top of page

Plunging Into Watercolor

For quite a while I've been eyeing watercolors as something unreachable and impossibly challenging. Not the most popular medium among my artist friends, it seemed a beautiful, mysterious, rebellious force to be reckoned with. I ogled over artists like Nick Alm and Mary Whyte, just two examples of masterful watercolorists, as I zoomed in on their paintings and tried to understand how they could accomplish such details and varied effects. I would hear people warn about how unforgiving the medium is, and how you can't cover mistakes easily or scrape down and start again. Daunted by the enormous challenge watercolor presented, I held off for months and months...

Until one day, I was eyeing the Arches Watercolor paper gathering dust on my shelf, and I decided I wanted to start learning how to paint in watercolors, so I could work up to using one of those beautiful 18x24" sheets of hot-pressed, creamy white paper. My older sister, Alix, studies art at Herron in Indianapolis, and had already inspired me by her delicate watercolor paintings, so one day I asked her if I could paint with her some time. We painted together with some paper from her watercolor pad and mixed bright colors from her MeiLiang watercolor pan.

It was completely different than anything I've tried before; it was a new world of possibilities and challenges. I studied other artists' watercolor paintings and tried some master copies, (Suggestion: when starting watercolor, to prevent feeling overwhelmed by lack of knowledge and experience, do not attempt a Nick Alm master study, as alluring as they may look) and enjoyed just experimenting with the paint and water ratios.

I was hooked.

After careful research, I purchased a watercolor brush set and a small travel watercolor pan from Jerry's, and awaited their arrival. As soon as I received them, I began experimenting. I took some photos of my obliging sisters for reference photos, and I painted away with lots of failure and a few shining moments of success.

I would still consider myself a -very- beginner in this medium, but after diving in and just practicing and researching (and watching numerous youtube videos) I'm beginning to get past the 90% confusion and frustration and 10% enjoyment stage! Though I still encounter so many challenges and questions when I'm using it, I'm having fun practicing with watercolor's unique properties and beautiful characteristics.

Since I attended the Portrait Society Conference this past April, I have truly enjoyed putting into practice just one of the valuable lessons I learned there: Don't be afraid.

You don't have to be intimidated by something new. It's okay to be terrible at something, to have to practice it over and over again. Experiment with it! Make color charts! Try using different types of surfaces and brushes!

You don't have to be plagued by the fear of breaking some artistic rule. Go ahead and break it! That's the best way you can learn why it's there.

When you go to an art workshop, don't focus on being the best or the worst artist there, focus on what your instructor is teaching you and practicing their methods and advice. You'll find yourself learning so much more and feeling so much more satisfaction and fulfillment! This is monumental advice I've received from so many kind and wonderful artists.

If you've been aching to try something new, whether it's art related or not, go ahead and try it! In some ways it might be harder than you expected it to be, but I'm sure there will also be delightful surprises as well! In my experience, the best motivation is seeing progress.

I look forward to continuing studying and practicing with this beautiful medium. If you've tried watercolor, I would love to hear what you think of it! What are some challenges you've run in to? What is your favorite quality about it? Do you have anything you've been hesitant to try out?

Happy painting!

Kate Orr


Here are some of my most recent watercolor paintings:

bottom of page