Creativity Workshop: Get Loose and Expressive With Your Watercolor Painting

By Peggi Kroll Roberts

Unleashing individual intuition and style takes time and mileage, and I’ve found that having a blueprint for success is key. Learn how to bring a simple, loose and expressive style to your paintings with the following step-by-step.


Step 1

To begin, I review my photo library and choose a subject that appeals to me not only in subject matter, but also in design, contrast and color.

photo-plein-air-painters | watercolor painting


Step 2

I then determine the light source, identifying which forms are bathed in that light. I consider the rest of the composition to be in shadow. Working from the photo, I do several value and color thumbnails to familiarize myself with the subject. These preliminary thumbnails—limited to two or three values in two or three masses—are invaluable for helping to address issues that might otherwise pop up later in the painting process.

watercolor-painting-demonstration-2 | watercolor painting


Step 3

I use a pencil to loosely sketch the subject onto my watercolor paper. Because it’s a loose sketch, I have a greater chance of maintaining that unregimented look in the final work.

watercolor-painting-demonstration-3 | watercolor painting


Step 4

To produce loose brushwork, I use a sable or synthetic flat brush to avoid “coloring.” I look for everything that’s in shadow and try to mass and finish these areas first, keeping the strokes broad and simple. This helps to keep me on track with the values.

As was true with the thumbnails, the focus for my brushwork is to create as few value shapes as possible, which also helps to simplify the subject and limit fussy details. The value plan helps to establish the abstract quality of the work when viewed from 10 to 20 feet away.

To give the painting an effortless look, I often limit the amount of strokes I use to 20 or 25. To do this, I have to load the brush just right and calculate the best place to start, and then usually move from corner to corner.

watercolor-painting-demonstration-4 | watercolor painting


Step 5

A solid value foundation allows me to be more experimental with color. In most cases, I use representational color along with expressive color, but I also like to explore a high-value key.

I prefer to work with gouache because of its opacity and quick-drying nature. If you’re trying gouache for the first time, know that it just takes earnest mileage to feel comfortable using it. I’d suggest making a color chart to familiarize yourself with the paint. You’ll see that the light colors dry darker and the darks dry a little lighter.

Using this blueprint for success will help you simplify shapes, loosen up your brushwork and become more expressive with color.

watercolor-painting-demonstration-5 | watercolor painting


Try This at Home

Create a painting using this blueprint for success. Send JPEGs (with a resolution of 72 dpi) of your process and your finished painting to with “Creativity Workshop” in the subject line. The “editor’s choice” will receive a subscrip-tion (or renewal) to Watercolor Artist. The entry deadline is April 15.

Catch up on other Creativity Workshop activities you’ve missed by clicking here.




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