Why watercolor paints are challenging and difficult to paint, yet a loved media

Updated: Feb 13

Part 2 on a 3 part series

I’m sharing my heart with you today.

I paint with oils, watercolors, acrylics, even crayons if wax and texture are needed so it’d be difficult to live without any of them because I love them all!

Yet, they each have their own bragging rights, however watercolor was my first love.


Today, watercolor is here to chat with you.

And maybe after reading this, you’ll fall in love just like I did years ago.

So, without delay; here’s watercolor.


Hi, there, Watercolor, here.

One word sums me up: Tricky.


Although I’m water-based, like acrylic, that’s the only easy thing about me, hee-hee.

My watercolor translucent (see through) quality makes it difficult to cover mistakes.

It takes a refined hand to apply thin layers of color which allows underneath pigment to show through, giving me depth.

This layering is where the tricky part kicks in. Dried watercolor paint is always susceptible to being "reactivated" as soon as it comes into contact with water, meaning colors can mingle and get muddy quickly.

Oh yeah, some of my dark colors stain the paper, too, never to be white paper again!


If that's not tricky enough, ... watercolors separate on the paper instead of staying mixed together.

Pure craziness for the artist.


In the color chart above, look closely at the middle section and you'll notice how my colors separate.

Lastly, I dry lighter in color then when its first applied.

Of course, all this happens on a fairly dry piece of paper.

Cover the paper in a brush full of watercolor, and then apply me … I explode in every direction!

LOL, I'm a real trickster, filled with challenges for an artist!

In fact, my unexpected nature is what hooked Kate as an artist.


Kate's first watercolor 1984

Kate's first watercolor 1984


She discovered me in the 1980’s when she took an adult education class.


Until then she’d always been a crafter, getting bored quickly, either from pattern tracing in sewing, or the repetitive knot tying of macramé.

Shortly afterwards, she left her 13-year profession as a registered nurse and returned to college, becoming an art major. The rest is history. You can read her long version of this transformation in her memoir, A Lone Birch, My Artisitc Journey. It’s a true story of resilience – like me!

Although I was new to Kate in the 80’s, I’m an old timer.


Watercolor painting is ancient, dating back to the cave paintings of paleolithic Europe.

As art developed, in the early 19th century, artists regarded me as a sketching tool in preparation for the "finished" work in oil or engraving. Argh!

Then something unexpected happened. Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) shocked the world by creating hundreds of superb topographical, architectural, and mythological watercolor paintings. Being the first of its kind made him a multimillionaire ... all because of me!

Some of Kate’s favorite twenty-first century artists are: Georgia O’Keefe,

Salvador Dali, Freida Kahlo.


Personally, I'm partial to Kate!


Although I’ve been an accepted media for more than a hundred years, most recently something new has happened to me.

For the past centuries the only option was to paint me on paper. The heavier the paper the better. If an artist put me on lesser quality, I’d make the paper ripple … more wrinkles than your pruney fingers after you’ve soak in a hot bubble bath for too long!

Yet, after a recent breakthrough in gesso, there’s a new linen canvas primed just for me, watercolor.

Pretty neat. Kate’s tried me out and loves this additional flexibility to my media.

So watch out oil and acrylic … I’m stepping up my game.


But like acrylics, when I’m painted on paper, I need to be framed.

Unlike stretched linen, paper absorbs moisture and can fade from sun exposure. Mats, UV glass, and a frame are all the elements needed to preserve my longevity.

Speaking of acrylic paints, he’s coming to chat with you next week. And since I want to stay friends with Kate, I‘ll share the stage. So for now, I have to say good-bye.

But remember, it was my unpredictability that got her hooked as an artist. Pretty cool.


"Summer Sail" watercolor Giclee print 20" h x 22.5"w $247, click here

Kate here – it’s true, that one watercolor class lit up me life like nothing else. It was my first love in the arts. Yet, after thirty years of painting, when it comes to the arts, I have many loves.

Falling in love is exciting. It allows you to learn and grow, embracing something new and thrilling.

Life can toss you challenges.

To endure, try falling in love, be it a hobby, a pet ... any of these tools can become loyal and supportive!


I hope you're like me, fall in love more than once!


Related Reading: 4 reasons why oil paints are my favorite artist media. Part 1 of 3 part series.