Can’t get away to an exotic – or even tame – location this year? Try your hand at watercolors with some “armchair traveling.” A great place to start, being mindful of the fact that of course the photographers own all the images, is TREK EARTH.
In addition to Trek-Earth there are tons of beautiful photo-references on the internet – even groups that paint using scenery the little Google-street-guy “finds” for them!
Here’s a book your library may have to help you get started: “Complete Book of Watercolors in a Weekend,” by Frank Haliday. Or get it from Amazon re-sellers, here because you are probably going to want to own it…of course it features transparent paints but I especially like the way it illustrates the “simplification” or abstracting process painters must use to go from a view with nature’s outrageous-complexity to painted scenes reduced to little more than the necessary color/tone/shape “impressions.”
Check out these step-by-step shots I captured for a kid’s painting class a few years ago.
Sorry, but the links to the video-demos are currently “broken.” fixed! Thanks, IT-guy!
My suggestion for best “beginner’s paints” are opaque watercolors. I love the Pelikan brand (used by all the kids in the “Escape Artists” class, BTW) and I like to get everything I can from Dick Blick because of their great prices and fantastic service. Stick with the 12-color set; plenty of vibrant colors and you’ll learn how to mix your own in-betweens faster that way.
O.K., so you want to jump into transparent watercolors? I have a 12-color set of these Van Gogh paints. The tiny travel brush is nice, colors are very strong, and the hinged plastic case is tough. If you can get the deal with the included watercolor paper, cool!
This is the brush I’d have if I could only own one (and I have often traveled with this one and this one only): a Loew-Cornell “Ultra” Round Series 7020. Choose the largest size, 14. It’s a synthetic that goes to a very sharp point to allow fine lines or use it on its side for bold swashes of sky or landscape. A quick look at Japanese brush-painting books or here, in just a few minutes in a video will show such a brush in action. NOTE: I’m so keen on this Loew-Cornell 7020 brush because of its resilience or spring-back. I believe it is even better than Sumi-e brushes which, as you can see in the linked video, are traditionally “limp.”
Soon you’ll find there’s not much you can’t do with it especially if you stick to small-scale travel-sized works no larger than 5″ x 7″ like I do and as I would suggest for a while. It’s not uncommon even at this scale to spend 3 or more hours on one plein-air watercolor.
For stuffing in your purse or laptop bag, stick with a 4″ x 6″ pad of decent paper, for at home I like a 9″ x 12″ with a centered 5″ x 7″ pencil-outlined, or drafting-taped-of painting zone. Then it pops into a frame and “appears” to be matted (if you can keep the “mat” paint free).
Check out these videos at Dick Blick. Typically you’ll want to start with a student-grade paper, but don’t buy more than one pad at a time. You will be working diligently and deliberately; you won’t be sloshing paint on sheet-after-sheet. Move up to 100% cotton paper as soon as you’ve painted through one or two 12-sheet “student pads.” You’ll thank me for the suggestion.
As nice as spiral-bound “travel” pads are, when you decide you want to remove something to frame or otherwise display you’ll have more of a challenge than the “taped-top” style of pad.
140-pound is a minimum, but a 300-pound “block” is a luxury that can still be affordable at these smaller sizes. All sides stay attached (except for a tiny area at one corner) until you choose to cut the sheet free. when you do use a gentle action, a clean and smooth plastic tool, otherwise you could end up cutting into your painting or the next layer on the block.