Water is the essential element that is present on your palette, brush and paper in differing quantities. In each of these locations the amount of water used impacts your painting differently. Working 'wet on dry' or 'wet on wet', with expertise we learn how to balance the water and paint ratios involved in painting to achieve the desired effect.
While focused on composition and colour, artists sometimes pay little conscious attention to the critical role of getting the right amount of water in their technique. They are then surprised when the spontaneous and elusive water element does not behave according to plan, and takes over their image.
So many difficulties experienced by watercolourists come down to them being unaware of their use of water. Not being consciously aware of the role of water is evident in the following common errors:
- Ignoring the muddy water jar that should have been changed long ago
- Lack of awareness of the flood of water waiting on your mop brush which will ruin your painting once released
- Overlooking the pool of water developing on the side of the board before it become a nasty back run on your painting
- Creating a looming cauliflower because we are too impatient to wait for a wash to dry
- The disappointment that occurs when a wash did not turn out as dark as you planned it to be
Not understanding the influence of water is the reason beginning watercolorists, otherwise proficient with acrylics, find watercolour a challenging medium. With acrylic it is much easier to control where the paint goes. Since water is what defines watercolour; knowledge on how to control the water element, often formidable for the beginner, is essential to a successful painting. With experience, competent use of water becomes unconscious to the advanced painter. Despite this, the influence of water is so subtle even experienced painters can still get 'caught out' by unexpected effects.
When people say they 'struggle' with watercolour, it's probably the control of water that challenges them. On the other hand, it is often the elusive and flowing behaviour of the water, highlighted by added pigment, which creates the exciting 'spontaneity' which makes artists fall in love with this media.