Celebrating Summer | Watercolor Ideas and Inspiration

Top watercolor artists share what inspires them during the summer season from signature techniques to favorite products.

|Sponsored| Maybe it’s the longer hours of daylight or the comforting warmth of the sun on your skin. Maybe it’s eating outside, driving with the top down or tending a garden. Whatever it is that you love most about the season, the fact is there’s no shortage of inspiration during the summer months. No surprise, then, that when we asked artists Keiko Tanabe, Thomas Schaller and Carol Mann to tell us about their artistic lives, watercolor ideas and inspirations in summer, they had so much to say.

Watercolor ideas inspired by a summertime paint palette.
Blick Artists’ Watercolors feature 63 paint colors, so it’s easy to find what you need to capture a summertime palette.

How does summer inspire your art-making?

Thomas Schaller

Schaller: No matter who we are or where we live, there’s something about summer that changes how we see the world and therefore, how we interpret it in our artwork. Summer— in a very real sense—is a state of mind. There’s a sense of ease and relaxation—and a sense of joy inspired by casual times spent with family and friends. I love painting on site, in the open air. In the difficult days brought on by the global health crisis, however, all of us have had to make adjustments and may have to continue adapting to new realities in terms of how we travel—and how and where we paint. But that uplifting “sense of summer” is something we carry inside and therefore can channel and recreate—wherever we may find ourselves.

Plein air painting is especially inviting in summer, but you don’t have to go far to paint outdoors. How do you find watercolor ideas and inspiration close to home?

Keiko Tenabe

Tanabe: I love the vibrant color and vivid contrast that abound in summertime scenes, and I can find that right in my own backyard. There, I’m familiar with how the sun moves and how the light comes into the scene and when, so I can choose the most ideal times to paint. This is an advantage that I embrace, because the quality of light is very inspiring when it’s right.

Mann: There’s so much inspiration right outside my own front door. I enjoy observing butterflies, hummingbirds and flowers. I especially love to paint a flower close-up—to get into the “throat” of that flower and see all the little details.

Schaller: It’s too easy to assume that we have to pack up our gear and fly off to far-flung corners of the world to find worthy subjects for great paintings. Of course, this isn’t true; a good painter can find subjects anywhere at all. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed painting in many exotic locations, but I also know the pleasure of being in my own art studio, painting the view from my kitchen window or from any open window. And I love painting those scenes that only I can see—subjects from my own dreams, invention, imagination. I can travel anywhere looking through that particular window.

Painting flowers is a favorite watercolor ideas and inspirations.

“Summer is my favorite time of year to paint … Something is always in bloom. The colors are so vibrant, they call me to pick up my paint brush!”

Carol Mann

What do you love most about painting the landscape in summer?

Carol Mann

Mann: I love the colors, of course, but more than that, I love the variety of flowers and their textures. Textures play a big role in my work. It’s easy to get caught up in color, but there’s more to painting than just color.

Schaller: Light is always the major player in all of my work. And in summertime, the light is frequently more intense, more pronounced. In watercolor, light is more often a matter of what we do not paint as much as what we do. And so, it’s in the shadows of summer— filled with bounced and reflected light—that so much of the “colors of summer” can be found and expressed.

What are your favorite paint colors and watercolor ideas for capturing all that summertime green?

Tanabe: When I encounter summertime greens, I go for a bit more mature green, deeper and darker, as opposed to the young, more yellow-green typically seen in spring.

Mann: I like to mix colors to make greens. One mix I commonly make, using Blick Artists’ Watercolors, is Lamp Black and either Aureolin or Cadmium Yellow, which makes interesting greens of all sorts, depending on how much yellow is used. I’ll also mix Sap Green with a touch of Cadmium Orange or Burnt Sienna to make an olive green. Or, I’ll mix Cobalt Blue, Sap Green and Lamp Black for a deep forest green. Just look at the nature that surrounds us. The possibilities are endless!

The start of a new season is a good time for creative exploration—for playing with new art materials. What’s something that you’ve been having fun with lately?

Tanabe: I always enjoy experimenting with different colors to capture the feel of light that differs from season to season and from place to place. I also like to have all the appropriate gear for plein-air painting ready to go for the season, like the Blick Studio Aluminum Field Easel designed especially for watercolorists.

Mann: Although I try to be a purist in my work, lately masking fluid has become a favorite tool. I use Schmincke Aqua Masking Fluid, which comes in a dispensing bottle that makes the details easier. Preserving the white paper when painting in watercolor can be a big challenge, and this is so helpful.

Schaller: I was given a set of beautiful flat watercolor brushes in China. I was grateful, but I rarely used flats and assumed I’d give them to someone who does. Then, before packing them up, I started playing with a few and something clicked. Since then, I’ve taken to painting with flats like never before (the Versatil brush series by Escoda has been a favorite of late), and it has transformed how I paint. I didn’t see it coming, but it just proves that you never know when or where inspiration might strike.

Kick-start your creativity this summer with art supplies from BLICK Art Materials. You’ll find all materials mentioned here and many more at DICKBLICK.COM.

For more watercolor ideas and inspiration, check out the special issue, The Best of Watercolor: Splash 21 Competition Winners digital edition nowLook for the print edition on newsstands and in the Artists Network Store in September 2020. Special thanks to our competition sponsor, BLICK Art Materials for their ongoing support for artists!


About the Artists

Artist and watercolor teacher Carol Mann has been painting in the medium since 2009. She enjoys painting flowers and all kinds of still life, as well as commissioned home and pet portraits. To learn more about Carol Mann’s step-by-step floral watercolor, visit www.dickblick.com/bundles/carol-mann-watercolor.

Keiko Tanabe, of San Diego, is a celebrated watercolor painter and plein air enthusiast. The artist is also a sought-after workshop instructor and arts juror.

Thomas W Schaller is an award-winning and widely exhibited artist and architect based in Los Angeles, and the author of the book, Architect of Light: Watercolor Paintings by a Master (2018).

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