All You Need Is an Open Mind and a Sketchbook

Accomplished designer, artist, and illustrator Felix Scheinberger has illustrated dozens of children’s books, and has had work commissioned for Harvard Business Manager, Designer’s Digest, and Psychology Today.

Here he provides tips on beginning to paint with watercolor, excerpted from his new book, Urban Watercolor Sketching: A Guide to Drawing, Painting, and Storytelling in Color.

When we think of watercolor, many of us immediately picture sentimental landscapes and paintings of ruins and picturesque scenes.

Although eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English artists established watercolor as a sophisticated painting medium, it often yields strangely negative reactions from contemporary artists. An entire generation quickly relegates it to a hobbyist’s medium.

Yet watercolor is far more than an amateur’s medium, as it requires intense concentration and practice. Once it’s put on paper, mistakes are difficult to remedy, and only when it is applied with confidence does it have a truly successful effect.

Watercolor involves a certain degree of uncertainty, but it also teaches us to see.

Watercolor was the first technique to free the artist from the studio because it could easily be taken outdoors. It required no tubes, easels, canvases, or similar implements, only a box of paints and paper. Even today, watercolor is a tool that frees us from the studio, our laptops, and countless charging cables.

Watercolor is, however, not just a technique; it is almost an attitude. Watercolor always does what it wants.

In a way, it is willful and anarchical. Therefore, for me, the secret to using watercolor to create pictures lies in striking a balance between control and letting go.

Pictures are often only “really good” when they surprise us—when they reveal what we sensed and felt, but could not have consciously expressed. If we sacrifice the right amount of control in the artistic process, watercolor’s inherent qualities begin to work to our advantage.

Watercolor can go anywhere. It is an autonomous, free, and creative medium. It makes the world our studio.

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