May oh My!


I have challenged myself to a fighting duel with watercolor for the month of May. I am excited though a bit nervous. I have been working in watercolor for at least 15 years. I have been seriously painting with soft pastel since 2000. I included a photo of a pastel portrait that I started about 6 years ago! yes that is a long time to have a painting waiting on me. It is from an Edward Curtis photo, it is definitely not my own photo. It is for myself to hang for my own enjoyment and I can’t wait to finish it. Why I am mentioning it is that I have a plan. May has been set aside to venture into watercolor solely but I figured that I might need to go back to pastel just to calm myself down. Sounds like I am projecting a lot of fear onto myself and this project, actually I am being playful and hoping to loosen up with my attitude.

As this challenge proceeds, I will be working on this portrait and I will post updates on that progress. At this point I venture to say it is at about 25% finished. We’ll see if I can get it done in May or at least in June.

My goal is to loosen up, to find my style with watercolor. As most people know who are familiar with the medium it can be very difficult because it has a mind of its own. I have always loved watercolor and I love the fact that it is unwieldy at times.

I will be including some watercolors I have painted in the past at the bottom of this post. I am not sure what my goals are other than:

  • Loosen up and stop over-working a painting
  • learn to know where to go with a painting, I always seem to start well but knowing how to proceed is very difficult for me.
  • Find my “signature” or style, not the style of artists that I admire….a style that is solely mine!
  • To loose that tightness that I have when I paint, at least a little!
  • To understand the layering from light to dark
  • Learn how to retain the white of the paper
  • To truly learn my values with this medium
  • To plein air paint more assuredly with watercolors
  • I want to learn how to be proficient in depicting water


I have included this one below to illustrate my difficulty with knowing how to proceed. I get to a point that I just give up. I don’t know where to go, what to do. It alludes me! I lost my whites in the rapids and resorted to using white acrylic, not a good idea, not at all!


Here are a few more…..

Tomorrow is May 1st but I won’t be able to start until Monday. Join me on a challenge of your own design if you dare!

44 thoughts on “May oh My!

  1. wow! my fav which I Love, is the 3 tree trunks together (your 3rd image shown). Wonderful!!
    and the very Last one is great too!
    and …. about “How to Proceed” really its a matter of just dividing the painting into sections (background/midground/foreground) and assess if those areas READ correctly for their placement … or not. then fix them so the front advances. back recedes. midground stays in the middle. cheers, Debi I love those 3 trees Margaret !!

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    1. Thank you! I know with that painting which is actually of the redwoods….I love the redwoods, I think it needs more depth. I really like your “how to proceed” I have never heard it depicted quite like that. It really makes sense. Sometimes for me wording can be a catalyst for the light bulb to go off in my head and I think that you helped me with that. 🙂 thank you once again!

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    2. I have problems with the midground and foreground in my watercolors, so I need to work on fixing those. I’ve decided to join in and work on watercolors all through May. I’ll be doing a few other things, too, but I will really enjoy doing a watercolor every day.

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      1. Most of all, I want to have fun with this. I know I’ll do a lot of awful watercolors, but I’m not focusing on “results”. I want to enjoy the “process” — and in the process, learn more about watercolor techniques.

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  3. A part of getting watercolor to work is to do lots of them and then “edit.” Editing means that you put the others into a closet, real or imagined — as in maybe you just exhibit the ones that succeed, or you post them all with the caveat that some turned out and others didn’t. Same thing, I think, with not over-working. It is counter intuitive but since you’ve got the whole month to learn … one way to learn how not to over-work is to (sometimes) deliberately “over-work.” In other words, you keep putting down information as long as you’ve got information to put there. And you say, “I don’t care if I over-work it.” By pushing the thing as far as you can push it, you give yourself total freedom to record the motif. Focus on the motif not the watercolor. Actually you might not over-work it at all. But if you do, it is by going “too far” that you begin to discover where the boundaries lie. Lastly in the free advice department (insert indulgent smile here), I suggest that for lights just remember that one way of making a passage lighter is to make the adjacent passage darker — even if just subtly at the edges. Light/dark is something we perceive via contrast.

    These are nice watercolors and the last one and the one above it are really super. So the ones that don’t quite come off teach you to make the ones that turn out superduper.

    Good luck. This is exciting. We’re all rooting for you.

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    1. Awww! I have been such a loner artist for eons, well not really but it sure has felt like it. 🙂 Being able to connect here and get feedback and feeling like other artists are rooting for me warms me to depth of my being. Now I am getting mushy. lol I appreciate what you are saying about purposely over-working in order to find the boundaries…never would have thought of that in a million years, I know I am being dramatic but it is true. I will be drawing up a plan, writing down all the suggestions and comments and go from there. Thank you 🙂 *happy dancing

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  4. Looking forward to seeing how your challenge progresses this month! I think, and from reading other comments I don’t think I’m alone, that you are already proficient in your painting and I think you already have a distinctive voice – which I see as much in your choice of subject as I do in how you depict each image. My suggestion – which is a bit cheeky because I’ve rarely tried it myself, would be to set yourself a short time limit to depict a scene in. This may help you loosen up a little – having to depict a scene quickly focusses you to capture the essential elements that make the scene appealing – well, that’s the theory anyway. Looking forward to seeing the leaps and bounds you’re sure to make!

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    1. Thank you John, I really appreciate your insight because I often connect with your watercolor journey and because of that it helps to hear what you perceive and suggest. I agree, I have a tendency to paint (and think) in an insecure state of mind and not a here and now, moving forward mind. I think with watercolor it should be a forward, get it done and don’t fiddle with it. So, doing what you suggest and I have heard that before, is to depict a scene quickly. Perhaps it will get my right brain activated more and jump ahead of that calculating and often quite fearful left brain! So good to hear your comments and how interesting that I just can’t see that I am proficient! Ha! or that I have a distinctive voice. Oh my what my perfectionism has done to my artist self. Onward march though….I am very excited to see where those leaps and bounds will take me. 😀

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  5. I’m rooting for you, too, Margaret, and I’m also going to be painting alongside you. I love watercolor, but I know so little about using it! Spending a month learning — and practicing — will help me immensely. I’m eager to get started, and I’m looking forward to seeing all you create. I find your watercolors very inspiring.

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      1. I really like the way you wrote out specific goals for what you want to achieve during the month. I’m going to do something similar. It will be very helpful. I’m sure I’ll be posting some of my projects as the month goes on.

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  6. Best of luck, Margaret. As for water – Joe Dowden is a master of it. He has a great website with free, and detailed tutorials. He has also written many books some specifically on depicting water with watercolour and if you want to really loosen up have a look at Kurt Jackson’s work.

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    1. Oh I have seen Joe Dowden’s work and I do appreciate it maybe a bit too tight for me but his tutorials will be a good venture. I have not heard of Kurt Jackson, someone that I’ll look up…..thank you Graham!


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  8. Wow Margaret I LOVE the portrait. I find it very moving actually, it has a quality to it.
    And it looks like you have a great head start on your water colour challenge – I especially love the last sketch. Your work looks so accomplished! I too would like to improve at water colour – I love it, but I just lose my way with it. The only way I can use it with any degree of satisfaction is in loose quick sketches, where the resulting mess sort of adds to the atmosphere! Looking forward to seeing yours and Laura’s explorations.

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    1. Thank you for your comments 🙂 I can’t wait to finish that portrait, there is another one but a different chief that I had painted and gifted to my brother-in-law and he owns my favorite painting! I hope he bequeaths it to me….lol. Maybe what you call losing your way with it is that elusiveness and “mind of its own” that watercolor is so famous for. I know exactly what you mean, that is what happens with me all the time and then I feel stuck. I love what I have seen of your art, that one you did of the flowers is so beautiful and sensitive. I think it is the second post on your blog, I believe? I am excited, tomorrow is the day!

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  9. There is absolutely nothing you should be afraid of. Your watercolor project will be great success, because you have already achieved all you need to know. The only challenge will probably be to forget about all that and just let loose and water and pigments dropping and running down your paper! Have fun!!!

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  10. thank you for your follow. I hope you find something of interest amongst my posts. I never presume to advise unless asked, but if anyone wants to watch me paint, and gets something out of it, then fine
    I read your list of goals. if you can master those, then you have cracked watercolour.
    Restraint is the hardest one. Try doing a little and then walking away. What one of my mentors called “zooming out and zooming in again”. That sometimes tells you that you have finished and to stop fiddling, and spoiling a perfectly good picture
    I look forward to seeing more of your work

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    1. Thank you David! I really like your advice “zooming out and zooming in” I will keep that in mind. I need to remind myself to slow down. With this challenge I have noticed that I have sped up to make sure that I get my painting done but inadvertently I have sped up and I am loosing good quality painting technique and observation. Your comments here has helped me to realize that. 🙂 thank you again!


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