5 watercolour lessons I’ve learnt so far.

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I’m writing this now in absolute awe of the reaction I’ve had from my paintings. If you’re new to this site let me update you on whats happened for me over the past 4 weeks, I’m still in complete shock!

I’ve been doodling with watercolour for quite a while but not very seriously at all, it all got a little more intense earlier this month when my very persuasive and encouraging friend asked me to paint a portrait of two dogs for a birthday present. I reluctantly agreed and said buy something else as well because it probably won’t work out. Well it did, the birthday girl was pleased with it and and I discovered that I absolutely loved the process so I did a few more, posted them on social media and now here I am with 50 pet portraits to paint and I’ve had to stop taking orders so I can catch up!

I think part of me feels like I’m going to get caught out pretty soon for the fact that I haven’t a clue what I’m doing. Part of me also feels like my inner artist has burst free and now I don’t have to brush my hair, I can wear hippy clothes, not get out of bed until 10 am and slot a paint brush behind my ear. Not that i’m one for stereotypes, that’s just how I’d love to live. Okay, I might brush my hair. But, whilst i’m slogging away in a job I don’t particularly enjoy this is where my head is, maybe the daydream is a little premature because it feels like every painting so far has been a complete fluke. Surely some day soon my real ability or lack there of will show it’s self? I mean the only qualification I have for doing this is a grade B at GCSE graphics so there is absolutely no way I should be selling portraits!

Enough of my over excited ego and niggling self doubt, let’s get back to the lessons I’ve learnt so far because after all I’m In the very early stages of learning something, everyone has to be a beginner sometime and hopefully if I can publicly document the process it might help someone else try something for the love of it without the perfectionism that usually cripples us. You know what I mean, the ‘I’ll start that when I’ve mastered it.’ or ‘What if i’m not amazing at it?’ kind of thoughts.

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What 4 Weeks of Watercolouring Pet Portraits has Taught Me

Lesson no.1

I did not know this but I found out the other day watercolour should always be painted at a slight angle, not flat on the table. Something to do with the water being able to run and not just sit on the paper. Possibly a reason my portraits have a slight blotchy-ness to them.  

Lesson no.2

Use a hard pencil, not a soft one. Sounds daft and obvious now but I was using too soft a pencil and it smudged and left my sketches dark and dirty.  

Lesson no.3

The photo a person sends of their beloved canine will massively affect the portrait. I’m not great at painting from imagination so the less detail and accurate colour on the photo the less detail and accurate colour on the painting. Also, some photos don’t represent the pets very well just like with people, sometimes a photo just doesn’t look very much like the subject, it’s maybe the expression they have on their face, the angle of it, or maybe the memory of them in your head and the photo don’t quite tie up. 

Lesson no. 4

Never paint until the sketch is as accurate as you can possibly get it. I used to rush the sketch and think it’s okay I’ll correct it with the paint. NO NO NO Brooke. Some people can maybe work this magic but your skills ARE NOT there yet.  

Lesson no. 5

Take a photo of the sketch. Don’t ask me why but in real life for some reason I can’t tell if a head is too wide or if an eye is lower than the other, seeing it on a photo somehow makes it much easier to see where I’ve gone wrong and what needs changing. Also having a break from the drawing and coming back to it with a fresh pair of eyes and a cup of tea can be a huge help.  

Lesson no. 5

Never paint in a rush or in a stressed or panicked state. One poor lady wasn’t happy with my painting, and rightly so, looking back it was the worst I’d done by far. (I haven’t shared it on Instagram, I know we should share our fails but forgive me, I just couldn’t.) Bless her she was brave enough to tell me which is exactly what I want from everyone, but at the time I panicked and thought oh my god that’s it, my luck has run out. This is the standard i’ll be fighting against from now on. I desperately tried to paint it again to pick my bruised ego up but for the life of me I couldn’t do a good job with it. I ended up spending 5 hours painting a terrible second attempt (they usually take me 2.) and I was completely panicked the whole way through, my heart was racing and all I could think was oh my gosh what have I started, I’ve got another 40 of these to do. I wanted to quit then and there. This by far has been my biggest lesson, and I cannot thank her enough for both her honesty, kindness and support during the whole thing. I will get things wrong, I won’t always capture the likeness and that’s okay. Because at the end of the day I don’t charge until it’s done and people like it and my prices are much lower than any other artist whilst I learn. The first knock will always be the hardest so chin up and on to the next.

So there you go a few things I’ve learnt so far during my imperfect and public painting practice.

Written with love

Old Mother Hubbard