations of the world he saw and felt, but with time and most importantly, learning to manage the flow, so each time you work on it the closer you will get.