Greg Howard is a professional fine artist specialising in atmospheric, dramatic landscapes in watercolour & soft pastel. His work can be found in collections worldwide and he is a sought after tutor due to his easy going, informative no nonsense approach to the medium.

There is no magic formula to become a better painter. It is unfortunately for those of you looking for a quick fix a case of practice, more practice and then a bit more practice. As far as I am concerned you never stop learning with watercolour. That said there are a few things you can do to get better faster! In fact there are five really obvious things you can do to improve that you will kick yourself for not implementing them sooner. A bit like having five elephants in the room and not noticing them!


1) Buy Bigger Brushes!


Why? Because if you use bigger brushes you will paint looser and you won’t be able to fiddle. The medium is called watercolour so you need water to make it work effectively and you limit how much water you can introduce to the paint when you use small brushes. You are also 100 times more likely to fiddle with and overwork a watercolour when you use tiny brushes.


So if you have more than 6 brushes in your painting space why not pick out just the ones you know you used in the production of your last three paintings then put the rest away in a cupboard.  See how you get on – I think you may be surprised!


2) Use Proper Watercolour Paper


Cartridge paper, wall paper and practise paper as it is labelled is not I repeat not a substitute for proper watercolour paper. If you are going to stand any chance of progressing with this medium you need to use the correct paper.


If budget is an issue I would highly recommend Bockingford which is a world class watercolour paper that is priced very reasonably. It is also a great paper for beginners because it is much easier to lift off paint on this paper making it easier to correct mistakes.


3) Use Tube Paints Rather Than Pans


Now let me just be very clear before any of you start throwing your toys out of the pram. I am not for one minute suggesting that pans are useless however if you are looking to paint with any strength of colour it will help you immensely if you use tubes.


It is a darn site easier to mix up a nice big sloppy wash of colour using tube paints than it is with pans.


Also if you want something really dark as an accent you also have the option of using paint straight out of the tube.


Your brushes will also last a lot longer as well. Think about it which is harder a solid pan of paint or the bristles on your nice new brushes?


4) Stand Up! And Go Big


Yep it’s that simple. By standing up and using a larger sheet of paper you immediately free yourself up and your brush strokes will naturally become looser. You will also be less likely to end up looking like the hunchback of Notre Dame as you will no longer be hunched over a tiny piece of paper at a desk.


5) Stop Buying Art Supplies!


One question I get asked before a lot of workshops is what materials do I need to bring to which I say “Just what you usually use….”.  My reasoning being that you should learn to effectively use what you have before buying even more equipment. Of course the best way to proceed is to be a little wiser about what we buy in the first place. Painting is only an expensive hobby if you let it be!


Artists are famous for walking into the local art shop and walking out with 20  colours they will probably never use, a special brush that can only be used for painting rabbits paws and an assortment of other paraphernalia that they don’t need and will probably never use. We are all guilty of it – I used to be terrible for it.


If you are a compulsive art materials buyer then my best advice to you is to start buying online (like on my website 😉 ) this way you are more likely to just buy what you need and less likely to be distracted by other junk that you don’t and believe me most of it is just that – Junk!


All you need are a couple of good brushes (not 20), some decent watercolour paper, half a dozen colours and a decent size palette with a good mixing area – or you could even just use a couple of saucers if you want.


Everything else can come later you don’t need a fancy drawing board – just use an old bit of plywood or mdf. You don’t need water pots – just use some old jam jars or even a bucket. You get my drift. Keep your choice of materials simple and good quality to start with and learn how to use them properly before you go out and buy anything else.


So that’s it your 5 tips that will improve your watercolours instantly – however your watercolours will only improve if you actually put these things into practice. So, what you waiting for? Go on off you go!

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