Solutions to paint better


It is something I became aware of during my search to paint (better) watercolors.
Every new book about watercolor I bought I look first which colors or paper my new hero is using.
and oh yes there it is… Fabrioarchi super rough paper he use!
Where is it? can I buy it? and try it to get better?
And look this other painter on Facebook have 3345 “likes” on his painting and I see on his website he makes the sky with tigereye morningblue and the shadows with Raspoutin Red Marsglow.
I bet when I buy this paper and pigments I can paint better.
Then the new book arrive or magazine, I see a amazing painter,
and he use brushes from Lapland, reindeer beard brushes.
Takes a lot of water and pigment. so that is how he makes such pretty washes! I need to buy these reindeer-beard stuff too!
Maybe I become better in washes??

Then I bought a DVD about watercolor painting, OH, look at that palette, it got 7 deep wells and a enlarged mixing area, and made of pure stainless steel and the color on the mixing area is the same as the paper you use!! 635 Dollar, Its expensive, but a good investment to paint better!

Its maybe a bit exaggerating this intro, but you all know what I mean.

Joseph Zbukvic
Watercolor Joseph Zbukvic


Our quest to paint better, is in real a quest to paint worse,
in other words a quest with a longer road to get better.

Chien Chung Wei
Watercolor Chien Chung Wei

We compare ourselves with better painters. But they have walked the long road to! They enjoyed the process. And when you enjoy what you do it shows in your work!

Original as we are we don’t copy another artists work. We don’t copy his work, lets copy his gear, then we know we have good stuff!
And it is legal!
Sure is, but it is gear this artist is used to and we don’t.
And maybe if the next artist comes in sight we change our gear again.

Anders Andersson
Watercolor Anders Andersson

The point is all artist have a certain skill and talent and use paint, paper and brushes he likes. these tools became his second nature.
When he paints, he distilling the scene in his mind.
Makes a preliminary sketch or not and then make the watercolor.

Thomas Schaller
Watercolor Thomas Schaller

His pencil flows over the paper, the washes are fluid and rich, the artist don’t have to think what to mix, his palette is cool and warm. He paint rough and soft textures, Light to dark and from large shapes to smaller details
All in a effortless motion.
I mean it not wrong, but it is like he look at the scenery and takes it to his brain-filter and he sees the watercolor in front of him!
He knows the best way to paint that particular watercolor.

We know that it is this artist filter cause we recognize the style he have.
We could say we know how his “filter” looks like.

And we want one just like that!

Alvaro Castagnet
Watercolor Alvaro Castagnet

Of course that is what we want. Let me tell you that you can do that to, but you have to stop trying out other artists gears.
If you don’t know how you going to paint your next watercolor in your mind. What will happen on the real paper?

Okay now the (secret) solution to get better.

The number one for a good painting is paper, its the surface your watercolor will be on for long time!
Choose a good quality paper, buy something good, that is on sale maybe.
The brand is not important, as long as it is watercolor paper.
Paint a lot on that paper,make it yours, become to know every annoying or wonderful thing about this paper.
If your painting is not successful, its probably your skill on this paper that let you down, not the paper!
I use Saunders Waterford and Millford.

Number two is pigments, less important then paper but..
Buy from the brands you know that are good, it really doesn’t matter which brand. And it doesn’t matter you use different brands together.
Don’t buy a lot of colors, a beginners chest with 48 colors is in fact a nightmare for every beginning artist.
As a landscape painter you need probably 8 colors, maybe a few more but start with 8.
If you do portraits you need some special colors so you can make skin tones. I understand that. Or delicate flowers, then you need also a few more yellows and other pigments. But for a simple landscape 8 is sufficient. It brings you harmony and better watercolors that are in tune!


And yes I know landscape painters with a lot of colors in there paint box.
But they have already a good working watercolor filter, and we must work on that first.
I would recommend a Phtalo Blue, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue. Alizarin Crimson, a transparent yellow, Raw sienna, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber.
With these 8 colors you can mix everything, and they are all transparent so you can’t get mud. (Well you can, if mixing them all together!)
If you are on location, and you can’t mix a certain green, it doesn’t matter. Use the green you like most to mix. And make it your green. people get to know you about your green, it becomes your specialty this green! Or purple or whatever which color you master. make these colors yours. Get to know them, and make it work to get them in your filter!

The Dutch artist Rien Poortvliet painted his first 5 books with pigments from study quality, and these books are filled with the most wonderful watercolors.


But he made these study pigments his own, he was familiar how they behaved.
Then he received from the pigment-factory the artist quality pigments.
At first he wasn’t happy at all. The colors he used to mix, came out very different. The setting of his filter was altered! He did get used to the new pigments after awhile.

Rien Poortvliet

When such skilled artist loose track switching from study to artist quality with the same brand and same colors!!!
Then you can imagine what happen when you are still searching for your own filter-settings (style)

I have a lot of brushes, but if you ever saw me paint you know that I don’t use all my brushes.
I always go for the same few, cause they are familiar, and I know what I can do with them.
If I use 5 brushes in a painting that is a lot, usually I have a wash brush, a flat or a squirrel mop
A synthetic one with a nice point, a nr 8 sable and a rigger. And I use them in this order to.


Sometimes I go back to the wash brush to make a broad shadow.
But I stay with these few brushes.
Choose your brushes, and become to know what you can do with them,
Choose five brushes and paint with them so its like a extension from your hand, you become to know what you can do with these brushes, they become a part of your artist filter.


I know you need a lot of practice to paint watercolors, and its not just adjusting your gear and go. Its also your skill how to draw, see perspective and values.
When you have a photo camera, and you make every photo with a other setting, there are not lot of photos that will be good.
So you must know your settings and the photo or painting will be a lot better and easier.

The most successful artists are using just a few colors and some odd colors. (lavender or Turquoise are the ones I often see.) The artists I know are using most of the time one brand of paper, Rough or Cold Pressed.
And a few brushes, cause they know they can rely on this gear!


You recognize probably the artists from the watercolors in this article,  you notice that the landscape behind the painting is different then the artists watercolor. It’s the style they have developed, and how they see this landscape. I know for sure, they can make this landscape in many ways, cause these artists are very talented. And thanks to that skill they can switch pigment, and paper and still have a good watercolor!

These artists organize workshops. And that is something I can recommend to follow such workshops. You come close to an artist mind, you see him paint, and he will explain how he does certain things and why he does that. I am sure he is not telling you that you must paint like him. But he learn you how you can organize your style and mind set in a way that you can be more successful in your paintwork. He helps you with your own filter to develop.

Iain Stewart
Watercolor Iain Stewart

These are all suggestions that work for me, and maybe for you?
Think about it, maybe it will work?

Best Wishes
Edo Hannema

Artist Websites
Categories Art

34 thoughts on “Solutions to paint better

  1. Met veel plezier jou artikel gelezen, er zitten veel waarheden in. Goede weergave van het aquarellen en alles wat er mee te maken heeft.
    Bedankt Edo

    1. Dankjewel Jack, het is grotendeels mijn eigen verhaal hoe ik het altijd aanpakte en probeerde om beter te worden.
      Maar als je de schilders observeert, zie je eigenlijk overal hetzelfde, een soort papier, zelfde verfjes in hun doos, en niet heel veel penselen! blij dat je het leuk vond!

  2. What a wonderful post! Your humor and wit shine in this post, as well as the very good practical advise. Thank you.

    1. Thank you Kate, the most difficult part for me is to make it in English, but I know so many people benefit from that. When I would wrote it in Dutch all of the readers must use the Google translation, then the story wasn’t how I intended I am afraid!
      Good you liked it Thanks!

  3. Danke für diesen wunderbaren Artikel, der mir sehr aus der Seele geschrieben ist und mich stärkt auf dem eingeschlagenen “ruhigen” Weg. Oh ja, genau so funktioniert es für mich und es fühlt sich gut und richtig an.

    liebe Grüße

  4. Thanks for such this article. There’s so much within it that I identify with as I’m currently painting in a way that is closely following my artistic heroes. I’m learning a lot, especially technically – but I’m still copying how others ‘see’ things. My challenge is to express how I see things. Thanks again for the thoughtful advice – it’s much appreciated

    1. Hello John, I did look on your website, and its indeed full of old master copies.
      I must confess, I also made a lot of them to learn how they have done it.
      But to do this trick on your own subject is totally different.
      When you paint from a Wesson book or Seago, I saw Rowland Hilder too, its how they saw it.
      And you can paint it like they saw it, but you never get the same mind setting like the original artist.
      DVD’s are much helpful, but rather buy John Hoar then Steve Hall’s Wessonlike movies. It isnt very good at all!
      John Hoar is very original, the pen and was second movie is really good!
      My teacher is Kees van Aalst, he is very good. But even if I want to, Its impossible to copy!
      All his brush strokes are a signature, and you cant copy that!
      Lots of success
      regards Edo

  5. Hallo Edo, goed artikel, helder. Ik denk dat je hiermee velen op weg kunt helpen. Zoals John Pike al zei: “There is no magic brush, paper or paint. It is all about doing, doing and doing.” Of zoals Toni Onley het mooi verwoordde: “The good watercolours take a lifetime, plus a half an hour.” Dus we ploeteren voort. Groet, Arie Jekel

    1. Hallo Arie, dat was wel de bedoeling. Maar ik denk dat mensen altijd zullen blijven zoeken om hun stijl te verbeteren, en als het niet snel genoeg gaat dan zoeken ze het in andere penselen, verf of papier. We hebben dat allemaal gedaan en doen het nog. Ik weet wel dat het eigenlijk niet nodig is. Maar als Da Vici dan weer komt met een mooie Casaneo nr 498 was penseel. Dan wordt je best hebberig.
      Aan de andere kant kijk je weer naar het waspenseel van Fletcher Watson, dat ding is vormeloos, maar heeft gewoon de vorm waar hij mee schilderde!
      Een soort vriend haha!
      We blijven klooien maar vinden het ook leuk!
      Gr Edo

  6. Edo, I notice that you recommend 8 colours for a basic palette, including a transparent yellow. What yellow would you recommend that I get? Thanks, Robyn

    1. Hi Robyn, I use myself a few tubes, and I dont care were I fill the yellow space up with.
      I use in General or New Gambooge (Gummigut) a warmish yellow or Aurelien a cooler but transparant yellow.
      If the yellow is transparant is good enough for me! The cadmium’s are opaque and make mud!
      On the right on my website I have charts from different brands, so you can see if you have already a yellow that is okay!
      Regards Edo

    1. Thank you Ros, it would saved me a lot of money when I could read my own post 20 years ago.
      But I have still friends that did read my blog , and still asking what pigments I use and brushes!

  7. Good post. In the watercolor workshop I attend, we try to paint with 3 colors. I’ve done some with just two and the mixing of them. I bought some paints at a little art shop, paints no one wanted. I found some really odd colors and I LOVE using them. One is Caput Mortuum Violet, which can be very dark and earthy, then very light and pink. Makes for good flesh tones. I also like using Daniel Smith’s Indanthrone Blue, as it is a nice neutral blue and doesn’t mix much with the yellow I use, which works well with painting skies.

    I’ve done quite a few painting with Caput Mortuum Violet, Indanthrone Blue, and Winsor Orange, throwing in some Indian Yellow Medium or Quinacridone Gold at times. Seems a strange combination, but it’s really worked well.

    My point is the point you make, though you haven’t come out and said it directly (you are very polite and funny) is to Not Be Afraid To Try Something New. Find what you like and get to know it.

    I also used three brushes most of the time: a large flat to wet the paper, a large round to paint the washes, and a medium round for any details. I have other brushes I use time to time to get what I need done, if I can’t with those three. I do use a nice rigger I picked up also.

    This summer I’ve worked with Gouache, which I’ve never worked with before and had fun learning how it works. Did some nice studies with veggies from the garden and fruit.

    I’ve also been using Arches 90 lb paper for sketching. It’s cheaper and I can get it to work well even with a heavy wash. I also turn it over and paint on the back. I’ve been happy using it this way.

    Thank you for this blog. It’s good info. One can put huge amounts of money into watercolor or not much at all, and still be quite happy with the results.

    1. Cindy thank you for your response, and so nice you like it!
      About colours, that is always a personal thing.
      I like to use blue and browns a lot, so I figured out if ultramarine blue and light red worked for me. But I also tried ultramarine blue and Indian red, almost similar to light red, and ultramarine blue Venetian red. to try these out I found my personal favorite, this takes a while and a few paintings and effort. I see people just buy what is my favorite!
      Same with brushes, I saw people paint with chinese brushes and make good work! So I searched and studied at least for a week all sorts of you tube tutorials an blogs about chinese brushes, so I know exactly what I should buy!
      People just buy what I did, dont care about the background! its also a form of copying behavior. And the lack of going in depth about the medium. I know for sure a successful painting is not about a good painted tree, but about where the blob that supposed to be a tree is situated in your painting. You have indeed unusual colours, but that makes your art unique and very much your own!

      My teacher said ones, a own style is a artist that knows a trick to make a good watercolour, when he copy that trick in his next painting he stays successful!

      1. See. I’m half Dutch. We think alike!

        I like using brown, too, and make a nice one by mixing tubed violet (can’t remember which one right now) with Med Indian Yellow. I also make my own blacks depending on the palate I use.

        I have a very nice palate box, but I use a bunch of white trays I get from ordering Chinese food, as I have a certain palate for one idea for a painting and a different palate for another painting. And when the workshop meets, I just grab a couple of those trays to take to class.

        I’d show you my paintings, but I’ve given them away as gifts to my family. I might have some pics of them.

        The area I have the greatest trouble in is with greens. I’m working on a landscape of a view across the street and the landscape is all very green, that which is surround the house and barn. I’ve done two studies and am not happy with either.Looking at other’s paintings helps me make decisions, such as how green should I make this landscape?

        My Dutch ancestors came from Friesland, Gronigen, and Gelderland. Great grandparents. One family has a genealogy book and there was a photo of a beautiful home from the late 1600s, before it was torn down. So sad. I’ve never been to the Netherlands but hope to some day. I have lots of cousins there!

        1. Greens are just a pain in the …. greens are so easy to become dull and lack of sparkling! My method is to paint them quicker then the usual brushstrokes. Why it is I dont know, but try it your self, the same mix a brushstroke you do in half a second, and a other one same size in 6 seconds. the quicker one got more spark, and is more alive!
          I think that it have to do with the paper getting wetter and sucks up more pigment.
          Maybe when I have time, I will look into the pigments used them self. maybe some are not good with moist?
          The nicest green by far is always on copper objects, we did have a church here in Amsterdam that did have the most beautiful green roof! unfortunate a fire came, and no money enough to restore the original copper roof! now its just a church with a round roof!

          I am a Frisian from my ancestors
          The nicest and widest part of the Netherlands, unfortunate all the jobs are in the west!
          So maybe I move there when I am retired!

          regards Edo
          I saw I answered with my WP name!

  8. Hi Edo
    I really enjoy your Blog…I am a painter but not a good writer like you
    Happy Painting…Anki

    1. Thanks for your nice comments! Well I think Dutch and translate it in English, so good to hear that you all read it well and like it! makes me happy and inspired!
      Regards Edo

  9. Hi Edo,

    I’m glad I found you! Very practical and helpful information. Looking forward to learning more from you! Thank you!

  10. What a wonderful article and so very very true. I once joked with one of our guest tutors that now that I had the fabled mop brush in my hand I would then be able to master her techniques easily…..the look of shock on her face……but in saying that it did actually help….mmmmmnnnn???

    1. :-)) Well it is certainly she wash in shock! I often asked what colours I use and Brushes. To a certain level I agree that a good wash brush is wonderful tool for skies. But it could go wrong to, squirrels hold a lot of moisture, and to much could form backruns! And a pointy synthetic is good for smaller details. But nowadays the whole world buys Escoda brushes just that Joseph Zbukvic uses them! He says in one of his videos the store on the corner sells them and they are cheap and have a good point! any other brand with the same characteristics would be fine to by him! But I am sure I keep buying, its part of the hobby! 😉

  11. Good job, Edo. I get so tired of going to artists’ demos, and we waste the first 20 minutes with every person there saying to the guest artist, Oh, what paint are you using? what brushes? what paper? and then making everyone wait as they ask for the spelling and write it down, as if knowing that and buying those will make them an artist. Only practice will make you that, and you’re right, it doesn’t really matter as long as everything is of sufficient quality, it just matters that you USE them. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Melissa, Its just something I realised after years of struggling. How would I sooner reach my goal, because 25 years is a lot! And still I am not where I want to be! What did I miss, how would my journey shorter. And since I set my palette on a few colours, use only two sorts of paper my quality of painting is very much progressed. But indeed my colours are not your colours. All people have to figure out what they like!
      It is my pleasure! No Thanks! Thank you for reading and replying!

      Regards Edo

  12. Thank you for this post. I am a beginner in watercolor and in painting in general for that matter and I had just realized this week that I must find my own style. That I have not yet done but I now know it is certainly what I must do thanks to your post. I stumbled upon one of your videos on YouTube recently and enjoyed it very much. I have watched several of them and thanks to you and other talented artists who share their work on YouTube I keep learning. Of course I keep practicing and try not to let the frustration get me down!

    1. Thank you very much Peggy, I wrote this article mainly because my way to where I am today was a long way. And looking back what could I or should I have done to make it a shorter way and get better in watercolour or any other medium way sooner. So I looked at the top artists and they are one with their instruments. They don’t have to think about mix or wich brush they have to chose. Just focus on the painting and they make winning art works. You know my You Tube channel, practise the simple things. paint a sketchbook full of them and you will know your medium better. regards Edo

  13. Your words are a wonderful gift that touch the heart and mind of this old lady who is new to watercolor.

  14. You are a blessing, Edo! I am learning from what you share and how you paint making the process much more fun and relaxing so I put less pressure on myself. Colors have been difficult for me and you sharing your color choices and how to mix them has been a big help. Thank you so very much for what you do for everyone! Now I must stop buying gear! LOL!

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