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.

I have always been an advocate of the theory that keeping things simple where possible is definitely the best way to go and this philosophy is especially beneficial when it comes to painting.


I have found over the years that the reason a lot of students of watercolour struggle is because they are making things unnecessarily complicated.


One way would be artists do this is by buying enough equipment to sink the ark thinking that it will make them better painters.


Don’t worry if this sounds familiar because we all do it. I was guilty of this for the first few years of my own watercolour journey.


As an artist it can be very, very easy to get bogged down with the huge array of equipment and painting aids that we as artists now have at our disposal. I think as artists we all suffer from ‘New Shiny Thing’ syndrome - it is very hard to resist all those lovely items you see on display in the local art shop. However it pays to take stock and remember that some of the finest influential watercolour paintings were painted long before most of this equipment was available.


So as a way of getting back to basics and making things simpler here is a painting challenge that is specifically designed to get you back to focusing on what’s important.


The Challenge!…..


For two weeks I want you to try going completely back to basics. I want you to pick a basic palette of colours to use. Picking just three primaries would be great but may be a stretch for some of you so you can have a couple extra but no more than 6. Pick out two brushes - one large & one smaller (notice I said smaller not small!). You will also need to pick out one pack of ten sheets or a pad of watercolour paper. The rule here is that all the sheets have to be the same brand & surface for example 10 sheets of Saunders Rough or Bockingford NOT. Finally you are allowed one gadget/painting aid. So for me I would pick a razor-blade for scratching out you may pick something different like a mahl stick, water spray or a sponge - it’s up to you.


So just to recap, this is what you are allowed:

  • 3-6 Colours
  • 2 Brushes
  • 10 x Sheets of watercolour paper (all the same)
  • 1 painting aid


The important thing to remember here is that until you have finished that pack of paper you are allowed to use no other equipment! So make sure that you are happy with your choices


What’s the Point Here?


Now you may be asking how will this help me become a better painter?  Well as artists it is very easy to become too focused on the equipment we use and the techniques we employ. This challenge is actually a fantastic way of moving your focus back to what’s important which is the painting itself and your creation of a compelling image.


A great many people that have done this before have been shocked when they realise just how much they have come to depend on fancy equipment as a crutch.


So how else will this challenge help you? Well there are countless benefits but here are a few of them…

  • It cuts down the time you waste deciding which of those 50+ colours to use that I know you have in your paint box
  • It helps you improve your colour mixing skills
  • Having fewer brushes helps you to improve your brush technique
  • Having to use a large brush more will stop you fiddling
  • And again with no extra equipment to distract you, you will get back to concentrating on what’s important – creating a powerful image!


Employing this challenge regularly will help to ensure that it is your image creation that improves and not your obsession with equipment or technique.


This might be difficult at first so don’t forget the most important thing – Have Fun!

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