Keys to Successful Watercolors

Grapes Ready for Fall

Here is the key – Paint and Water, back to simple.

Sounds easy right? Watercolor painting is well known as the hardest medium to master. They say the more you know, the harder it gets. There are so many paints and each one has their own characteristics/personality. Even the same color name from another brand name can be totally different.

Examples of Characteristics/Personality: Staining, granulating, settling, liftability, lightfastness, transparency, opaque, semi opaque, waxy, powdery, shiny, stays a light value, goes to a dark value, moves and spreads, stays exactly where you put it, etc. etc.

What’s an artist to do to be successful?

K.I.S.S. – Keep it Simple, Stupid! LOL 🙂

  • Limit your palette. It is exciting to try out all those beautiful colors you find, but with 1000’s of paints out there, it can be mind boggling and expensive. Try to stay between 12 and 40 colors. I know it’s hard, but even the masters have their favorite colors and they stay true to their palette.
  • Get to know your paints. By all means, play with your paints, watch how the paint reacts on your paper and in your palette. You can tell a lot about a paints personality while it’s still in your palette when you add water and mix it around in your mixing tray. Does it stain? Does it granulate? Does it separate? Best Tool Ever, Paint Logbook. See previous blog for my new updated version.
  • The main key to successful watercolor painting is…… Drum roll please! Paint to water ratio. Yes, that’s the key, simple right? Not so much. There are many factors affecting the paint to water ratio. Humidity, temperature, time/evaporation, and you of course. Here are some tips to help you with your paint to water ratio.
  1. Test your color on a paper towel, or a scrap of watercolor paper before applying it to your painting.
  2. After getting your paint to water ratio just right for all those beautiful rich colors you’re using, be mindful of how much water remains in your brush after rinsing. Watercolor brushes are made to hold a lot of water. This extra water goes right into the new color you prepared. Every time this happens, the water from the brush dilutes the paint color to a wimpier version therefore requiring more paint to be added. To avoid this, simply rinse your brush and laying it on its side on a paper towel, dab it gently, turn it over, dab again, so the belly of the brush touches the paper towel two or three times.
  3. When you’re working in the wet into wet style, mix up your colors a little darker than what you would like on your painting. Since there is already water on your paper, it will change your paint to water ratio. Remember also, watercolors dry approximately 20% lighter.
  4. Mix up more paint than you need. Watercolor painting is a time sensitive activity, if you’re taking time out to mix up more color while your painting is sitting there drying, you’re likely to get some undesirable effects.
  5. Keep the area dry around your painting. As your paper dries it will pull in any water around its edges, causing a ruffling effect.

Happy Painting!

Watercolor Logbook

Update – New grid pattern to my Watercolor Logbook.

Best Tool Ever, Paint Log – Here is a sample for the grid I like to use to make my paint log. I always use an 8 ½” by 11” piece of 140# Cold Press Arches paper, so I know how the paint will react when I actually use it for a painting and because it fits nicely into a plastic sleeve in a notebook. I like this pattern because I can get 15 to 18 different paints per page.

Click here for the Grid Pattern – Paint Log Book Grid

Logbook Sample

New Directions for above grid.


Using a permanent Sharpie, draw the grid lines and circles where indicated.

Using a pencil, make squiggle line in the Transparency box.

Write the brand and name of paint.

Wet the entire box with the circle in it, let the water settle in.

Mix up a mid value paint and water mixture of the paint you’re testing.

Paint wet into dry in the lift/stain box and the transparency box.

Paint just inside your previously wet circle after the water has settled in but has not started to dry. This is how you can find out if your paint moves or stays where you put it. Also if it is granulating, or separating as some paints that are mixtures do.

Let it dry

Paint a second layer of color half way over your transparency box.

Use a stiff brush in the lift/stain box to try to lift the paint.

Use the notes section for other characteristics you notice about the paint.


A Watercolor Logbook – This is by far my favorite watercolor tool besides paints, brushes, and papers.  Pics of my old logbook.

Logbook of watercolors

My watercolor logbook has a sample section with information of every watercolor paint color I’ve tried.

The watercolor logbook tells me:

  • The name of the color of the paint
  • The brand name of the paint
  • The difference of the colors between the brands.
  • The actual color of the paint in a light, medium, and dark value
  • How transparent is the paint
  • How easy is the paint to lift
  • If the paint is staining
  • If the paint is granulating
  • If the paint is shiny
  • If the paint is dull
  • How the paint feels (waxy, oily, watery)

Voila!  You’ll be surprised how much you can learn from this simple color log.

“Size matters when it comes to your mister”. 

Mister Bottle

I actually said that in a class I was teaching, and cracked myself up. LOL, and I turned bright red.

Back to watercolors, it’s true the size matters. If you look at the plastic hose in your mister bottle, the diameter is what determines the amount of spray. This is important to know when you are misting your watercolors.

​Fine mister = the type that comes with your eye glasses cleaner. Very light spray, good for when you want to blend an edge or cause slight movement in your paintings.

​Standard art mister = the kind you can pick up at your craft store, standard size plastic hose. Good for over all misting of watercolors, to encourage movement and blending.

​Household type mister = this is the type you use for spraying cleaners. In art, these are good for wetting your paper. They tend to be too much and too hard to control for blending and encouraging paint to move.

​Blaster mister = the kind with the largest hose, you can find these in your garden departments. These work great on the stream setting, to add in streaks of light, after you’ve finished a painting.

​Note: Practice moving your hand across your painting as you mist.

“Bend Me Over Baby” (Rated PG-13)


Bend Me Over Baby

Bend Me Over Baby

​Yup that’s its name!  And no, I didn’t name this one.  My friend Peggy did.  She was here at the studio with a group of fun and crazy fun women, and she recognized it, because it is very similar to another painting I call “Dip Me Darling” (G-Rated),  She said, “oh I recognize this painting, it’s called uh uhm, it is called ‘Bend Me Over Baby’!”  All the girls cracked up laughing, now we all know what Peggy was thinking!

“Coochie Coo” 

 Coochi CooCoochie Coo – You’re looking at it upside down. Yes this painting originally started with the feathers coming down from the top.  I was in a hurry to go get it framed for a show, and I had forgotten to sign it, so I quickly signed it, and stepped back and realized it was upside down. I guess that’s the way this painted wanted to stay. These cute little peacock feather’s look like they were flirting, so I named them Coochie Coo, like the way you might tickle a baby or someone you love to get their attention.  My friend Carol keeps calling it Hoochie Coochie. LOL  It went on to be published in “Splash” The Best of Watercolors.   Life is funny sometimes.


“Publoom” – (the tiny sound a blossom makes just has it bursts into bloom) yup I made it up!

This award winning painting has two stories to go with it.

Publoom - The tiny sound a flower makes, at the first moments it pops to open.  Yes I made it up.

Publoom – The tiny sound a flower makes, at the first moments it pops to open. Yes I made it up.

​Story number 1 – It started off as a great idea gone wrong.  Off to the garbage it went, until my darling husband pulled it out of the garbage and asked “what’s wrong with this one?”  My reply was “everything.”  The salt exploded in areas I wasn’t expecting, the paint moved where is was supposed to stay put, etc. etc. It just wasn’t talking to the artist in me.  I kept it out of the garbage, only because I love my husband.  A few months later, I took another look at it and I knew what it was supposed to become.  Thanks honey, because of you I won the award!

Story number 2 – While on display at WSU, I was standing behind a gentleman who was analyzing this painting, and he said, “Her palm leaves are so perfect!”  At which point I smiled, then he said,  “It looks like she took a template to make all her palm leaves.”

​There went my smile….. I kept my mouth shut and thought WHAT?! I absolutely did not!! I spent a lot of time getting them to look perfect.

This was a great lesson for me to learn, “Perfect”  can look like a template.

Please pass the salt!

Water to Vine

Water to Vine

Most all watercolor artists love salt, the textures it adds to our paintings is beautiful yet unpredictable.

​Salting tips:

  • Try different sizes of salt, including rock salt, margarita salt, and course salt (my favorite).
  • Wet your paper with clear water first and let it soak in before applying your paint.
  • Be patient #1 – wait for the paint to settle and your paper to get a nice sheen on top.
  • Be patient #2 – After sprinkling on your salt, wait for it to do it’s magic.
  • Try salting around a subject.
  • Try salting the subject.
  • Try salt with staining and non staining paints.

When you paint…

Screwed 11x15 Original Watercolor

Original Watercolor

When you paint and let your mind move into your right brain (creative side), it activates a side of your brain that is most often dormant in this primarily left brained world. You are literally activating the other side of your brain, and that is powerful! This gives you balance.

When you paint and you paint for yourself, it is a rare time that you are you. We are usually busy as bees making everyone happy, our spouses, our families, our peers, our co-workers, etc. We even make people we don’t know happy, we are polite, we let them go first, etc. Wouldn’t it be a terrible world it if we didn’t? So when we allow ourselves to get to the quiet place in our heads, and paint or draw or however you like to create, that is for YOU. This also gives you balance.