I meet many artists who are afraid of colour, which sounds crazy, as without it we simply couldn't paint. In workshops I come across people who lose exciting opportunities to include drama in their work because they are nervous about using bold pigment or adding strong darks for impact.

I have a warming-up exercise that I thoroughly recommend before starting a serious painting, which may help those who are wary of colour to overcome the problem. I experiment daily with a variety of watercolour washes at the beginning of every art session. This is not only a brilliant way to warm up but it also gives me the opportunity to discover vibrant colour combinations. These studies are also leading me into fascinating abstract work and aiding my watercolour collections

Dramatic salt effects
Salt applied to a varied watercolour wash led me to an idea for painting a composition of sheep.
The pattern created from the initial exercise was perfect for a larger composition

Many of my abstracts are now framed and working as paintings in their own right. With each new exploration into working with colour I am improving my own growth as an artist and by understanding more about the watercolour pigments I am working with I am achieving far more interesting results.

My painting time is also far more enjoyable. I constantly search for new combinations and the outcome of my experiments has led me to even more unique paintings.


Passion, watercolour, (62x80cm)
This abstract was made by working with layers of vibrant colour in pleasing contrast combinations


Bold textural effects

I don't believe that it is enough simply to place colour on paper and expect it to work. Knowledge of how pigments interact not only with other shades but also water is valuable information, especially with texture effects such as from the use of salt or cling film. These explorations can really aid the artist who is more adventurous with technique – the artist who never settles for the obvious but is always on the search for something new.

By experimenting with vibrant in dramatic washes I discover colour combinations and effects that can bring a new look to familiar subjects. As a result I am always enthusiastic when I paint, which makes my studio time a real pleasure.

If you regularly create fabulous washes on scraps of paper you will soon find which colours appeal to you most and which effects are the most fascinating.

The time taken to experiment can be put to good use in a full composition. In We Three (below) my salt effect experiment led to an atmospheric painting of sheep that is an interesting combination of salt texture patterns – bold colour defines the head shapes.


We Three, watercolour, (74x92cm)
An exciting combination of vibrant, bold colour and salt texture effects
bring this painting to life with a unique approach to a familiar subject



Colour contrasts

Start small when working a new painting. Place your initial ideas in soft colours to get the feel for where your main focus points will be. In Standing out from the Crowd (see bottom), I started with hints of the main sheep and literally allowed colour to flow away into the distance to hint at the animals in the background. These will merely be dots of colour to suggest they are there, not perfect detail.

Taking the time to learn from experimental washes will build your confidence. From making small studies and working on a regular basis, I have learned over the years which pigments will react well with each other, salt or cling film. I understand which will give me fabulous colour contrasts when placed next to or on top of each other; I can layer my colour with confidence knowing which shades will work and which won't. I have fun with colour and I aim to be unique, not a sheep, in my results!


This was the starting point for the main sheep in Standing out from the Crowd (see bottom).
It was a slow beginning until I found where I wanted my main subjects to be.
This works well as an abstract painting as it is


Patterns within patterns

Learn to observe patterns within the patterns found in sections of your compositions. Those you like you can strengthen and use in future work. For the flowing salt patterns (below), I used my thumb to gently brush colour away from my subject in one area. I did this whilst the salt was still in place on a slightly damp paper surface. The effect is a beautiful feeling of movement from the salt, rather than the usual way of working with it to form a stagnant pattern.



Flowing salt patterns


Unique results

Whatever you do, whatever you are creating and whatever medium you are working in, as an artist you need to stand out from the crowd. You deserve to be unique and feel as though you are achieving the very best that you can when you work. Be brave with colour. Know the medium you are working with and get the most out of it. Experiment and search for new colour combinations in washes, whether simple or complex.
Be an adventurer in your art – think about leading as an artist rather than following an idea that has already been used many times before.

You should always aim for excitement and drama and never accept that all watercolour techniques have been discovered. I had no idea that, by moving the salt while it was still wet, I could increase the pattern with a directional flow that could aid my paintings. Explore, experiment, be adventurous and aim for the extraordinary not the ordinary in your paintings – it works!


Standing out from the Crowd, watercolour, (74x92cm)
A different approach to painting a familiar subject is fun and a great way to open the imagination
when using vibrant colour and exciting techniques in watercolour


Jean’s new book Atmospheric Watercolours is published by Search Press, price £19.99, ISBN 9781844486748.

Jean’s latest DVD Jean Haines' Watercolour Passion is available from Town House Films, price £27.95 inc p&p; www.townhousefilms.co.uk; telephone 01603 259441.

For details about Jean’s summer exhibitions and workshops see her website: www.jeanhaines.com