How to Paint Quick and Simple Watercolour Pictures
Hazel Soan - Posted on 12 Oct 2008
Winning with watercolour
Hazel Soan recommends watercolour as the perfect medium for a painting break, and urges you to paint simple scenes
Have you ever gone away for a few days to paint, buoyed with the pleasant anticipation of uninterrupted painting time, eager to improve your watercolour skills, experiment with a new brush, squeeze a new colour – yet returned home having painted virtually nothing at all, daunted by the view, uninspired by the subject matter, irritated by the watching people, or foiled by inclement weather? Usually it is just lack of confidence that thwarts
purpose. Watercolour can be scary, but that is what is so exciting about it, why it creates such an adrenalin rush. It is a challenging medium, but it is also kind and the most likely to reward. It is also practical for a weekend away as it is lightweight to carry and quick to execute.
for the magic to happen.
So how do you gain the confidence to paint in the face of complicated subject matter, distracting circumstance, lack of time or wet weather? The answer is
quite simply that you have a go. All you stand to lose is a few sheets of paper or a few grains of pigment. Once you start the momentum will grow, and you won’t want to stop. Start simply; the secret of painting without anxiety is to find your pleasure in the painting process itself rather than in the finished product. Of course you want the end result to look good, but it probably has a better chance of doing so if you enjoy the journey.
I have always been a lover of
the quick wet-in-wet sketch,
of putting watercolour
straight onto white paper. A
visit to Cromer Pier furnished
me with one of my favourite
subjects – people. I had
plenty of time to make quick
colourful sketches of the
shapes of the people as they
walked the length of the
pier; lively brushmarks
prevent them becoming
The animal sanctuary at Hillside, in Sheringham, is
wonderfully peaceful and I couldn’t resist painting the
animals. I painted their shapes, working straight onto the white paper
without drawing, which is the best approach. Use the
largest brush you can manage. I painted the bodies in as few strokes as possible,
then immediately added drier pigment for the shadows and markings,
allowing the colour to spread into the damp wash. I then used the tip
of the brush to make the leg strokes, offering direction and length but
letting the brush create random widths to suggest movement.
At Sheringham Station I had time to paint just one trunk before the train arrived.
I used overlaying tints and washes of yellow ochre, burnt
sienna and ultramarine blue to build up the threedimensional
form of the trunk. I then mixed the blue and burnt sienna
together to paint the black, touching undiluted
colour into the damp wash for the shadows under the lid.
The station got busier and busier as I laid tinted washes to
build up the tones. There was a constant stream of people
who kept apologising for blocking my view and ventured
back and forth to view the progress of the painting.
I know some painters find an uninvited audience very
disconcerting and avoid busy thoroughfares but there
is no need to be embarrassed. Far fromjudging your work,
Luggage Trunk, watercolour,
people are entertained by a painter’s presence and
usually wish they could be doing the same. Try painting
in a public place, somewhere no one knows you – you will
be surprised how enjoyable and uplifting it can be. You could,
perhaps, even place a couple of photocopies of finished paintings
nearby to assure the viewer of your
The scene was multi-layered and
complex so I selected some
houses and some boats and left
out the rest. My main interest was
the monolithic warehouse, its odd
Quayside, Wells, watercolour,
151/2x 233⁄4in (40 60cm).
and the reflection in the water.
The rest of the painting supported
that focus. The sky was a mixture of
white, blue and grey and
mid-tide water level
mirrored the uniformly pale
light. I simplified the line
houses and limited the
colours to just six: a cool and
warm version of each of the
three primaries, yellow
ochre and aureolin, ultramarine blue and Prussian blue, cadmium red and alizarin crimson.
This short extract was taken from an article by Hazel Soan, The Artist November 2008 issue. For more watercolour articles, click here