Some tips, tricks and techniques
for painting with watercolors
or other mediums






I hate to call the following rules, because in art there are no rules,
but the these tips are some things that I take for myself as law.



♠ ♥ ♦ ♣ -



The three main things to know about painting are:

  • Connect
  • Connect
  • Connect


What I mean by that is all the primary elements need to be overlapped. For example: In a painting of two apples and a pear none of those three should be separated from the others. We call this "massing them".


Just touching is not usually enough. We call two elements that just touch, 'kissing'. If objects kiss, there had better be a good reason. Why, because it's too much of a co-incidence that they exactly just touch, and we take that to mean that there is something special happening here. Overlapping is what is likely to happen spontaneously and therefore we tend to be more comfortable with that arrangement.


If the elements are separated, we create tension. We instinctively want to know why they are separate. If two people are separated and looking intently at each other we ask; "are they enemies, is there going to be a fight?". If they are touching, we feel that they are in love.





Always have the values worked out in a thumbnail sketch before picking up a brush.




Always know the color scheme before picking up the a brush. Also know that if you have the values right, the color you paint an object is irrelevant. A good example of that is superman's hair which has always been blue.




Beginners rely on the background they see in the image that they are trying to copy. Often the background is irrelevant, or worse. For example: you might have an accurate and beautiful rendering of a face and torso. In front of a nondescript background it may be a magnificent portrait. Sitting on a toilet it is at best, a joke or insult.


So what you need to do is not look at the background. You need to look at the subject of your painting and let it suggest the background. Is that a simple thing to do? Of course not. but its worth the trouble to learn how.




Equal is Boring. If you put a big tree smack in the middle of your painting, you will be dividing your painting in half. That will create two equal parts, and that's a no no. Along the same lines, if you put a horizon half way up, you will be dividing your painting into equal sky and land. Also a no no. Many old master paintings have clear, empty sky, filling the top two thirds of the painting. Peaceful space is not boring, equal space is.


The classical Greek / Roman civilizations had a very precise mathematical construction for determining the exact point where these space divisions were to go. They called the ratio of large and small areas, "The Golden Mean". Were they right? Maybe. Nevertheless, the golden mean always worked out to be around 1/3 -2/3. If you use that relationship, between 60%-40% and 75%-25%, you will be fine.


By the way. The golden mean applies to everything in an image. The ratio of warm to cool colors, the ratio of straight to curved lines.... If you can think of it, the golden mean applies.




Whether you are copying a photograph or looking at a scene, there will most likely be many irrelevant objects in sight. Get them out of there. OK. Suppose that deleting an object leaves a space so that there is no longer a connection.Then you must also delete the space. Now they are connected. Maybe that messes up the background. So what, the actual background is irrelevant anyway.




A painting must be about something. Yeah yeah, I know, A minimalist panting is not about anything. You are not a minimalist or you wouldn't be here.


I used to think a beautiful vista or scene was an acceptable subject of a painting. Not anymore. That's because there are some things which are bigger, grander than I could hope to render.


I stand a chance of success with modest things, such a building, a flower, a pond even a whole farm. These things I can interpret and make them more colorful, or interesting or more dramatic than real life. I probably will never have the talent to improve a mountain.


That's not to say that a mountain would make a bad background. It would be a good one. But a mountain is just too monumental to be a subject.




I think of myself as a landscape painter. I think that even though I do a lot of figure drawing. The figure work keeps me sharp. If you can handle the human face and form from any angle, you can handle anything. But with the figure, or portrait, you need to get it pretty correct. No omitting an eye because the picture would look better without it. Not even changing hair from straight to curly is kosher.


To my mind, a landscape painter is anyone who has no allegiance to the scene in front of him. All of the elements within the scene are moveable, including moving them out of the picture entirely. Elements from elsewhere may be moved in. Sizes, colors, shapes, relationships, (like trees get rooted to the ground) are there for me to adjust; or even abandon.


Notice that I did not say that a landscape painter was one who painted pictures of the land. There are skyscapes and seascapes and even, (these days), moonscapes. Lots of artists, me included, have laid the human figure on its side and made a landscape with it. To me, the words "landscape painter" describe a mind set, not what sort of pictures an artists paints.




I start every painting with an idea. That takes some explaining for you to understand what I mean by an idea.

  • I once saw a single grass plant growing alone and unrestricted. It was beautiful. I think it fascinated me because it was perfect. Symmetrical in the unique way that particular species grows. It was also very handsome. So I made a sketch. Later, in the studio i made a painting from it. (It was only after the final painting was hung that I realized it was my lifelong enemy, the dreaded crabgrass.)
  • I once saw a shadow that grabbed me as beautiful.That shadow created such incredible contrasts. It was only beautiful in the context of what cast the shadow and the surface upon which the shadow was cast. So I made a sketch. Later, in the studio i made a painting from it.
  • I have great memories of exploring the salt marshes of the "Great South Bay" with my children on our sailboat. We poked into the little channels that occur naturally in that kind of marsh and studied the life there. So I took a remembered scene and made a sketch. Later, in the studio i made a painting from it.


These sketches are never a very detailed, nor very accurate. They are rarely filled with shading. Only enough detail is added to remind me of what I was interested in at the time. In other words; that which created the mood / emotion in me that i wanted to capture in a painting.




I never copy photographs. I always work from a sketch taken from life, or imagination. Now I get back to the studio and realize that I was grooving on the shape of some leaves, but I don't know how the veins branch on those leaves. Well, if I had photograph the scene, that would not be a problem.


So I do take photographs of the things I am interested in putting into the painting. Their purpose is not for composition. That's already done in the sketch. For reference they are wonderful. Its also a good idea to photograph the whole scene, just in case. Sometimes I take lots of photos, but only after I have sketched the image first.


I don't bother printing them out, or even looking at them. They are just there if I need a reference. This was expensive before digital cameras. Boy to I love technology.


Please understand that I am not saying that you should do it my way, Rather I want to encourage you to do it your way. I am telling you all this, because that works for me.


♠ ♥ ♦ ♣