Top tips for keeping watercolour paintings fresh and loose

There are many things and painting techniques that contribute to the attractive and free nature of watercolour, but here I'll concentrate on the simplest and most basic: how I apply the paint to the paper. 

I've found the easiest way to make the paint look happy on the paper is to touch the paper once. That is, I know how I want my picture to look straightaway, and don't plan to do any over-painting. I avoid painting anywhere twice, until I have painted everything once. And I don't correct as I go along either – I wait until the end, when it is easier to judge the passages that haven't quite gone to plan. Remember, we are all trying to narrow the gap between our vision and the execution of our vision.

01. A preliminary drawing

Sketching it out

Sketching it out

The purpose of my preliminary drawing is to ensure the image fits the paper. As my aim – and I don't always succeed – is to go for the end straightaway, I can start anywhere I like. I don't paint to a set formula, but I do like to begin somewhere small and easy.

02. Keep the colour varied

Andrew aims to do just one wash with no overpainting

Andrew aims to do just one wash with no overpainting

I decide to leave the sky until later. I like to feel my way before tackling large areas. I continue to paint the sheds and some of the greens, all the while going for the final look in one wash. I also keep varying my colour to add interest.

03. Paint the sky in one go

Paint the sky on dry paper

Paint the sky on dry paper

The sky is painted in one go, on dry paper. Starting at the top I work down and across. I use the paper to separate the cloud shapes – I find the flecks of unpainted paper add life and movement. I think they give an open, honest look to the painting.

04. Work on some details

Avoid tidying for a fresh and lively look

Avoid tidying for a fresh and lively look

Finally, I add selected detail – masts, figures, shadows and texture. I avoid tidying up my picture, in fact, I often 'muck it up'. I think this adds life – I certainly don't start painting everywhere again. That is guaranteed to muddy fresh washes.

This article was originally featured in Paint & Draw magazine issue 2; buy it here.

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Andrew Pitt
Andrew started painting when he was 11. He is a self-taught painter who lives in Suffolk and is well known for his plein air paintings and simple style.