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  • Writer's pictureTania Miller

Botanical watercolor painting. Let's talk about mistakes, my mistakes

Updated: Aug 6, 2022

Today I want to talk about what happens when you start wrong. Getting off to a bad start could mean choosing the wrong kind of paper or technique, as happened to me in this case. I loved the result, but it was quite a challenge. Seeing the result, I would have liked to have painted in a larger format and, of course, on a more suitable paper. So I hope you find my experience helpful.


I am one of those who like to learn by doing. I have read and seen a lot about how to paint with watercolor. I know the basics, what kind of paper you should use, the quality of paints and brushes, color theory, etc. Knowledge doesn't mean knowing how to do it, so since October 2019, when I bought my first set of watercolors, I have been learning.


If you have seen my work, you already know that I love to paint with details; details and color characterize my watercolor paintings; I love intense colors.


I received from my cousin Claudia these photos of this very particular flower that is quite common in our country, El Salvador. It is curious that you only see them in the rainy season that begins in May. I liked the photos so much that I decided to paint them. I didn't plan on painting in detail; instead, I wanted to do a quick and fluid sketch, so I decided to work on my Moleskine daily practice sketchbook. The sheets are for watercolor, 200g with 25% cotton. This kind of paper was perfect for what I had in mind.


I started by making a freehand drawing with a 2H pencil that I lightened with a flexible eraser. I prepared the colors I wanted to use and got down to business. Of course, at that point, I had already forgotten that I wanted to paint smoothly and quickly. I instinctively made the first strokes and knew I wanted to paint with the wet-on-wet technique without thinking that the paper I was using was unsuitable for this type of technique.


It didn't take me long to realize that it wouldn't be easy. The paper wasn't cooperating with me, I thought to myself. I knew right away that it wasn't the paper that was the problem but what I was trying to achieve through the technique I was using. 200g and 25% cotton is perfect for the initial idea but not for working with a lot of water.


My strokes became indelicate spots. Stubborn, I kept painting. I didn't want to waste the paper and drawing. Now I'm so glad I didn't stop. I learned how to handle the times when the watercolor dried up.


Another mistake I made was trying to include the darker colors too quickly. I was saturating the paper not only with water but with paint. The watercolor paper was absorbing it so fast that instead of getting a smooth color transition, I was getting a stain that was not very attractive to my idea of ​​what I wanted to achieve.


If you intend to achieve those stains, that's fine, but if it isn't, it can be frustrating.


In the end, I understood that if I let the paint dry before giving a second coat, I would achieve a better result. Painting with fine lines on the last layer made this what looked like it was going to be a mess, a beautiful illustration with a lot of learning behind it.


NOTE: I wanted to include the flower name in the video. To my surprise, I found out this was the turmeric flower. Watch the video. I talk a little about this incredible plant that was growing in my garden when I was growing up.



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