quality matters in watercolor painting

Quality Matters, Dude

quality matters in watercolor painting

Quality matters, at least in art supplies. Especially watercolors. I mean, it seems like quality has taken a backseat in manufacturing these days, but in painting and art you can’t really take the backseat. You have to use good materials. I haven’t had a microwave last for more than two years without something going wrong with it. Our coffee makers last about the same amount of time too. My paintings will probably outlive all of my appliances. Why? Because I use quality materials. So many things we buy are made of cheap plastic. Clothes aren’t even made well anymore. When I go shopping I find myself forced to purchase see-through T-shirts, underwear that unravels when it is washed, and electronics with buttons that are likely to be short-lived. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I spend on the item or where I purchase it either. Stuff is just made to be cheap now. We live in a throw it away and buy a new one society. Why? Because it is less expensive to buy a new one than it is to have the old one fixed. Why? Because the new ones are made of cheap materials. I could go on and on and on reinforcing my point and acting like a true curmudgeon, or I could just talk about art. That’s what I came here for, so, it’s time to stop complaining and get down to business.

I want to talk about watercolor paper. It’s important to get the good stuff. Don’t skimp on the paper. I know you will be tempted to because it is expensive, but don’t do it! I am speaking from experience, recent experience. I should know better by now, but every once in a while I will see some watercolor paper, in some kind of discount store, and pick it up out of blind hopefulness. I always tell myself it will be good to “practice” on or experiment with, but I am always wrong. Mostly because the paper isn’t the same as the good stuff, so the only practice I am really getting is in frustration. Or, even worse, it starts coming out really well, but the paper quality is so poor I couldn’t sell it to someone without a disclaimer attached.

Quality matters with paper.
Can you see the ridges? paintings are not supposed to have ridges. OK, maybe that’s not true either, but still…ridges.

I started these flowers on some of this recently purchased, inexpensive, paper. The flowers don’t look bad or anything. It’s just the paper is really stripey with ridges in an odd way. Plus, I decided to experiment with my watercolor pencils and that stripey paper made stripey looking flowers. I couldn’t get it to smooth out. The stripes are all in a diagonal. I know the stripey indentations were made so the paint will get captured and stay put, but in my quality watercolor paper, the “rough” parts are sort of circular blobs. A pattern that sort of disappears once the paint is applied instead of becoming the central focus of the painting.

Instead of having a piece of finished work, I have this stripey flower that will always bug me. It might have been something delightful if I had done it on my usual watercolor paper, but instead, I learned that maybe “practicing” should be done on quality materials too. In every failure, there is something to learn. At least, that is what I keep telling myself. In art there is a lot of failure. Especially when you like to experiment like I do.

Quality matters with paint
I wish I had painted this on better paper.

Quality matters in everything we do, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t it? We should always try to do the best we can and we should always use the best materials we can get our hands on. I can’t afford to buy the best brushes or best paints available, but I always buy the best I can afford. It makes a huge difference in my finished pieces. It also cuts down on frustration and failure.

If you are just starting out with painting, get the best materials you can afford to. It makes a huge difference, trust me.  With quality materials your experience will be much more enjoyable. Now, if I could just convince the people who make microwaves and T-shirts of that I could stop being such a “Quality Matters” curmudgeon. I’d also have more money to spend on art supplies.


12 thoughts on “Quality Matters, Dude”

  1. I find that poor quality brushes give me difficulties. I spend a bit on each brush but they will last me several years despite the abuse I put them through.

    1. When I first started painting watercolors in a serious way I was having a lot of trouble. My mom bought me just a couple of good brushes and my painting became 100% better. Brushes are really important too.

  2. I wonder how many would-be artists are discouraged because they are thinking they aren’t good enough to merit buying the expensive, higher quality materials?

    1. I was amazed by how much my work improved by having quality materials. It all started when my mom listened to a ready show about the importance of good paper in watercolor painting. She suggested I get some better paper, then she bought the brushes. I think it is hard to justify spending the money on the materials when you are starting out. You know you are going to make mistakes and ruin a piece of $7 paper. It can make you feel pressured to be amazing right away too. On the other hand, you might give up sooner if you use the cheap stuff and just decide you aren’t any good at it.

    1. I am going to paint some more sunflowers soon. They seem to be a popular flower. I want to try painting the really big ones. I am hoping to get some good reference pictures this summer. I planted some in the yard. We’ll see what happens! Thank you 🙂

  3. Hey cheap stuff works!! I get the worst grade of photo paper to print digital images at Office Depot or Target. I should remind you that when Jack Kerouac wrote *On The Road* he fed butcher paper on a roll into his typewriter 😉

    1. Has anyone ever told you that you might have an unhealthy obsession with butcher paper? Haha! I write many of my stories and blog posts on junk mail and napkins. I save my butcher paper for art projects. I wonder if the waxy nature of the paper gummed up his typewriter at all? It’s a great anecdote about finding a way to do what you want to do, of conquering obstacles. When you want to write a book, you’ll write it anywhere you can.

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