Wabi-Sabi Watercolor

People say watercolor is unforgiving.

I think what they mean is that once you put it down, there’s no going back. The deed is done.

While that’s true for the most part, there’s also the possibility of going sideways, around, and on top.

Wabi-Sabi Watercolor is a wiki-style list of best practices. It’s tips and tricks from the art trenches. Feel free to send me your own discoveries and cautionary tales and I will add them here. Let us embrace the spirit of imperfection, experimentation, and the making of a proverbial mess.

With a Wabi-Sabi spirit, there is no need of forgiveness.

In no particular order:

The quality of your materials makes a big difference when using watercolor. This goes for paint, brushes, and paper. You don’t need top of the line, but treat yourself to something better than what you used in kindergarten.

Cheap paper will not handle a lot of water. It will buckle and the paint won’t MOVE much. The way around this is to get better paper or embrace a relatively dry application.

Unless you are using Wet on Wet, don’t expect your paint to move around fluidly, despite what the name “watercolor” implies. Embrace the brush stroke. Put a mark down and leave it. Change direction and put down another one. Have the marks reflect the spirit of the thing.

Being Zen can really, really help. (This was my biggest challenge. Watercolor requires me to slow down. Not my normal MO.)

Different brushes will make different kinds of marks. You can’t effectively use a small brush to cover a big area.

Have a “test” sheet to check color mixes. (Yes, you’re supposed to mix colors.) A test sheet cuts down on fear.

Watercolor gets lighter as it dries.

Have a tissue or rag handy for “blotting,” but don’t make it a habit. It can become the equivalent of using an eraser compulsively. Go FORWARD, not backward.

The “dirty” colours on your mixing tray are GOLD. Don’t clean them up, use them for neutrals and making complex colours.

Wet on Wet requires bravery! It’s also a total gas! Pre-wet a defined area of your sketch and “drop in” color. Be amazed and delighted at whatever the hell happens. As time passes and the paper begins to dry, the amount of “spread” will decrease accordingly. Before long, you’ll be right back to having the brush strokes stay right where you put them

Work light to dark. Maybe. This is not a hard and fast rule as many artists lay in their darks early on. What it does mean is when layering watercolor, you can only get darker, not lighter. (There are ways to reintroduce light areas if you choose to delve into mixed media.)

Use watercolor as a base. You can put marker on top, as well as coloured pencil, ink, acrylic, etc. Knowing you have these options can really free you up! You don’t have to get that first layer perfect. Wabi-Sabi baby.