Your Talent Can't Compete With These 3 Watercolor Practices

Apr 05, 2023

3 Watercolor Practices that are More Important than Talent

The number one lie that holds us back, is that the artists ahead of us have something that we don't have - and could never have. We assume they must have been born with some talent that is out of our reach. And then we ask ourselves questions like, Why should I put so much of myself into this if I'm not going to be able to achieve what I want?

I want you to know that learning to paint watercolor is within your reach. You can create gorgeous, compelling paintings, develop a style of your own, and find satisfaction in making art.

I went from this first painting to this second painting with no art school and with no talent. And today I am going to share with you the 3 practices that made the most difference.

When I started out, I really was empty-handed, figuring it all out on my own. But there is a way forward, and you can see the same progress I have. 

What Do the Great Artists Have to Say About Talent?

You might think that creating art comes naturally to the world’s great artists - that they’ve been creating their whole lives with the same mastery. Well, when you listen to what they say about talent and art, you get quite a different picture.  

Michelangelo said, “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.” 

Think about that. This is one of the greatest artists and sculptors in human history, and he is challenging the people who praise his talent. They perceive it as an innate skill he was just born with. Instead, he’s saying that he had to work diligently to get where he is, and that people would be surprised to know how much time and effort it took. It’s not some mystery; it’s industry, hard work, dedication. 

And Michelangelo isn’t the only artist to have made this observation. This is a commonly held belief by accomplished artists. Here are a few other quotes that reinforce this idea: 

"I am doubtful of any talent, so whatever I choose to be, will be accomplished only by long study and work.”

-Jackson Pollock 

“If you have great talents, industry will improve them. If you have but moderate abilities, industry will supply their deficiency. Nothing is denied to well-directed labor; nothing is ever to be attained without it.”

-Joshua Reynolds

"What they call talent is nothing but the capacity for doing continuous work in the right way.”

-Winslow Homer

3 Practices to Launch (and Sustain) Your Growth as a Watercolor Artist 

So what is that “right way” that Homer alludes to? Of course, this is going to be different for everyone, depending on their medium and their vision for the kind of artist they want to be. 

But I have 3 practices that I suggest to you that will support your growth in watercolor painting.

1. Create a practice schedule. 

When I was first learning to paint, I was working a full time job. I had recently become a father, and I had to dedicate myself to learning and practicing in between a completely full life. The only way I was able to do this was by developing a practice schedule. Whether you have 10 minutes, a half an hour, or a full hour a day, find the time that you can give to it and be consistent. 

One way you can do this is to have a practice calendar. Every day I would practice, I would mark a day off on the calendar. So if I was feeling discouraged, if I wasn't seeing as much progress in my work, I could look at this calendar that I had hung up on the wall and I could say, I am on the path, I’m dedicated to learning.

I could then see all the times that I chose to paint versus doing something else. I chose to paint instead of watching television. I chose to paint instead of scrolling on my phone. I chose to paint because it is in alignment with my goals and what feeds me. And that calendar was motivation and a reminder that I am on the course.

Another related tip is to have all of your supplies ready to go. Get those barriers out of the way so that when you have time to paint, you can show up easily - without excuse. Also, when you have some time during the day, instead of scrolling on social media, scroll through your pictures and decide what you want to paint. I've wasted so much time in my practice time trying to decide what to paint. So if you can do all this beforehand, and you have a scheduled time when you're going to show up to paint, you are way more likely to get something done.

 2. Paint Small and Paint Often.

The other thing I want to say is paint small and paint often. Become less attached to the outcome of your painting. It’s true especially in watercolor that the more repetitions you get in, the more progress you're going to make. 

Don't fall in love with the idea of completing a large finished painting each night. The smaller you can paint, and the more often that you can paint, the more progress that you're going to see.

You might see pictures on Instagram and videos on YouTube of fantastic finished paintings, but that's not always the best thing to focus on early in your learning. Get as many repetitions in as you can, because when you do that, you're becoming more comfortable with timing, color mixing, value - all of these important skills that you need to continue to develop.

These skills will develop faster if you're painting smaller and more often

3. Focus on what matters - foundational skills.

 Early on, I would just look at a scene and try to paint it without really understanding the fundamental building blocks that would make that painting work. 

One of these is values. Values are how light or how dark something is and how those areas relate to each other. When you home in on values, this is going to really move the needle on what you’re able to accomplish in a painting. 

Another is finding connections in your painting. It's very tempting to go around and paint every little detail in the scene and get sucked into those details - those little separate pieces - but you can really start to make some difference in your paintings when you can see the large, connected shapes of the scene.

Other skills you can focus on are:

If you work on these fundamentals, your learning will accelerate. 

We Live in the Golden Age of Learning

I want you to understand that there has never been a better time to learn as an artist. We have so much access to information that some have called this the golden age of learning. You can take this as far as you're willing to, and nobody can hold you back. If you can dedicate yourself to learning and staying focused on your goal, the sky's the limit. 

Understand that every time you show up, you are investing in yourself as a painter, and these little investments add up over time. That's how I was able to go from this painting to this painting because I was consistently showing up. 

You may have seen the picture of my failed pile, my stack of paintings that didn't turn out. 

The higher we can get that stack, the bigger that stack grows, the more progress we’re going to see. Don't let that negative voice in your head - that voice that says that everyone else has something that you don't - win. Every artist that you respect and admire have all had the same struggles as you. The difference is they’ve pushed through these doubts and taken advantage of the time and resources they have.

Is Talent an Excuse?

I’m not saying that talent doesn't play into this at all, but I am saying that hard work is underrated. I’m saying that returning time and time again to your art with deep focus and dedication can cover a ton of ground. 

Talent isn’t a complete myth, but I think it's a smaller part of the equation than we want to think it is. In fact, I think the idea of talent can almost be an excuse to let us off the hook so we can say, “Well, they have something that I don't have, so I'm not going to go all in on painting. I'm not going to go all in on learning. I'm not going to push myself to reach my full potential because what's the point? I don't have the talent that they have.”

Well, that's not the way to think. That's not the approach that we want to have. Don’t let this lie slow you down or hold you back. Nobody can stop you when you are dedicated to hard work and when you are showing up consistently in your painting. 

And, hey - if you need encouragement, support, and accountability, sign up to learn with me. Get on the waitlist for when I open up my Watercolor Community again, purchase my course that offers guidance, or subscribe to my YouTube channel, Instagram, or Pinterest.  

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