How people learn to paint

  • How people learn and absorb things differently.
  • Attitude and enthusiasm is important.
  • Knowledge and research is awesome.
  • Success depends on your input.

Things get really exciting when you put your heart and soul into painting. You can’t stop yourself. All you want to do is paint. Painting is like exploring the world around you: Been part of it, enjoying God’s creations. Forever fascinating!

Early spring, watercolour.

Early spring, watercolour.

But everyone learns to paint in different ways and progresses differently.

Not everyone comprehends in the same way:

Even though I had always shown people different ways of doing techniques, I naturally thought everyone understood my simple terminology. Until I had an art student, a woman of about forty years of age, who asked me what the word `composition’ meant?

I was shocked at first and rather speechless. Surely I thought, `at her age she should know that!’ But the whole class was sitting there looking at me, waiting for me to say something. What could I say? I had to say something.

What ran through my mind was: at school we were told to write a composition. A musician composes music, etc. Then it dawned on me, not everyone absorbs facts the same way, and that each trade has their own jargon, ways of doing things. Yep, that is right, artists are another breed!

Here was a woman who needed a different approach to what was said and demonstrated. So that is why I try to explain art terms where possible in my blogs.

 If you are still wondering what a composition is:

A composition, in artists’ terms, is the arrangement and placement of objects within the framework of your watercolour paper (or canvas).

If you want to paint a really good watercolour, the trick is to simplify your composition by selecting the main distinctive objects and eliminating the unnecessary detail. Why and how does this work? People unconsciously take in the biggest dominant objects first (symbolically).

  • You only need a few details to confirm your statement. Unnecessary extra details are what I call the ‘fills and baubles’.

 Attitude is important:

People who aren’t serious about their ambitions, are never successful. Why? Because their heart and soul isn’t in it, to make it work! Someone once said `a faint heart never won what’s expected’.

So how do people learn to paint?

From experience I’ve noticed the following when giving art classes:

  • Social group: These people generally expect fun time out with friends and are inclined to ignore theory. The demo looked so easy and exciting, that all they wanted to do is get into painting straight away, and do `their thing’. So it isn’t surprising they forgot the instructions they were given and got disheartened when things didn’t turnout the way they expected.
  • Myth Group: They stuck to myths and their old ways of doing things, never growing or expanding their potential.
  • Teamwork group: Demonstration and theory time was interlaced. They were quite happy to work as a group and asked for additional advice as they worked. They learnt new things but didn’t ever paint at home. Their progress was slow.
  • Extramural work group: They kept records and their class exercises in a file for revision. And they did extramural work at home. They often came back with questions. These people advanced quickly.
How people learn tto paint

Learning curve pyramid. How groups of people learn to paint.

 Knowledge and research:

Success of any kind is grounded in knowledge. And knowledge without action is useless. It is therefore necessary to understand theory, principles and laws governing art, so you can understand what is involved when painting. That is:

  • Making personal colour charts helps you understand how colours are mixed and how to devise composition colour schemes.
  • Personally analyzing and turning theory into simple diagrams: Helps make things easier to understand and stick in your subconscious, until it becomes intuitively second nature to you while you are painting.

When I first started painting I didn’t want to make charts. I thought it was a waste of time. Can you believe that?!

I made notes from library books and then experimenting for myself. Yes, I learnt a lot, but things didn’t really gel until I made charts and diagrams.

It was only when I analyzed theory and made simple diagrams and colour charts and swatches, that I understood why academic institutions make art students do all the `boring stuff’ first.

 Doing research is awesome:

I’ve really enjoyed doing research. It’s so exciting delving into theories, interlacing facts and discovery new theories.

The `moral of the story’ is: ‘What you put in, is what you get out’

What happens when you learn something new?

You may hear or read something over and over again but not fully comprehend the full impact of the statement or principle, until one day something happens and a `new’ fact stands out like a clear revelation.

The import of the fact hits you –wham. It could be just a little thing or fact you read, heard or saw, but what a difference it makes to the quality of your work and life style from that moment on!

I recall `light-bulb’ experiences, which some people call `WOW moments or Aaah moments’.

 It isn’t wise to stick to old ways:

If you stick to the old ways of doing things you get in a rut. Your creative powers and style goes stale.

We may think we know it all, but there is always something new to learn in art. Today professional artists are breaking boundaries, challenging traditional concepts and conventional theories to get them in the limelight. Why? Trends are changing all the time. Galleries need to look for originality to keep ahead of the demand.

 If you agree with this, let me know, I would love to hear your input.

Art: Watercolours Secrets Revealed

So you want to learn the secrets to painting watercolours?

  • This series of blogs on the secrets of watercolour is FREE. You don’t have to buy 8-9 DVD’s. The information and tips are free. All you have to do is follow the blog series.
  • And what you get is the honest unvarnished truth. What watercolour artists actually experience. And you can learn from their experiences.

Since this blog is the introduction to the watercolour secrets series, we’ll start with:

What are your expectations? How great are your expectations?

Having taught many novices, they generally start out with high expectations. Most think there are shortcut tricks to success.
Enthusiasm isn’t a bad attitude, unless of cause you expect instant results. You can’t learn art in one or two lessons. It’s no secret, that most trades start with an apprenticeship and regular activity to acquire a skill.

Art is about been actively creative:

  • `It’s enjoying the trip while you are taking the journey’.
  • `Enjoying the moment while creating in the moment.
You can paint watercolours

A watercolour.

Progress depends on you. You make the difference:

  • You may learn a lot by actually experimenting with want you have learnt.
  • Don’t be scared of making mistakes. The fact is: people learn by trial and error, ie how things should or shouldn’t be done.
  • The old masters knew opposition and frustrations were part of being on the road to fame.
  • You learn a lot from reality, studying and working outdoors, eg: taking note of the true colours of Nature.
  • Checking how other artists handle particular techniques involved in your research.
  • Learning the constitution of the pigments and how they react to their environment: to other pigments and the state of the watercolour paper.
  • Finding out what your tools can or can’t do under different circumstances and procedures.
  • The trick to success: is to be patient with yourself and enjoy living in the moment of creating.

Added to that, people who:

  • Buy cheap watercolour pigments or art materials don’t get good results.
  • People who don’t watch demos carefully or listen to advice and instruction given, usually lose out on important facts.
  • People who don’t take notes or practice at home what they learnt for the day in art class, haven’t a clue how to cope on their own. When you experience something for yourself, you come back with relevant questions.

Conclusion: So it isn’t surprising then, those people get discouraged when mistakes occurred and give up even before they even start. You can’t go `like a bull charging into a china store’ without everything come crashing down!

Case history:

You’re more likely to achieve something, if you enjoy doing it. Each tiny successful attempt is encouraging, gives you confidence to continue striving towards your goals.

I remember a woman who learnt the timing of applying watercolour paint. I saw how she wiggled in her chair with excitement. You could see she loved the effects she was creating and couldn’t wait to do another vignette exercise.

So she kept trying out the technique, over and over again. And with each successful attempt her smile grew bigger and bigger, she even started humming with joy.

Why was she so successful?

She listened carefully to what the instructions were. She was very observant. She carefully watched my demonstration. Then when undertaking her exercise, she carefully watched the state of her paper before applying her paintbrush and dropping in more colour at the appropriate time, then watched as the colours merged and created beautiful special effects.

  • Yes the beauty of watercolours is the flow, integration and gradation of colours!
  • No other medium possesses or creates this type of atmospheric charm the way watercolours do.

How dedicated are you?

You learn a lot if you are willing to go the extra mile because you are thirsty for knowledge and willing to explore theory.
People who are not willing to learn anything new and prefer to stick to old habits never progress.
Art teachers will tell you: students who expect too much, all at once, don’t generally `stay the race’. Mastering a skill doesn’t usually happen overnight, unless you have had some previous experience.


  • How much do you want to become a successful artist?
  • Do you think art is just an amusing social pastime?
  • How serious are you about your artistic ambitions?
  • How do you see the world around you? What effects or colour combinations make you want to paint and be creative?
  • What do you want out of life? How do you plan to enjoy it

Are you free to do what you want?

How artists make free time to paint in their busy day:

Most people are tired down by their obligation to duty. They say their day is full of things they must do and everyone has to earn a living. And oh, how they wish they were free to take time out to paint too!

The secret is …you can!

It’s a matter of making time for yourself and getting your act together! If you don’t, someone will find work for you to do for you! Why should they work, when there is a workaholic available?!

Are you free to paint?

Who is making you work so hard? You or someone else?

How do you find time for yourself, you may ask?

Years ago I learnt how to make time for myself. Don’t forget I had five children and a mother is always busy!

  • What I did is take note of my energy levels. When I was feeling fresh and my mind alert, and when I ran out of stream.
  • Choosing when I wanted to paint, I would prepare well ahead of time.
  • When the children were small I would prepare meals and cookies and leave them in the fridge for the family to help themselves whenever they felt hungry.
  • Haw, you say, what about when you have a baby? I painted while the baby was sleeping.
  • So what about housework? If you make up a simple schedule and take note of your priorities, you’ll find things go much smoother. Of cause the right attitude to what you have to do, helps a lot. The secret here is to make up your mind up to enjoy every minute of whatever you are doing.
  • When the family grew older: I was free to paint without interruption when they were at school, at work, or out doing sports.
  • Where possible share activities: whether they are fun activities or doing housework. Tasks go quicker when the workload is shared. Also teamwork builds unity.
  • Get your family and spouse to accept the fact you need time to be creative in. Remember everyone has the right to have their `space’ to achieve their personal aspirations.

What’s more, if you want something bad enough, you’ll make time, no matter the opposition.

Cosmos blow free in the wind.

Photo of cosmos flowers under the trees in the country, north/east of Middleberg, Eastern Transvaal, South Africa.

This charming little place was out in the country north/east of Middleberg in the Eastern Transvaal, South Africa.

The wonder of cosmos:

I don’t think there is a person that doesn’t love cosmos, especially when the flowers grow wild and free in the velt (grasslands). Somehow they give your heart and mind a lift and you feel free and able to do anything you wish… the sky isn’t the limit.

It’s a lovely day you think. The grass and cosmos is waving so freely, to and fro in the breeze, making you feel you could run and roll in the grass, picking cosmos flowers as you go. It feels great to be alive. Isn’t it so! Have you ever felt this way about cosmos?

Cosmos blowing free in the wind.

Watercolour of cosmos flowers blowing free in the wind.

Considering the composition of the cosmos watercolour:

One of the Trolls in painting: is having a wall of trees blocking the view and the entrance into the painting. So I decided to move the trees a little over to the left and give a little more open free space to the right. Not too much, as the trees helped to break the severe contour edge of the background hills. The formation of the tree trunks and the hills is important. They help to form a stabilizing grid factor in the composition.

  1. First I applied liquid masking.
  2. Then I painted the foliage of the trees with sap green.
  3. When the sap green paint was dried, I applied French ultramarine blue to the sky.
  4. I changed the contour of the distant hills so they won’t be so straight.
  5. On with the grass: splashing and dropping different shades of green paint to give it a feeling of freedom.
  6. Rubbing off the masking I filled in the trunks and branches of the trees.
  7. Now to fill in the cosmos: Aaah, this is the exciting part …deciding which are going to be pink and which are going to be white.
  8. I’m always telling people to reduce detail, but in this case the charm of the painting was the detail and flow of flowers and leaves suggesting they are blowing in the wind.

Personally I like to paint cosmos wild, loose and free, not precise stiff little posy pictures. And you, how do you feel about cosmos flowers? Please write a comment and tell me how you like to paint cosmos. And of cause, how you make time to paint!

If you want to see more of my blogs and photo demos click on the following links: