How I Started Watercolour Painting

A boy a balloon a tree house and a dog

This is an update. The picture above is one of my favourites because it is colourful and tells a story. Sometimes I get a sudden surge of inspiration and produce something I really like. I was still very new to watercolour painting and still managed to produce a nice piece of art. 

On a recent trip to the Cape I met a lady who owns a gallery in Worcester, Western Cape called Worcester Gallery. She was a real inspiration and gave me her full attention as we discussed watercolour art. She liked the images of my paintings which I showed her on my mobile phone and encouraged me to keep on painting and send some of my artwork to her.

When someone you don't know gives you that sort of encouragement, then you really feel more motivated and appreciated. Her advice was that I should pick a theme and master it, which was buildings. Hence my latest effort is in the picture above. I would like her to know that I really appreciate her kind words.

I met with two other ladies after that who also liked my artwork and said I could send them some of my paintings. One was also in Worcester and the other one was in Ashton. Then, a friend in Mossel Bay said I should also share some of my watercolour paintings there. My latest creation can be viewed here.

Now back to the original article...

When I decided to start painting about a year ago, I was attracted to those shiny boxes of paints in brilliant colours, and I imagined painting the most beautiful pictures with them. I mean, who could go wrong if you had such awesome paints and brushes? Then, I had no clue that there was a difference between acrylic and gouache, and watercolours. Acrylics looked so bright and inviting that I bought a box and thought I had just struck gold. That was my first mistake of rushing into something without any knowledge or background about painting with that medium. Too much enthusiasm and no knowledge.

Then I heard that someone was creating great art with gouache and that word evoked something creative in me. I had to try it. Silly me. Just like the acrylics I created a mess and my enthusiasm for art and painting dwindled as I struggled again to paint a pretty picture. What made me feel even worse was that some of my family were doing great with their drawing and painting and as the patriarch of our clan who used to draw a lot when I was younger could not even produce just one perfect picture. Frustrating. 

So, where do I start, I thought. To produce a small masterpiece, I had to learn. Learning was the key. At my age that was a bit humiliating. I should have learned long ago.  Further down the line from acrylics and gouache there is watercolour painting. I tried that at school and could not even paint something pretty with it. 

I found a video tutorial course online where the elderly artist boasted about his immaculate career in watercolours, and I was to paint a side of a decrepit shed. But the whole presentation was not going as I expected, and I had wasted more money in the process. That was very discouraging. But I persevered and bought another course and got stuck in. It did not go that well either and I put my efforts up on our family WhatsApp group and my kids cheered me on, but I was not convinced. They were just being kind I thought. 

lady from behind in watercolours

Okay. I was not prepared to give up just yet. I wanted to prove that there is still an artist in me – somewhere. I hoped. All I had to do was go and look for him. Then I remembered that there is YouTube. That was exactly where I went to look for ideas and assistance. But I just needed something simple to paint. Eventually, I found a picture on Pinterest of an elegant lady without clothes on standing with her back to me. All I had to try and do was copy what the artist had done and paint some tan on her back and bum and then add some colour for her hair. An amazingly simple but elegant painting that looked genuinely nice. 

I had the watercolours, brushes, and paint so I jumped right in and proceeded to paint. With a lot of twisting and turning I managed to get the watercolour paint onto the paper. But then my artwork was spoiled because the watercolour ran over the lines and went where I did not want it to go. That was very disappointing and frustrating. But I did not want to give up just yet. That was extremely fortunate because it was my first moment of success. Even though I was looking at a badly buckled sheet of paper. I did not know I had chosen the wrong paper and needed to tape it down on a board. See, no knowledge. 

Anyway, I photographed it and put it up on the WhatsApp group feeling incredibly pleased with myself. It was a hit. But I knew I had to do better. I think I even put it up on Facebook and got a few likes. The artist in me was starting to appear but I had a long way to go. 

Off I went to YouTube to hunt for my next project. That was discouraging because I discovered that I did not even handle my brush as well as those other artists. They could produce the most amazing strokes that just shaped something beautiful on the canvas. Then they painted clear water on paper and then dropped some paint in the water and their paintings came to life as the colours magically flowed where they wanted them to. How was I ever going to get that good? 

What I needed was some practise. That is all! I looked for something simple for quite a long time. Eventually I found an artist who takes you step by step to paint something that looked rather good in the end. But it was far above my creative abilities I thought. Then, the artist inside me said yes, go for it. Was I crazy?  

The best way to do something is to just do what you must do and get some practise. I was willing to do that at least. I got all my materials in place and followed that artist as best I could. He was much better than me and produced those magic strokes that I struggled with but somehow, I just went along anyway. I could see that my efforts were not as perfect as his, but I just continued. 

When I reached further than the halfway mark, I was getting ready to chuck my artwork into the trash can, but my wife asked if she could have my painting. I said yes you can have it. Then I realised that it meant that I had to at least finish the painting for her because a half-baked thing is no good to anyone. 

Quite reluctantly I worked further painting all the way to the end and the project was finished. It did not look so bad. I realised that I had just finished a whole painting and started to like it. I framed it in a slightly oversized fame and put it on the coffee table. 

window with shutters and shadows in watercolours

Later, Maggie called me and said that I should sit on the couch next to her and look at the painting I had given her and tell her what I saw. I looked and looked and looked but did not know what she meant. What was wrong with my painting? Nothing. She asked me to look closer and I did. Somehow, that painting started to look three dimensional. 

Then I realised that I had given the painting to the right person. She deserved it because she saw something in my artwork that inspired her and that she admired and was happy to own. Maggie was the first person to see that there actually is an artist in me. Now she is a fan. Wow, what a wonderful wife! 

All I can say is that I managed to produce a miracle. From not being able to even know how to handle a paintbrush or how to work with watercolour paints that have a mind of their own, I achieved the impossible. When I showed my client and his wife, she could not believe that it was something that I painted as a first project. Apparently, she was struggling to paint just like me. 

Now I continue to try and learn how to work with watercolour paints and realize that there is much to learn, and that practise is especially important. Working on my next painting I also now see that I should not give up so easily and must continue with whatever I am painting right up until the end when the piece is done. In the middle of things, the painting may look awful, but it is the end product that counts. I now enjoy the process of painting because it takes me away from the cares of life and I can be as creative as I want to be and feel fulfilled and at peace with the world around me. 

It is a very holy and enjoyable hobby for me. A big thank you to a very good teacher, Paul Clark. Without him I would not have been able to create my first masterpiece in watercolours.

Now I have also discovered that there are many artists on YouTube who are sharing their experiences and giving you tips on how to get better results with watercolours. It will take a very long time to go through all of them so I just created my own latest little painting. See below.

butterfly delight in watercolours

My journey into watercolour painting continues with surprising new discoveries. Recently I found a new urban sketching artist and tried a free course he has on offer. It was as if I was on location with him for some time as he sketched and coloured in his rendition of an English building over the road from a pub. I completed the three videos where he explained how he creates his sketches and was amazed how thorough he was.

Then I decided to see if I could paint one of his painting which is actually available as a workshop on his website. It's a cute 1932 Ford pickup truck that was rusting in the countryside somewhere. His depiction of the old vehicle was quite unique and glamorous and I couldn't resist giving it a try. Being an absolute beginner I thought I really might just succeed with that project. The end result amazed me. Now I have another piece of art in my small collection. One that I am very proud of. I have added it below.

An old Ford truck

I decided to try my hand at acrylic painting with the acrylic paints I had originally bought before my watercolours. Below you can see how that turned out. This piece with the woman's face took quite a few days to complete. It is a lovely addition to my collection of my own artwork.

Face of a woman in many colours

Here is one of my latest paintings in a lovely black frame. I just drew this black figure in a hurry.
And below is a painting I did for an article called "The Answer to Trouble."

A small house, blue sky and tree

I am working on new paintings and will display them once done. Thank you for your interest.


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