Since becoming involved in watercolor, I became aware of something I do whenever I am exploring a new medium. I tend to rely on the skills that are my strongest–drawing and color. Watercolor is a very unpredictable medium, it is sometimes referred to as the hardest of all media to master. I believe you can master any medium if you have the solid basis of a good drawing and a limited palette of harmonious colors.
When I begin working with a new media, I always start out working monochromatically. I have a whole sketchbook dedicated to watercolor sketches, done on location, in various blue pigments–Prussian, cerulean, cobalt, ultramarine–some in combination with one another, others with just one pigment. In doing this, I am relying on my drawing skills and knowledge of values and working with the unknowns of the medium in a “safe” environment–in other words, I’m not throwing everything at myself all at once and expecting to be able to master it in minutes!
Once I feel confident working monochromatically, I then move on to working with just two colors, typically 2 that are complementary to one another. For example, blue and orange, or violet and yellow ochre, alizarin and sap green, etc. This allows me to learn a bit more about how the new medium works in terms of color mixing without throwing too many variables into the mix. I find that watercolor is BETTER when fewer colors are used, even fewer than I might use in oil or acrylic.
To me, a good painting regardless of medium, starts out with a good drawing. That drawing must have a range of values that creates a 3-dimensional structure to support the color. Although my work is often described as colorful and vibrant, the basis of every painting I create is an accurate tonal structure. Without the value structure and careful selection of a limited, harmonious palette, a painting can easily get off track and become flat. Don’t let that happen, pay attention to your values and don’t get carried away by color!