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Love the look of pen and watercolor artwork and want some tips to get started on the right foot? What are the must-know things to have in mind when combining ink and watercolor in order to avoid undesired accidents? What are some good options for supplies when it comes to ink pens and bottled inks?
Watercolor and ink go together like bread and butter.
As an artist with experience working with a vast array of traditional drawing and painting mediums, I've found very few combos that can so easily create such striking and professional-looking results.
I'm a huge fan of both painting with watercolor as well as of pen and ink sketching, and have released helpful blog posts and videos to help beginners improve their skills with both.
In today's blog post, we're covering the must-know basics to know about when looking to use these two mediums in combination, which brings up a whole new set of questions in terms of process and supplies.
As with all mixed-media art creation, it's incredibly important to consider how the mediums we're going to be using will be interacting and affecting each other throughout the art-making process, but also how the piece will hold up over time after the artwork has been completed.
By doing a bit of research, choosing the right art supplies, visualizing what results we're after, and planning the techniques/general strategy we'll be using before getting started with a new piece, we can ensure a smoother process and it'll be much more likely that we'll arrive at results we'll love.
Today, I'm incredibly pleased to share an article written for us by pen and ink expert K.T. Mehra. She is the founder of Goldspot Pens, a store based in New Jersey that is dedicated to selling not only beautiful, high-quality fountain pens, but also incredible inks, writing instruments and paper.
Alongside the hard work she does in her company, she's incredibly passionate about literature, history and, you guessed it...art!
Without much further ado, let's get into her helpful tips and recommendations for supplies.
by K.T. Mehra
Watercolor and ink work together beautifully, and this combination of mediums can certainly lead to a variety of amazing effects and styles.
Line work created with dark inks can be colored in with bright watercolor washes for very impactful, modern-looking pieces, but there's also so much room for exploration, creativity, and for artists to bring in their own personalities into the process.
To make it easier for artists just getting started with ink and watercolor, I’ve written a short list of must-know aspects to consider when choosing pens and inks to combine with watercolor. Afterwards, I'll be sharing my favorite options for both ink pens and bottled inks.
Before getting into anything else, when buying inks to combine with watercolor (whether in pen or bottled format), it's important always ask yourself the following four questions:
1. Is it waterproof?
The first and most important factor you want to consider is whether your ink is waterproof. This will determine whether it'll bleed or smudge when water is applied on top of the ink.
When working with watercolor, you'll need quality waterproof ink. This will allow your line work to stay clean and sharp as you apply paint over it. Most pens and inks will be labelled as 'waterproof', whether in pen form or bottled format.
2. Is it water-soluble?
You may come across inks and pens that state they are 'water-soluble'. You want to avoid these inks, as they are made with water and will run when combined with watercolor.
These can be used to create particular styles, but are not ideal for most cases when you're looking for a good ink or pen to use in combination with watercolor, as the ink will run and smudge, and very possible affect the vibrancy of your washes of color.
It's best to assume that any ink pen contains water-soluble ink and will not be ideal for use with watercolor unless its specifically states that it is waterproof. You also usually want to avoid any pen or ink that says it’s 'water-based'.
3. Is the ink pigmented?
Oftentimes it's not 100% clear whether the pen contains waterproof ink or not. One sign that the pen is most likely waterproof and usable with watercolor is if it includes the words 'pigment' or 'pigmented ink' on the pen or bottle.
Pigments are tiny particles of colored material that do not dissolve in water. In other words, they are rarely water-soluble or water-based, which makes them good for use with watercolor.
4. How long does it take to dry?
Another factor you want to consider is the ink’s drying time. If you apply watercolor too soon after drawing with ink, it's likely that some smudging will occur.
Most inks will dry after an hour or two, but to avoid this completely, you’ll want to wait 12 to 24 hours for the ink to fully dry and set into the paper.
If you don't want to wait this long for the ink to dry, make sure that to purchase a fast-drying ink. I'll recommend my favorite below, so keep on reading!
Are you supposed to do your ink line work before or after your watercolor washes?
This is a great question, and the answer is even better.
The truth is... either way works!
There are pros and cons to both methods, but it's ultimately up to you to experiment and determine what'll work best for you, making sure, of course, that you're taking precautions and allowing layers the necessary time to dry in between.
It depends on the artist's personal way of working and the outcome that he/she is going for.
A reason you might want to do your ink work before watercolor is that it allows you to focus on your line work and/or outlines first, establishing a type of preliminary sketch to work with. You're then able to begin applying watercolor washes and it's easier to stay inside the lines and have more control over where the color is applied.
Also, you'll likely find that the pen glides across your paper more smoothly when there's no paint on your paper yet, which can be a pro for many artists.
A reason you might want to do your ink work after your watercolor painting process is if you're looking for your line work to be very clear and visible.
Doing your line work after your washes also allows you to first freely paint with watercolor, creating abstract shapes and organic effects which can then serve as a guide or a type of underpainting for the line work that'll come later.
This technique is great for artists who love the looseness and interesting effects watercolor allows, and want the paint to be the primary creative force structuring the artwork.
It's also important to note that, when doing your ink work after your watercolor painting, you're also able to use water-soluble inks, as long as you've allowed your painting to dry for 24 hours.
Have fun, explore and get creative with your process!
Ink and watercolor can and should be used in new ways that give your pieces a unique personality and character. I'd recommend exploring both sequences and analyzing which results you like best.
Best Waterproof Pens For Use With Watercolor
Now that we’ve covered the basic things to consider when searching for an ink pen or bottled ink to use in combination with watercolor paint, let’s look at the best waterproof pens available (in no particular order).
Uni-Ball Signo Gelstick Pen
The Uni-Ball Signo is a great beginner-friendly option. It's affordable and one of the best ink pens for use with watercolor. It's waterproof, fade-proof, and is able to create smooth, thin lines. It also doesn’t leave stop and start marks at the end of long lines and marks like most gel pens do.
*Most Affordable *Best Gel Pen
Sakura Pigma Micron Series
If you’re looking for a slightly more professional fineliner pen, the Sakura Pigma Micron is a great option, and it's one our favorite fineliner pens for use with watercolor. The Sakura Pigma Micron draws smooth, thin, and very consistent lines that can really help bring together watercolor pieces.
Artists around the world swear by the Pigma Micron for its precise and professional line work.
*Best Fineliner Pen
Lamy Safari Fountain Pen
Using disposable pens can definitely become expensive because they have to be replaced after a relatively short period of time, especially when using them for drawing/sketching purposes.
We recommend, as an alternative, using a fountain pen and filling it with your own ink. This allow us to use our own choice of ink at an affordable price and we can continue filling up the pen when the ink runs out. As long as we take care of the pen, it'll last for years.
If you are looking to invest in a fountain pen, Lamy Safari is the best option for beginners and is relatively affordable for a quality, reusable fountain pen.
*Best Beginner-Friendly Fountain Pen *Most Affordable
Uni-Ball Impact Gel Pen
The Impact Uni-ball pen is a slightly more expensive gel pen option that works wonderfully with watercolors. Go with this waterproof pen if you're looking to incorporate thicker, bolder outlines or marks into your watercolor paintings.
This pen draws fairly wide lines. So if you are looking to do very detailed work, you will need a large canvas or paper, which may be a drawback of the impact gel pen for some artists.
Fudenosuke Brush Pen
Another interesting option is using a brush pen alongside watercolors! The Fudenosuke pen by Tombow is perfect for use with watercolor, as it is waterproof, and produces beautiful drawings with a lot of line-weight variation.
Brush pens allow for varying thicknesses of lines/marks via changing the pressure and angle we're using. If you aren’t looking for a this kind of variation in your line work, as well as organic transitions between thin and thick lines, a brush pen may not be for you.
This pen also requires practice and a certain level of control, which may be a drawback for some artists.
*Best Brush Pen
If the thought of a fountain pen caught your attention, the Kaweco brand is famous for their superior quality fountain pens.
Winsor and Newton Fineliner
This is another beautiful and unique option for a high-quality fineliner that works great with watercolor. Winsor and Newton provide a great lineup of fineliners that are waterproof and come in many sizes and colors. I can’t recommend them enough!
The Unipin Fine Line
The Unipin Fine Line is a great and fun-to-use waterproof pen, but it does have some drawbacks. I love this pen and it’s definitely worth a buy. Unfortunately, when using an eraser on the Unipin Fine Line, the ink fades and blurs a bit.
This is a fantastic option if you do not plan on using any pencil markings that you’re thinking of erasing later in the process.
Pentel Pocket Brush Pen
If you are looking for something a little different, the Pentel Pocket Pen is a really neat option. This pen was created for writing expressive Japanese calligraphy. It has a very sensitive felt-tip that's able to create plenty of variation when it comes to line width.
This may be a negative for new artists, but it does allow more control for experienced artists that are used to brush pens.
Faber-Castell Assorted Pens
Faber-Castell has an awesome pack of eight waterproof pens which offers and assortment of different types and sizes. They call these their Pitt Artist Pens, and the cool thing about this pack is that you get four fineliners and four brush pens in almost every size.
There are better ink pens to use with watercolor on this list, but the Faber-Castell Artist Pens are waterproof and do work well with watercolor. The main benefit of buying this pen set is primarily the variety offered, which allows the artist to explore amongst them.
Best Bottled Ink For Use With Watercolor
If you’re looking for the absolute best supplies to use for your ink and watercolor pieces, buying your own ink bottle along with a fountain pen or dip pen is going to provide you a custom experience and might just be the way to go.
Next, I’ll reveal my top ten picks in terms of the best bottled inks out there.
Platinum Carbon Ink
Probably my favorite ink to use with watercolor is the Platinum Carbon ink. It's a beautiful natural black textured ink that comes in a lovely little glass bottle. This permanent, waterproof ink is great for use with watercolors.
This ink takes about an hour to dry. Once dried, it’s resistant to water, erasing, smudging and anything else.
This Japanese ink is highly sought-after, which makes it slightly pricey, but it's worth every penny!
*Best Overall Ink
De Atramentis Archive Ink
This is an incredible waterproof ink. The color is less textured and not as pretty than the Platinum Carbon Ink and less of a 'true black' than the Speedball India Ink, but the De Atramentis Archive Ink may just be the most waterproof ink on this list.
I've experienced absolutely no smearing or even a drop of ink smudged after working on my watercolor washes. The ink was also dry after only a few minutes! This is a great and really safe option for use for your watercolor projects.
*Most Waterproof Ink *Best Fast-Drying Ink
Speedball Super Black India Ink
India ink is the best, deepest, truest black ink you can get. Speedball's India Ink is an amazing waterproof option. Some artists mention occasional smearing, but I've personally never had this happen.
The Speedball Super Black India Ink is the best ink bottle you can purchase for a pure, true black outline with your fountain pen and dip pen. If you use this with your Lamy Safari fountain pen or the Kaweco, you’ll want to clean out the pen often, as this ink is thick and can clog the pen if not cleaned routinely.
*Best Pure Black Ink
Winsor and Newton Ink
Winsor and Newton’s ink is also great for watercolor projects. It offers a matte black finish that would be perfect for more modern or cartoony styles and line work. This ink does take a while to dry, but if you're looking for this kind of color and style, it’s definitely worth it.
Sailor is a company that's known for their fountain pens, but they're also one of the top ink manufacturers in the world. This is another high-end Japanese ink that performs beautifully for both writing and drawing. You cannot go wrong with the Sailor Kiwa-Guro.
The ink is a solid matte black and dries very quickly. The big negative is that there have been reports of it losing its waterproof properties after several months of being left in the bottle.
So far, this hasn’t happened in my personal experience, but it would make this option riskier if our aim is to combine it with watercolor.
How To Find The Right Pen And Ink For You
Like with all art supplies, it’s important to explore for yourself in order to find the right pen (and ink) for you. Art is such a personal experience, and we all have different styles, quirks, and processes.
Try different pens and inks to find the ones that work best for you, starting at accessible options if you have a limited budget. Finding your personal favorites will make all the difference when working on a new art piece.
Whether you decide on a gel pen, a fountain pen and ink, or a professional fineliner, we are excited to see what you come up with!
Looking for further guidance with combining pen and ink with watercolor? Check out *FREE* samples of exclusive, step-by-step, fully-narrated art tutorials I've created for my innermost art community over on Patreon here.
Sending out a huge thank you to K.T. Mehra for her enlightening tips and recommendations!
To find out more about Goldspot Pens and the products they have available, visit their website here.
Also be sure to follow their Facebook page and Instagram account for the latest news.
Thanks for reading!
Do you enjoy taking your watercolors with you while traveling or to different local settings to create unique, artistic renditions of your experiences? Love exploring new art supplies and sharing them with your creative friends? Do you like bold, bright, expressive color?
It's been a month since I first received my Viviva Colorsheets and I'm excited to report that, after having created a little series of paintings with them (some of which I'm including in this post), I'm ready to share my thoughts!
In this blog post, I'll not only be including my swatching video for the 16 colors offered in Viviva's watercolor sheets, but I'll also share some information about this amazing brand, the products they currently offer and my observations after having explored them for a bit.
This way, you can decide whether to order yourself a set a.s.a.p., or stick to regular watercolor tubes or pans.
Viviva's watercolor sheets take the form of a booklet and each sheet contains 2 (6 x 4.5 cms.) highly saturated "plaques" of pigment. To use them, one has to simply touch the color with a slightly wet paintbrush and the color will be immediately activated.
This is an idea pioneered by Peerless Watercolors in 1885 and Viviva has succeeded at creating their own modernized, all-around visually appealing version that they're constantly working on improving and providing different iterations of for their audience.
Viviva Colorsheets was founded in 2015 by med student Aditya Vadgaonkar, who loved watercolor, but found it hard to make time to paint ever since starting with his university studies. Even when he did have a bit of free time, the set-up process, taking care of required supplies and clean up involved, made things very impractical for him.
He longed to continue with his art practice and knew that there probably were lots of people around the world who loved art and felt that eagerness to sit down to create, yet found it too challenging to make time for it in their busy schedules.
While working on a med school assignment involving a diagnostic technique that required picking up color from a paper substrate, the idea of creating watercolor sheets that contained color in dried form occurred to him.
He thought this would be a great way to make watercolor painting more practical for busy people and for those enjoy sketching/painting outside of the studio, as these sheets would be easy to carry around and required minimal preparation/clean up.
Passionate about making his idea come to life, Aditya then worked with an expert on colorants and, after 2 years and lots of different iterations, they arrived at a product that was ready to be offered to the world.
They came up with a method to create watercolor sheets using a minimal amount of binder (when compared to regular watercolor pan sets), which gives them their vividness and great color payoff.
In May 2017, Viviva launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in order to begin producing their colorsheets in small volumes and start selling worldwide. It was a huge success.
Viviva has been working on their product design nonstop, and now offer a wide range of vibrant colors that are not only super bright and easily activated, but portable, durable and eco-friendly.
They've added more colors, tabs on the bottom of each sheet so that colors can be easily found, protective water-repellent paper in between each sheet, a small foldable paper palette, and they've even added beautiful and customizable wood covers as an option for your colorsheets (an amazing addition if you want to give these colorsheets away as a gift).
They've also been working hard on getting their innovative product into art-enthusiasts' hands worldwide, as they continue spreading their mission to share the joy of being able to paint anytime and without the mess.
Today, Viviva is selling their colorsheets to artists and art-lovers all over the world via their website, as well as through art stores in the U.S., Canada, UK, Germany, France, Netherlands, Singapore, Honk Kong, Australia and more.
Viviva currently offers four different sets:
Find out more about their products by visiting their website.
Viviva Watercolor Swatches
The very first thing I did after receiving my colorsheets, was work on swatches for their 16 colors. As you'll see in the video, I also made sure to test out some techniques that I frequently use in my watercolor painting.
As I explain in my blog post/YouTube video titled How to Swatch Watercolor and Why It's Important, making time to test out colors before using them in an actual painting will not only give us a feel for the usability of the new set on hand, but will also help us avoid surprises when we're laying down our colors and creating our different color mixtures.
Many colors in regular watercolor sets often look very different while in the pan/tube when compared to how they look when they're placed on paper and Viviva's colorsheets are no different (specific colors like Violet, Peacock Blue and Viridian are especially surprising!).
Swatching colors out also allows us to have a better understanding of the color range offered.
If you enjoyed this video and found it helpful, make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel. I share a brand new video every week with art tips, drawing and painting tutorials and mindset/productivity tips for artists. *Subscribe HERE*
The 16 colors included in Viviva's Colorsheets are:
You'll notice that, in this video included above, I also share my initial thoughts on how these paints compare to regular watercolor pans and tubes.
In many ways, these paints act more like dyes than regular watercolors and it's important to take this into account when you start painting with them.
This said, I've come across pieces created by different artists using these colorsheets that look like they were painted with regular watercolors.
Because of this, I refused to change the way I work and just simplified my method. I came up with something that works similarly to my usual techniques and that I like the look of.
As with many art supplies, there's a learning curve involved, for sure. Especially if you already have a specific way of working as well as a style you're trying to achieve.
As you'll see in the pieces I share here, I've have managed to use these colorsheets to successfully create beautiful wet-on-wet effects, muted out color mixtures and even a variety of values using layering to provide a bit more realism.
Trying out these colorsheets has been a great experience and the product didn't disappoint. I'd recommend it to artists who are looking for convenience/portability and love creating quick paintings or sketches using watercolor, especially those who love bright color and do minimal color mixing.
Viviva's colorsheets are the smallest, most lightweight, portable set that I've ever used, which make them perfect for art on-the-go. Any artist who enjoys creating quick sketches outdoors, in different settings or while traveling, should definitely give these a go!
Though it definitely took me a bit to get used to them in order to produce the results I was after, I think the challenge has expanded my horizons and has made me a better artist.
Thank you for reading!
*Follow Viviva Colors on social media to see inspiring artwork created with their colorsheets, as well as the latest news from them:
Viviva Colors on Instagram
Viviva Colors on Facebook
What does it really take to develop one's own artistic style and voice? How do professional artists get to a point at which their artwork is unique and seems to be an extension of themselves? Is there anything that artists just getting started can do to get there sooner?
In today's blog post/YouTube video I'll be sharing a fundamental aspect behind finding one's own artistic style and voice that's rarely, if ever, discussed. I'll also be sharing some key tips that have helped me make a ton of progress with this in my own journey.
So, let's just cut to the chase.
The fact is that becoming an artist that creates unique, quality artwork is just as much about doing the internal work as it is about continuing to develop our cold drawing/painting skills.
Because it's through the introspection, self-analysis and even self-discovery that takes place as you continue honing your art skills that you'll be able to start peeling back the layers and learn who you are as a human being, as well as how this relates to your very own creative process.
You must find out who you are, the message you want to share with the world and how you want to share it.
Without comparing yourself to anybody else.
If we don't practice listening to ourselves throughout the creative process and we constantly depend on external inspiration in the form of other artists' work to get started, we risk never finding out enough.
We risk not connecting the necessary dots so that we're able to create something from scratch that's truly ours.
Think about it.
If there's one thing that all kinds of artists who manage to constantly create unique, meaningful work have in common...one thing that makes a person stand out from the crowd, it's the fact that they know who they are.
They know what's important to them and are unapologetically themselves.
Don't get me wrong.
Developing our cold artistic skills and knowledge on Art Fundamentals is essential when we're just getting started.
In my blog post titled 5 Tips for the (Serious) Self-Taught Artist, I get into the importance of learning about Art Fundamentals, as well as why its vital for serious artists to adopt a learning mentality and to embrace exploration.
It's through knowledge about Art Fundamentals that you'll be able to make use of Elements and Principles of Art effectively, in a way that's visually impactful, harmonious, balanced and that transmits your message.
This knowledge also provides you the confidence you need to trust in yourself artistically, which is so important.
And yes, we're always going to be inspired and influenced by other people's work (visual artists and otherwise) that has impacted us directly or indirectly throughout our lives.
Our art is an extension of ourselves after all.
But there are effective ways to do it and others which aren't so helpful if we're already at a certain skill level.
In this blog post, I explain how to get inspired by other artists' work in a way that isn't copying and that will actually get you closer to discovering your own art style.
Even though there's nothing "new" under the sun, no one else in the world has that exact combination of influences and experiences you have.
And you better believe that you have the ability to create an original mishmash of all those things.
Here are the objective/tangible aspects that we often consider when looking at our own or someone else's artwork:
But, what about the more subjective aspects? What about those things that cannot be readily described, but felt and understood at a deeper level?
What about the artwork's overall mood, message or story?
Artists who've developed a unique style and voice, find their own way of making use of their medium(s) and the aforementioned objective/tangible aspects in order to transmit a particular feeling or message that connects to who they are.
And while this message doesn't have to be anything complex or grandiose, it does have to come from you.
Creating quality original artwork comes down to two things:
a) Having an original vision and a message that's meaningful to you
b) Having the skills and tools necessary to see it come to life
As you continue honing your skills and mastering your medium, start reflecting on your creative process, what you're enjoying and not enjoying, the commonalities that you're finding in the pieces you've created, your personal strengths and weaknesses, what strengths you'd like to enhance and what weaknesses you want to work on, etc.
Also ask yourself what's most important to you, what life/world issues deeply affect you, what change you'd like to see in the world, what life lessons have marked you or made you different from others, etc.
Remember that, even though a lot of us are total introverts and work in isolation, we create art to ultimately share it with others.
We create art to communicate important issues, bring light and/or build bridges.
What is it that you want to communicate with yours?
Then, work intentionally, based on your findings and the goals you set for yourself.
Here are a few specific tips that'll help.
Tips to Find Your Own Art Style and Voice
1. Prioritize and stay consistent
It's important to embrace the fact that art is a large part of who you are, and to truly commit to improving your work and finding yourself artistically.
Make it a priority and don't be afraid to set those goals!
In this blog post, I share my method for setting goals and breaking them down into tasks you can do monthly, weekly and daily, so that you can make sure that you're moving forward consistently.
Move past those limiting beliefs because quite often, we're holding our own selves back from making significant progress.
2. Inspiration can come from anywhere
However, as an artist, you have stronger sensibilities than non-artists. If you want to, you can get inspired with practically anything.
By breaking away from Instagram and Pinterest, and practicing with finding beauty or interest in day-to-day objects, thoughts, feelings or circumstances, you'll be opening the floodgates to new, original ideas.
Also, it's important to realize that we're not always going to be inspired.
If we're serious about reaching artistic success, we need to find motivation in achieving our long-term goals (they're different for all of us and you need to find what these are for you).
Oftentimes, inspiration will come to you as your working or will come to you as you continue busting through those milestones!
3. Create an inspiration board
Yes, other artists' work can be part of this collection but, add bits and pieces of all kinds of things/subject-matter including colors, textures, words, music bands, random elements and whatever comes to mind.
What's absolutely amazing, is looking back at these collections you've created and discovering patterns or threads in the items you've picked (often subconsciously).
It allows you to discover specific things that appeal to you in a visual and tangible form.
Analyze the collections you come up with and internalize the threads you find. Ask yourself questions like: How do these visual patterns connect with who I am and my personal tastes? Can I find a message here?
I love doing these digitally, as the Internet makes it very easy to find all sorts of images and we can even create collections via Pinterest boards or in any sort of photo-editing software.
4. Put yourself through periods of "incubation"
And this can be very hard because with the Internet and social media, we're constantly bombarded with all kinds of visual stimuli.
The fact of the matter is, that the influences that have already impacted you and make you who you are, are already inside of you.
You don't need to take anything new in, in order to create.
*This doesn't include using reference photos or subjects you have in front of you in real life, if this is the way you work. But try creating your own references based on your original ideas/concepts.
I put myself through periods of what I like to call incubation, in which I limit the new influences I'm taking in and make time to sift through what's already inside of me.
It's important to turn off unnecessary external influences from time to time, trust that we have what we need already within us and listen.
This tip goes hand-in-hand with another suggestion I've provided in other YouTube videos and blog posts:
"Limit consumption and increase creation."
Do your best to create your own concepts and see those visions through from start to finish. Take your own art reference photos, draw that preliminary sketch from the imagination, whatever it may be for you.
And there's no need to be a master at your medium to allow yourself to do this!
And the more you put yourself through this process independently, the easier it will get.
5. Get writing!
Writing things down or doing what I like to refer to as "brain-dumps", is so helpful in getting rid of unnecessary mind-clutter that's making you slower or may even be blocking you.
I talk about it in my blog post: 5 Essential Self-Care Tips for Artists and Creatives.
It doesn't matter if you don't consider yourself a good enough writer, because it's not about getting perfect grammar and spelling. What matters is getting out what's in your mind and heart at the present moment.
Similarly to tip #3, you're going to start seeing threads in your journal entries in terms of personal thoughts and even expression styles which continue popping up. These can give you clues on ideas that are important to you and that perhaps you can integrate into your artistic message in some way, shape or form.
For me, my writing takes form of morning pages, but getting out that journal and doing free-form, unstructured writing is something you can do whenever you have time during the day.
That's it for today's blog post!
I really wanted to share these ideas with you today because I know how frustrating it can be as a beginner artist who wants to desperately move past the awkward phase and get to creating original and meaningful artwork, to come across advice such as:
"Keep doing the work and it will come to you eventually."
"Don't try to rush it or pressure yourself, just keep on creating and it will come naturally, at the right time."
While these suggestions are all well and good, they are too vague and often leave beginners spinning their wheels, continuing to do exactly what they were doing before and making the self-discovery process a lot longer than it needs to be.
So, after you reach a certain skill level with your medium, you need to start trusting that you have everything you need to create original work from scratch already within you.
Watercolor supplies used in video:
Why is it that abstract art looks so easy to do and when I try my hand at it, I always end up disappointed with my results? How can I become looser and more expressive when painting with watercolor? Does one have to prepare before starting a painting that's more on the abstract side of the art spectrum?
When I first saw abstract artists at work, back when I was very young, I remember thinking just how easy it must be to create that kind of painting (or drawing). I saw how intuitively and spontaneously they moved along the process, and concluded there was no prep work involved or specific process to follow.
I wasn't entirely wrong.
However, the thing I failed to realize back then is, those artists that seemed to be creating magic on canvas in a matter of minutes and without any struggle at all, had a ton of knowledge about art and Art Fundamentals, and had full control over their preferred mediums.
They had already devoted lots of time to learning, exploring, messing up and finding their voice to the point that they could now easily express emotions and ideas via marks, colors, shapes and textures.
They had full knowledge of Elements and Principles of Art, and were masters at choosing color schemes, creating interesting and balanced compositions, harmony, contrast, and everything that makes an artwork look impactful, cohesive and have the ability to effectively communicate an idea or emotion.
Because they had already gained a certain level of mastery through their first-hand experience, they were able to move through the creative process with confidence and ease.
And confidence, in my opinion, is key to abstracts as it's what truly allows us to let go and be able to work more intuitively.
Not to mention, these artists had already gone through the long process of finding themselves artistically and preparing their specific tools (and colors) of choice. They know the message they want to transmit and how they want to transmit it.
So yes, they may be going along the creation of an abstract painting intuitively now, and they may or may not have prepared or practiced before starting a specific piece (this depends on each artist's creative process), but they have years of practice under their belts.
When we're just getting started (and we're serious about improving our skills), it's important to realize that there is a lot to learn and that we need to explore and practice first-handedly consistently and intentionally, in order to make the progress we're after.
As I shared in my past blog post, 5 Tips for the (Serious) Self-Taught Artist, learning about Art Fundamentals can make the biggest different in your artistic journey.
Not only in your ability to create original and impactful drawings or paintings, but also in your ability to analyze and talk about art. This knowledge helps you communicate your ideas about your work, and the work of others, which is so important when your goal is to become a professional artist.
By learning about Art Fundamentals and applying this knowledge consciously in the beginning, as well as taking a few minutes to do a bit of planning prior to starting a new piece (whether it's abstract or not), you'll develop your eye for composition and later be able to tell if something works or not, pretty darn fast.
Not to mention, knowledge of Art Fundamentals is what allows us to create original and visually pleasing artworks from scratch, all on our own, and without having to constantly rely on inspiration from other artists.
This means you won't have to spend hours scrolling Instagram or Pinterest until you arrive at something that you want to replicate, because you'll have the ability to take ideas you already have inside of you and turn them into an actual visual composition.
Join the Becoming Artists community on Patreon for live classes on Art Fundamentals, exclusive real-time drawing and watercolor tutorials that I don't share anywhere else (complete with downloadables), sketchbook prompts sent to you every week designed to help you stay consistent, feedback from me on your work and much more! *Click to learn more.
Next. I'll be sharing three key tips that will help ensure a much smoother process and a more effective outcome when creating looser watercolor paintings.
3 Tips for Beautiful Watercolor Abstracts
1. Plan your colors
Color is an essential part behind making a visual composition (whether simple or complex) look harmonious and cohesive. Because of this, giving thought to what specific colors you'll be using prior to starting with the painting process can be extremely helpful, especially when we're just getting started with painting.
When we're creating an artwork, we have to consider the whole, or the global picture. A composition is meant to be seen in its entirety, which is why artists have to become masters at making use of (and manipulating) the different Elements and Principles of Art so that everything included works together to transmit the message, emotion or mood that they are intending to transmit.
No element included in the piece is an island, as they all interact with each other to communicate the story, message or feeling to the viewer.
Therefore, it's smart to give thought to how the different parts we'll be including in our artwork will be working in conjunction, prior to starting with the painting process.
In relation to color, it's also helpful to remember that the way we see each hue is affected by the colors around it.
Randomly picking colors throughout the painting process is a huge no-no, especially when we're just starting on our painting journeys. This will often result in struggling with muddy colors throughout the process, as well as finished products that don't look cohesive.
Have in mind that, when we come across a video online where we're seeing a pro who knows color and has been painting for a long time, they've already most likely prepared specific colors on their palettes that they love and know will work well for the mixtures they'll be needing.
In other words, they've already prepared their colors and aren't working with a color set that has been pre-made for them.
They also know the color wheel like the back of their hand. This knowledge enables them to not only create color mixtures effectively, but also select color schemes that look integrated and impactful, and know exactly which colors to reach out for (or stay away from) when a new color mixture is needed.
Learn more about the Color Wheel and Color Theory by joining over 3,000 art e-mail insiders and getting immediate access to my *free* Watercolor for the Total Beginner Mini-Course! The third class is all about color. :)
Something I love doing when preparing for a new piece is to think about the overall mood I want it to transmit to the viewer and how I can play with color to enhance my focal points, as well as create a sense of contrast to really make my painting pop.
*Most of my viewers over on YouTube also know that I love keeping things simple and using a limited amount of colors when painting.
Keeping things as simple as possible, and limiting the amount of colors that I'll be using, allows me to stay better organized throughout the process, which keeps muddy colors at bay, and leads to my paintings looking a lot more unified at the end.
2. Give thought to your compositional arrangement
Though many abstract artists make this work seem easy, something important to understand as beginners is that an impactful, harmonious and balanced composition rarely happens by accident.
As an outsider looking in, it might look like what skilled abstract artists are doing is completely free-flowing and spontaneous.
However, as I mentioned before, they have the knowledge and skills they need to create impactful work almost unconsciously and have the confidence that allows them to trust in their tools and in their own decisions/movements.
It's incredibly helpful, for both beginners as well as more experienced artists, to sketch out a few quick thumbnails to roughly plan the location of focal point(s), as well as the balance that will be created between positive and negative spaces (areas which contain the subjects vs. empty areas), before getting started with the painting process.
If you're using a reference photo, give thought to cropping and manipulating the size of different elements included, as well as removing those which may be detracting from the focal point or the balance you're looking to create.
By learning about Art Fundamentals you'll become knowledgable on how to play with Elements of Art in order to manipulate their characteristics, as well as their placement within your space, to pull the viewers' attention towards your focal point(s) and keep their eyes moving throughout the piece.
Not to mention, you'll also be able to stay away from making your drawings or paintings too overwhelming, which can be a huge problem when creating abstract art.
Two "rules" or guides that I learned in art school which really helped me develop my eye for balanced yet interesting compositions, were the Rule of Thirds and the 60/40 (or 70/30) Rule (also referred to as the "Less is More" rule).
The Rule of Thirds is used by photographers and even cinematographers all the time, and it helps us create interesting, asymmetrically balanced artwork that transmits a story.
Using it is very simple. We basically divide our space into 9 equal squares or rectangles using horizontal and vertical lines and, using this grid, we decide the location of our focal point, as well as the placement of the secondary and tertiary elements.
The Rule of Thirds tells us to never place our focal point right in the center of our space, or within the center of any of the squares or rectangles. It tells us to pick one of the points where the horizontal or vertical lines intersect (see red dots in image below). We can also place our focal elements along one of the lines.
This guideline helps us create visual compositions that keep the viewer's eyes moving throughout the piece, instead of staying stagnant, which we definitely want to stay away from.
It's not completely black and white, and you'll be able to find many examples of masterpieces created throughout history in which the Rule of Thirds has been deliberately used, and other in which it's used a bit more loosely.
Check out this beautiful painting created by Renoir in 1873. The viewer's attention immediately gets called towards the lady in the white dress.
The artist not only placed the focal point along one of the lines in the Rule of Thirds grid, but also emphasized the main subject by creating contrast using color and value, as well as rendering higher levels of detail within her when compared to the elements around her. We get a sense of this lady being directly hit by sunlight, while everything else in her proximity is in shadows.
Now check out this painting created by Van Gogh in 1888. He's also made use of this same idea when he decided to place the group of boats off-center and closer to the left side.
The viewer's attention not only gets immediately pulled towards the red boat (which falls right in the intersection where one of the vertical and horizontal lines meet in the grid), but our eyes then keep traveling towards the boats behind it, and then to the boats that are heading out towards the horizon.
In this piece, though, the horizon line was placed almost halfway down the composition, which is what the Rule of Thirds tells us to stay away from. This nearly perfect central placement of the horizon line usually "cuts" landscapes right in half, when we're usually looking asymmetrical balance.
However, this piece has so much movement and depth created by the placement of elements in the foreground, middleground and background, and such an interesting overall use of Principles of Art, that the horizon line doesn't really take away from it.
The 60/40 or 70/30 Rule basically tells us that the areas of interest (or our focal points) should take up a much smaller amount of space than areas of lower interest. It also propels us to think about how we're going to be making use of different Principles of Art inside our areas of interest when compared to outside of them, in order to create contrast, bring attention to our focal point, and transmit our message more clearly.
I don't know about you, but when I'm creating an abstract piece, I find it really easy to go overboard and start adding more and more (paint, marks, etc.) to the point that the focal point is lost and I end up with a painting that is overwhelming for the viewer.
This is a big no-no, unless of course, this is intentionally the style your going for.
I suggest taking breaks and stepping back from your work every few minutes and, once again, observing the global picture.
Think about whether more is truly necessary.
These two "rules" are by no means the only way to go about creating an artwork or the only helpful guidelines that exist out there, but they really helped me develop my eye for composition, as well as my knowledge on what goes behind creating a successful artwork when I was first getting started.
For more on Composition pertaining to abstract art, check out this awesome video shared by artist David M. Kessler over at his YouTube channel.
3. Think about how you'll be doing your layering (especially if you're using mixed media)
What makes so many abstract pieces so appealing is the richness artists are able to achieve via their layering processes, which I suggest giving thought to whether you're only using one medium to create your piece (the way I did with watercolor in the video included above), or are combining a variety of mediums.
This will not only ensure a better outcome, but will also help your piece last a lot longer in good condition.
Depending on the mediums that you're using, you'll want to do research and even do quick explorations to see if your initial layers will directly affect both the look and durability of the layers you place on top, and vice versa.
You'll want to look into factors such as drying times between layers and final varnishing, as well.
As opposed to representational art, in which a large part of the story or message is told via instantly recognizable subjects, abstract artists make use of the Elements of Art in their purest form (color, shape, line, texture, etc.).
Playing around with how to layer these different elements, as well as defining what tools, mediums and/or techniques will be used throughout different parts of the process, we'll be able to create a much more impactful piece.
Not to mention, we'll be able to keep some level of organization in our chaos. :)
Keep in mind that an interesting and impactful composition usually has some sort of play between less and more, dark and light, etc. There are many ways in which we can create contrast, including making use of light vs. dark values, cool vs. warm colors, small vs. large sizes, heavy vs. light visual or tactile textures, highly detailed vs. less detailed, etc.
*Bonus Tip: Just keep moving!
Once you've started with the painting process, don't allow yourself to stay stuck in one place. Move past small mistakes and embrace imperfection!
Trust in the plan and prep work you've done and keep moving forward. This quicker pace of working will lead to much more expressive results.
If you don't feel ready to start on the actual piece that's meant to be finalized, warm up with smaller explorations! This never fails to help me, no matter what I'm doing.
A while back I shared a blog post titled 5 Tips to Loosen Up and Create More Expressive Art which contains helpful tips that I apply myself.
Watercolor painting supplies used in this video:
I hope this blog post was helpful! If you have any questions or tips to share, make sure to leave a comment below.
Thanks so much for reading!
Do you love creating art but often get frustrated with yourself because the outcomes of your drawings or paintings aren't what you expected them to be? Are you constantly comparing yourself to other artists you come across online or through social media? Do you feel anxious to get to where others are, even though you know they've been at it for far longer than you have?
“Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything. ”
Today I'll be sharing a video in which I explain why artistic perfectionism is something that we should do our best to move past. I'll also be sharing a couple of my own experiences as a recovering perfectionist and specific tips that will help you overcome this harmful habit so that you can make faster progress.
I believe perfectionism is amongst the worst habits that we can have as creative beings. It oftentimes paralyzes us from even getting started or stops us from creating the amount of work we should be doing in order to truly progress artistically.
As artists, we shouldn't be striving to achieve masterpieces with every-single-piece we create and should give importance to the entire creative process, not only the end-product. This includes explorations and smaller studies we may have to do prior to starting a larger piece.
It's these imperfect, messy works that allow us to get to know ourselves artistically, as well as what we want to put out into the world.
Hope you enjoy!
I hope you enjoyed this post and learned something new, or got inspired to go and create a sketch for yourself. I wish you tons of progress and enjoyment in your artistic journey! :)
Thanks so much for popping by today!
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