Getting Better at Watercolor Painting


Watercolor painting has been a huge challenge for me. And the bigger the challenge the more stubborn I become. I tend to lose interest in things that are easy. Just today I ran into an article titled “Are we making things too hard?” I do. Always.

But it’s not that I want things to be difficult, I just want things to be well made, with the best possible practices, with the right tools… ugh, I’m anal that way. Being like this trips me up all the time. Last week I had a web project. It seemed simple, nothing fancy. However I was so adamant in implementing the “good” WordPress practices that I complicated matters for myself too much. I wound up with three days of insomnia. When I did sleep I saw code in my dreams. It’s the same with watercolors. I took too many online classes, I ruined so much paper and nothing worked. And the things that did work seemed like a “fluke”.

So, how to improve?

At one point I browsed my Pinterest boards and asked myself what style of watercolors do I like best? And what style do I want to practice? Most of all: why?

I wrote about documenting one’s process from time to time. Art selfies if you will. Every time I look at that Vivienne Westwood painting, my first ever, I feel a bit of pride for my persistence.

So to answer the above questions about what, which and why…

I truly like the flowy watercolors, those that seem effortlessly random and I love portraits. I also love food illustration.

Flowy watercolors require high quality paper and brushes, and these do require a special something, the ability to foresee what is not there. Most of the people who paint like that, do so from imagination or if they are looking at a reference, they just take the very minimal. I can’t buy bulks of high-quality paper and I don’t have that je ne sais quoi. So after a lot of failed attempts at this style I managed to let it go.

In the very beginning of my watercolor adventure I ran into a video where the instructor said: if you have the values right and the drawing right, the color doesn’t matter. Then he proceeded to draw a psychedelic portrait. This video remained in my subconscious and it gave me the key to understanding not only watercolors but duh! all of the visual arts: VALUE.

The problem is, to see value is hard. I squint my eyes as much as I can and yet, I still wind up with a high contrast image because I do not see midtones. But this, as everything else, is practice. And I have practiced a lot.

I discovered that my hand prefers the wet-on-dry technique. This watercolor painting technique allows me to control water and pigment a lot better and my work has improved.

I’ve followed many different techniques and read quite a bit. I’ve done many exercises and watched hours of time-lapses (god how I hate them!) just to pick up bits and pieces.  I’ve also fantasized about getting into an illustration program, but it’s a wacky idea. I don’t have the time or the resources.

Yet, perseverance pays off. If you’ve followed me on Instagram, I’ve posted some of these images. I hope one day to be able to veer off from the representational and more into palettes of my own.



By Luisa Fernanda

Artist, Illustrator, Cruelty-Free Advocate. Notion Geek.