Learning to Paint with Watercolor During the Pandemic

As some of you may know, I make my living by creating art on apparel and selling at large festivals. It's been around one year since the pandemic hit and all my shows were canceled. My plan was to start painting and selling original art. It was a nice thought.

I've been painting digitally for 20-plus years now, and I haven't touched traditional mediums since college. (My preferred medium back then was oils.) The goal was to start learning acrylics rather than oils—the last thing I wanted was to have wet paint that took forever to dry on my tees (or my dogs!).

The choice was between watercolor and acrylic paint. One evening, while painting with open acrylics, I spent around half an hour just mixing colors. After all that, I didn't feel like painting anymore and just went to sleep. What pushed me towards watercolor was the quickness of mixing. Using the white of the paper itself really saves time. I rarely premix and generally mix on the fly as needed.

Since I'm a noob at watercolor, I chose not to focus as much on the concept, but instead more on learning the medium. Once I get more comfortable, I'll start spending more time on painting original concepts.

Here are some of the pieces I've been working on, in the order they were made.

Paintings 1-7: July - December 2020

1. Polar Bear

Strathmore 483-5, wood based, 140 lbs/300 gsm cold press

1. Polar Bear

After struggling with cheap watercolors, I got serious and purchased Winsor Newton Watercolors. This was my first somewhat decent (at the time) watercolor painting.

2. Portrait/Two Heads

Strathmore 483-5, wood based, 140 lbs/300 gsm cold press

2. Portrait/Two Heads

Practicing wet-on-wet application.

3. Howling Blues

Strathmore 483-5, wood based, 140 lbs/300 gsm cold press

3. Howling Blues

I always liked this concept and I will most likely repaint it down the road.

4. Portraits/Two Faces

Strathmore 483-5, wood based, 140 lbs/300 gsm cold press

4. Portraits/Two Faces

5. Shaolin Monk

Strathmore 483-5, wood based, 140 lbs/300 gsm cold press

Shaolin Monk

Wanted practice at a human figure and clothing.

6. Skull

Strathmore 483-5  wood based, 140 lbs/300 gsm cold press

6. Skull

7. Wolf

Strathmore 483-5, wood based, 140 lbs/300 gsm cold press

7. Wolf


Paintings 8-11: Early 2021

8. Four Portraits

Strathmore 467-8, wood based, 140 lbs/300 gsm cold press 

8. Four Portraits/Four Faces

9. Walking Dude

Blick Premier Watercolor Block,100% cotton, 140 lbs/300 gsm cold press

9. Walking Dude

10. Female Portrait

Blick Premier Watercolor Block,100% cotton, 140 lbs/300 gsm cold press

10. Female Portrait

I've seen a ton of Youtube watercolor artists using Chinese calligraphy brushes. Here's my first attempt at using one. It holds a lot of water and I lost control early on, but I think I salvaged most of it after getting a better feel for the brush.

11. Nude Models

Strathmore 467-8 140, wood based, 467-8 140 lbs/300 gsm cold press

11. Nude Models

This was when I realized my sketchbook wasn't 100% cotton!

Went back to my sketchbook to practice figure painting. I'd been using a Strathmore 400 series watercolor sketchbook up to this point. I had a really hard time getting an even wash because it doesn't handle glazing/layering very well. It turns out it's wood-based and zero cotton. It's really tough to use because the pigment sits on top of the paper rather than soaking in. I had no idea how different 100% cotton watercolor paper can be! Cotton is definitely the way to go. All this time I thought I was the problem.

This is my first shot at documenting what I've been learning. Even though festivals are on hold for now, I'm glad to be able to connect with you here, online. And no matter what it is that you're driven to create, I'd encourage everyone to experiment with different approaches and mediums. I look forward to seeing what you've been doing!


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  • Terry Knight on

    Love your t-shirts! Bought one years ago at a festival in CA. and have just about worn it out. Please keep them coming, the best graphics and the most comfortable tees I’ve ever had. Stay well………..T

  • Sandy on

    Wow, you’re really good! I have one of your shirts, the Chesire Cat one in black. I love it!

    Hopefully once things return to normal, you’ll be able to sell your artwork at festivals.

    Please try to come to the Silicon Valley Art & Wine festivals if you can.

  • Alex on

    Are there some good tutorials for someone interested in learning to watercolor? How skilled do you already have to be at drawing?

    Also I need that howling blues as a print or shirt!


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