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5 Watercolor Exercises for Creative Block

posted by Misfit September 14, 2016

— We All Have Those Days —

I know I’m not alone when I say, there are just some mornings – no matter how much coffee you drink, no matter how much you stare at Pinterest for inspiration – there are some mornings you just don’t want to paint.   It’s a very familiar feeling that can come from just about anywhere.  Recently, I’ve found myself struggling to just pick up my paint brush and paint.  For some reason, lately, my white woven watercolor paper send my head spinning with anxiety.  That’s when I realized, I needed a creativity recharge – something to jump start my artsy fartzy painting skillz again 😉   

— How Do You Jump Start Creativity? —

It’s something that I had never heard of – which is partially why I decided to make this video and write this post.   As we’ve already established – everyone struggles with some form of creative block at least once in their lifetime (for me it’s more like once a week – usually Monday mornings but that’s a whole other topic.) So, today I’m going to be sharing with you some exercises that I do to get me out of this rut and recharge my creative circuits.   Now, without further delay let’s jump into this!

EXERCISE #1 – Washes

Believe it or not, the best place to actually start your “creative wheels a turning” is to go back to the basics – yeah, those basic beginner’s exercises you learn way back or perhaps have just started practicing.    I’ll get into the reasoning a bit later, but for now just trust me going back to the basics works.   Washes are the first exercise I recommend trying.  They are easy and the foundation for everything you will do in watercolor.   There are 3 different types of washes you can paint – A Flat Wash, A Gradient Wash, and a Variegated Wash.   

—FLAT WASH—

Flat washes are the most basic of the three washes you can paint.   Simply put, they are a solid layer of one color tone evenly spread over one area. These washes can be tricky when painting larger areas – this is why painting in “puddles” is so crucial to achieve with this technique.   Here is basically the rule I use when painting a flat wash –

  • FIRST, DON’T OUTLINE THE SHAPE – rather, start from one side and work your way to the other.  This creates a smooth transition without the chance of layering a new color to a previously dry coat (that’s there those funky line shapes come from).  
  • NEXT, ALWAYS LEAVE A PUDDLE IN THE DIRECTION YOU ARE MOVING.  The video demonstrates this perfectly – thus if your a bit confused definitely check out the video.  But basically, as you are painting, try and keep a puddle of paint toward the edge in the direction you are moving your paint.  This will prevent the paint from drying to quickly on the page and allow you to pick up new paint if need be.  By painting in this method, you can create smooth transitions when loading your brush with paint – by simply placing the newly loaded paint in the puddle you just formed.    

puddle

—GRADIENT WASH—

Gradient washes are washes that show a smooth paint transition from one color to the white of the paper.  These are great for showing highlights and are pretty simply to paint.   Once again, DON’T OUTLINE THE SHAPE. Similar to the flat wash start at one end of the shape you desire to paint and move in a forward motion to the other side.   However, with a gradient wash instead of picking up more paint this time you will be loading your brush with water and slowly adding more and more water to the paper until the color appears transparent on the paper.

—VARIGATED WASH—

Variegated Washes are washes that show a smooth paint transition from one color to another.  These are in my opinion the funnest to paint but also the most difficult.  I have found the easiest way to paint these is by starting on one end of your shape with let’s say pink and painting similar to a flat wash toward the center.   Then with another brush painting the opposite side let’s say blue and painting this side toward the pink.  However, before merging the two, next mix the two colors on your palette and then apply this to the middle -merging the purple tone between the pink and blue.  This helps me create the smoothest transition and still give it a cool variegated feel.

washes-and-wet-in-wet-slide

EXERCISE #2 – Wet into Wet

The next exercise – as the name implies – basically means you are placing wet paint into either a water layer or more wet paint.  One reason it’s great to play around with this exercise is because some paints you may notice mix well together in wet in wet environments – and then there are others that just don’t care what you want them to do. These paints don’t care about your feelings and will flat out refuse to mix with each other in unique ways.   This has nothing to do with you or your ability to mix paints – but rather on the consistency of the paint itself.  So, definitely play around and keep notes on which of your paints like to comply with your demands and the others that prefer to have full on temper tantrums. 🙂 

watercolor-textures

EXERCISE #3 – Textures

 I absolutely love playing around with watercolor textures!  There are so many different combinations you can play around with.  Your imagination is really the limit for this one.   I’m going to be honest with you, I’ve wasted a couple of days away just playing around with watercolor textures.   I could spend a whole article talking about the endless possibilities with this technique, but for time sake will limit myself to my 6 favorite texture combos.  

My favorite watercolor texture combos include…

  • salt with watercolor
  • white acyrlic paint with watercolor
  • metallic ink with watercolor
  • coffee grounds or coffee with watercolor
  • metallic nail polish with watercolor
  • tissue paper or plastic wrap ontop of wet watercolor

EXERCISE #4- Glazing

 I noticed in recent years there is a lot of confusion with glazing and wet into wet.  To help clarify this confusion, I’m going to try and simply the definition as much as possible.  Glazing is painting wet paint onto a semi-wet to already dried layer of paint.   Wet into Wet, however, is painting wet paint into wet paint and allowing the two to mix freely on the page.   Think of glazing has having some control over your paint.  Whereas, wet into wet, is a Hunger Games free for all, with no control over your paint.  This technique is great for adding shadows and details to a previously painted layer.   Also, notice that your paper, after being wet will react differently than it did when you first painted on it.  Depending on how much water you previously applied to the paper, your lies may not be a defined as they were when first painting on clean paper.  This is just something to keep in mind especially when added thin lined details.  

EXERCISE #5 – Precision

And finally, the last exercise I recommend is Precision.   Think of Precision as a handwriting exercise – except with your paint brush.  It’s basically trying to control your hand and eye coordination for those small intricate details.  The goal of precision is to paint lines as close as possibly to one another without touching one another and allowing the wet paint to blend on your paper.  As you find yourself getting better and better with simply lines – next try creating intricate patterns with shapes to challenge yourself further.  

precision

— Letting Your Creativity Flow —

You may be asking yourself, Carrie why the heck did you just walk me through a beginning watercolor class?  Well, starting from the beginning is the best way to recharge yourself.   It’s a simple and easy way to get back into the groove of painting, honing those basic skills, without the pressure of creating a masterpiece.   As we all know, perfectionism is the greatest enemy to creativity.   I didn’t share this in the video, mainly due to time, but after you feel more confident with your basic painting skills, challenge yourself a bit more with watercolor patterns.   This is where your creativity and really blossom.   I’ve included a sample of what I did to get my creative juices flowing and I promise you it works.   But don’t take my word for it, try these exercises for yourself and watch your creativity recharge.  

watercolor-patterns

As usually my Misfit Fam, it’s been a pleasure and I will see you next time!

Carrie Luc - Watercolor Misfit 

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16 Comments

Kimberly September 15, 2016 at 11:02 am

Thanks so much!! Love your tutorials Carrie!! I’m a newbie to watercolor and am learning so much from you.

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Misfit September 21, 2016 at 6:01 pm

So glad the tutorials are helping! I have a question for you – I’m currently putting together a beginner’s watercolor class. As a beginner, what are 3 things you want to learn more about if you were in the class? That would help me ALOT! Thanks!

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Linda September 17, 2016 at 11:30 am

Carrie…I have to tell you how much you have inspired me and encouraged me to just try and paint with watercolors.
I’ve been wanting to tell you.
I searched the Internet trying to find someone who had a pattern that I could paint along with them and you do that!
I learn the best this way!
You share so much with us and you seem so very sweet

This is coming from a 62 year old Grandmother who has always wanted to learn to paint and you are helping me do that in a style I love!
I enjoy all of your videos on YouTube and learn so much from them!

Thanks?

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Misfit September 21, 2016 at 5:55 pm

I’m so glad you love the videos Linda! Yeah, I paint paint with a pattern. It helps my confidence levels while painting. Thanks so much for commenting! Your comment made my day! 😀 Stay Artsy!

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ria maas September 17, 2016 at 1:01 pm

i love the way you explain things, in writing and in showing on you tube, thanks!!!

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Misfit September 21, 2016 at 5:54 pm

Thanks 😀 Glad you like!

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Dena September 21, 2016 at 12:01 am

Hi Carrie.
I am new to your site and wanted to Thank you so much for your advice on using puddles for flat washes! I finally have a successful flat wash! I also very much appreciate the exercises. I dont have a block as much as I have inexperience and these were very helpful, as all your videos are.

Please can you tell me what brush you are using in the video (size and hair content)? The spring and point are so beautiful. I have red sable, black squirrel, esconda reserva, etc but none of the points are as pointy as yours. I buy what i can afford and take impeccible care, but I dont recall any of my round brushes acting quite the way yours does. Possibly its the artist and not the brush? 🙂

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Misfit September 21, 2016 at 5:53 pm

Hi Dena! So glad you liked the video and tips! I recently bought an artist grade paint brush and yes they are pricey! 😮 We have a Michael’s Craft Store near us – so I use their 40% to 50% off coupons when buying artist grade watercolor supplies. The brush I used in the video was a Grumbacker round size 6 I believe. At the time of recording I only owned 3 sizes – a 6, a 00 and a 12. At Michael’s the size 6 was about $18. But with the 50% off coupon I bought it for around $10. I actually really love this brand and highly recommend it. They are made of Synthetic Hairs and are very soft to the touch – yet are able to achieve a nice point for line work. I hope that helps! Stay Artsy! 😀

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Holly S September 21, 2016 at 8:09 pm

Hi Carrie! I am very new to watercoloring and I’m loving your videos! I’ve learned a lot already! What type of watercolor notebook are you using in this video? I like the idea of a sketchbook style watercolor pad!

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Misfit September 28, 2016 at 6:00 pm

So glad to hear you are learning watercolor Holly! 😀 It’s the best – of course I may be a bit biased. 😉

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Sylvie October 3, 2016 at 2:59 am

You were the first watercolour artist I watched on You Tube. In the beginning I just admired … you do lovely work. I also took to heart took the advice that improving drawing skills was very important. I’ve never taken any formal art lessons so I took the following 3-4 months to practise, practice practice. Thanks to following and trying basic beginner WTC tutorials again, including yours about various topics, I began to be more encouraged and focused. Therefore I thought this vlog really summarized in helpful detail everything I need to be more confident with WTC. You asked wjithin the comments section what tutorial we might like…I would like to have tips on how to transfer drawing onto WTC paper; if possible.
Thank you for all your inspiration and teachings.

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NIMA October 9, 2016 at 3:56 pm

Hi Carrie… I was always confused about variegated wash.. I think it’s a good idea to paint with the mixed colours in the middle… thank you so much for the lesson..
I would also like to know how one chooses colours.. I have noticed that the colours in a painting are totally different from the colours I find in nature…this is more so when the artist is painting from a photo…can you please just do a session on colours…

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Marie October 19, 2016 at 7:45 pm

Thank you for a great video!! I’m learning how to watercolor, cause I am starting to get headaches from my alcohol markers. I started with watercolor in tubes but had hard time getting my colors the way I would in alcohol marker. So I got watercolor pencils to try, but that’s tricky too. Do u used watercolor pencils? Do u have a video on using watercolor pencils?

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Carrie January 11, 2017 at 1:48 pm

Hi Carrie! My name is also Carrie (Well, my nickname is Carrie)… anyway, I just found you on youtube. Love your videos! I’m very new to w/c. I’ve played with acrylic and oils, but just getting into this new medium. Gotta say… you are much easier to follow. You make it more clear with your instructions. Stripping it down to the basics for us. Love it!

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Misfit February 12, 2017 at 11:40 pm

Awe thanks Carrie 😀 This made my day. 😀

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Laura Franch May 9, 2017 at 11:24 am

Nice post and video!
Yesterday I was grabbing a couple of old porcelain dishes (forgotten in a closet) from my parents house and my girlfriend and my mum where asking…what the hell are u going to do with thoose? ^ _ ^

Now I can start to do my mixing chart!

This series of whatercolor for beginners is helping me so much re-doing things I thought I’ve forgotten and back to the creative groove …so many time just used for job. Now I can have fun again !

Thank you Carrie

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