Courage – Daily Therapy for Artists


Travel in all the four quarters of the earth, yet you will find nothing anywhere. Whatever there is, is only here.” Sri Ramakrishna

Courage – Daily Therapy for Artists


“While I was writing the last page, tear after tear fell on the paper. But I must cheer up — catch — An astonishing number of kisses are flying about — The deuce! — I see a whole crowd of them. Ha! Ha!… I have just caught three – They are delicious… I kiss you millions of times.”



An Easy Exercise in Watercolour – After Paul Klee


This simple exercise is inspired by the art of Paul Klee.  He was a Swiss painter who taught at the Bauhaus School of Art, Design and Architecture.  Klee often worked with children and transferred this child-like perspective to his paintings and drawings.  He was also very interested in colour theory and the artist liked to show a love of music in his work.

He painted pictures that looked simple like Green Orange with Half Moon above yet were actually very complicated.  Klee approached his painting with a sense of fun by “taking the line for a walk” as he called it and allowing the lines to grow into shapes.

In this exercise you will create an amazing city or town scene using cardboard cut outs and watercolors.

Allow 1 1/2 hours for this exercise.

You will need:

Six tubes inexpensive water colours, blue, red, yellow.  Ask at your artshop for warm and cool colours of each.  A medium sized watercolour brush, some good quality watercolour paper (at least 180gsm) , a container of water, rags for spills.

Step 1

Tape your paper to a board if you have one. This is optional only and it is possible to work on a watercolour paper pad.

Step 2

Use a ruler to make vertical and diagonal lines on a piece of cardboard.  Semi-circles are good also. (I used the lid of a bottle, turned it upside down and went around the lid in pencil to make a circle then cut it in half.  Cut out some vertical, triangle and semi-circle shapes of different sizes from your markings on the cardboard.

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You will end up with a box of shapes like this.

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Step 3

Place some shapes on your paper and draw around them to create a town scene.  Start from the bottom of the paper and build it up.  Use triangles as windows or tops of towers.

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This is what I ended up with after I drew around the shapes. Try to fill your paper by extending the buildings to the corners and the top of the page.

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Step 4

Mix the watercolours to create the shades you want.  Decide if you would prefer warm or cool colours.  Warm colours are hot like the sun and cool colours are cool like the ocean.

The golden rule with watercolour is to work only on it when it is either completely wet or completely dry.  If you try to work into paint that is still damp you could become quite frustrated.

Step 5

Fill each shape with a watery wash of colour.  Try to use each colour a few times in different parts of the painting.  This will eventually help tie the work together.

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Step 6

Keep filling in the shapes with different colours.  Keep your brush damp, not saturated. You can wipe the brush on a paper towel or rag if necessary.  Allow the work to dry.

Step 7

Create interesting colour effects by adding more dark and light paint to sections of the shapes.  The beautiful translucency of the watercolour will create a whole new range of colours. Go ahead, paint opposite colours on top of others and watch the magic appear. Don’t forget the rule of not working on damp paint!

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Step 8

Using a colour from palette and paint a yellow sun into the sky.  Allow the work to dry, 10-20 minutes depending on the moisture in the air.

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Step 9

Add a darker wash for the background

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You will end up with a lovely city scene.  If I was to do this exercise again, I would take the buildings right to the edge and top of the page and use better quality paper.  If you look closely you will see the paper has buckled because it could not take the water medium.

Check out a similar and more recent post detailing an exercise in acrylic after Paul Klee to complete a painting on canvas.

Image Green Orange with Half Moon“, 1922, Paul Klee.

Related article: Paul Klee: Making Visible, Tate Modern, review (

Choosing Watercolour Paper


Choosing the perfect paper is the first place to start when undertaking a watercolour painting.

There are 3 types of watercolour paper:

  • Hot pressed –  this is a very smooth paper and good for detailed work.
  • Cold pressed – this paper has a semi-rough surface and is sometimes called NOT paper, meaning “not hot pressed.”  This is the best paper for beginners.
  • Rough – this paper has a course finish good for producing flecked or textured effects.

All papers come with “size”.  This is a weak glue solution that makes the paper absorb less paint.  Most modern machine made papers are treated on both sides with “size”.

More expensive handmade papers are treated on only one side.  This is usually the side with sheen.  Otherwise, a good quality paper will have a watermark which reads the right way around.

Watercolour papers are also measured by weight, for example 180 GSM.  I am not sure, yet have always thought GSM to mean “grams per square metre”.  Anyway, the heavier the paper, the better the quality and the more forgiving it will be.

A Few Facts About Watercolour


These are some of the amazing benefits of painting in watercolour:

  • One of the most delicate and sensitive of all painting mediums.
  • Beautifully fresh and translucent when not overworked.
  • Unpredictable and best left to dry and do its “own thing”  Only then does the picture speak to you.
  • Watercolour painting works best when the artist is comfortable with ambiguity.
  • Chance marks and happy accidents are part of the process and can add sparkle and spontaneity to your work.
  • A beautiful delicate translucency comes from the white of the paper.
  • Paint dries quickly or slowly according to the amount of humidity in the air.
  • Colours dry paler than when first put down.
  • Allowing a layer to dry and placing another one over it can create beautiful unusual colours.
  • Working quickly in what is called, “wet-in-wet” is another method which will add interesting and mysterious effects.
  • Watercolours cannot be scraped off or painted over like other mediums.
  • Can be used to build lovely transparent layers of paint. This can only be done if each layer is left to dry completely.
  • Watercolours are non-toxic, portable, easy to clean up, tap ready with a long shelf life.
  • Good quality watercolour pigments do not fade.  I highly recommend Schminke watercolours on good quality cotton rag paper.
  • Watercolours can be used to create texture by using a dry brush, sponge or spattering with a toothbrush. They lend themselves to a variety of techniques
  • Watercolour can be used on Gesso primed board and other non-absorbent surfaces to create unusual and beautiful results (see below*)   This link gives information on how to prime a painting canvas
  • There is no need for an easel, just tape the paper to a board and place it flat on a table with the top raised a little higher .
  • Watercolour painting requires a knowledge and consideration of the paper and to this end, I have placed a link below.


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My watercolour work above has lots of what I used to call “cauliflower” marks as a distinctive part of the work.  I often discarded paintings with these watery marks until my teacher at art school told me to welcome them.  She called these marks “blooms” and said they are very beautiful and spontaneous.  These marks usually form when working wet with a lot of water and a small amount of pigment.

The works below are some of my watercolours on paper.


*Yes it is possible to use watercolour on a Gesso primed canvas. and here is one below.



In my next post I will write about the first place to start with watercolour, choosing the paper.

How to Prepare a Canvas Using Your Own Gesso Primer

Windsor and newton

Photo courtesy

If you want your work to last, it is wise to prime your canvas first because oil paint will eventually rot an unprimed canvas.  I recommend priming with Gesso when using all mediums including watercolour.  It is possible to use watercolour on a primed canvas as per my post, “A Few Facts About Watercolour.”

Firstly, hold your canvas under warm running water.  Using pure soap (Sunlight or similar works well), lather up a soft and gentle scrubber (old ones are good) and wash the canvas down thoroughly with the soap and water.  This removes the sizing and starts you off with a “clean slate” so to speak.

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Rinse until water becomes clear then dry off the canvas using an old towel.

Once dry, go ahead and cover the surface with Gesso primer.  You may use the Atelier brand which leaves a lovely chalky finish.  If you like, you may make your own Gesso (which is just as good and much cheaper) with the recipe below.

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Leave the canvas to dry, preferably outside.  This should take about 45 minutes depending on the strength of the sunlight. If there is no sun where you are, a hair dryer will do the job.  When dry, softly sand the canvas down with a very fine sand paper and wipe clean with the old towel.  I usually prime, sand down and wipe off three times to make the perfect chalky finish for drawing and painting. Don’t forget to allow your primed canvas to dry completely before sanding each time.

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This process prepares a fantastic surface to work on and I recommend leaving it for at least 24 hours to set. If I am feeling keen or perhaps doing a commission, I prime the reverse of the canvas too but this is entirely your own choice.

This is a lovely relaxing preparation and sets the tone for wonderful things to come.  I urge you to go slowly with this, smile, breathe deeply and concentrate only on the task in true Zen-like fashion. If you love your canvas, your canvas will love you and that is the start of developing a wonderful synergy with your upcoming work.

My Own Gesso Recipe

Most of this stuff you will have on hand at home so it is easy and quick to make your own Gesso primer. To make the primer you need a pigment, a binder and a tooth.

You will need to put one cup of warm water in a bowl, add one cup of glue, one cup of baby powder and a cup or so of left over paint.   This will make a syrup consistency.  If you want yours to give better coverage, use more pigment.  Usually, equal amounts of everything makes a perfect mix.  It is best to test first for coverage and drying time.  This dries fast!

When storing, rotate the sealed storage jar every now and then to keep the even syrupy consistency of the mix.

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