View Full Version : A nice way to practice: mini watercolors - REACTIVATED

12-26-2007, 06:30 PM
I guess I'm a little hard-headed, but I finally have made time to actually practice watercolor, rather than try to paint a "real" painting every time. And, I've discovered it's fun to practice. While I'm still creating backruns and a little mud here and there, I'm also learning better how to avoid such incidents. I'm hoping my experience will inspire other beginners to try it.

I take a piece of 9x12" 140lb CP paper and divide it into fourths, then work quickly and loosely on an idea with a #12 round. I've been using only three colors: ultramarine, raw sienna, and burnt sienna.

I've attached a couple of example pages (but I've done six so far). The first contains just "free" experimentation, in a landscape mode. I just kind of drop in a sky and let things go from there. The second example is a group of tiny paintings from photographs I've taken, again done fairly quickly. These get no underdrawing at all -- straight to paint.



12-26-2007, 08:48 PM
Nothing new here...these are part of preparatory work for larger work.Value sketches are more helpful in my case.

12-26-2007, 09:02 PM
Sorry there's nothing new here -- I didn't realize I'd advertised it that way. BTW, these aren't preparatory of anything in particular, which is the point.

It's just a fun way to experiment with the effects of the paint wet-on-wet, wet-on-dry, dry brush, etc. I'll bet there are a lot of other beginning watercolorists that don't do this (as didn't I), and I wanted to clue them into the fact that it's not a chore, and it's actually fun to not care too much about the result.

12-26-2007, 09:08 PM
your little paintings are delightful, and a great idea. Nothing new for one person, but there are people of all levels here, thanks for sharing!
(I'm going to do it too!)

12-26-2007, 11:37 PM
I should try this - I like the freedom of a bigger piece of paper but I can see the advantages of a smaller piece.

It may not be new to others, but it's new to me. Thanks for sharing :)

12-26-2007, 11:43 PM
Mike, those are delightful, and they show you can have freedom in your work. Keep at it so it will be easier for your "real" paintings. I've always enjoyed your pen and wash work, and it's nice to see how well you are moving to straight watercolor.

12-27-2007, 12:08 AM
Mike - Very nice practice sketches. I like them all. I see them as a means to an end; that end not being a particular painting, but a means to the end of improving an all over skill level. Isn't that we are supposed to practice. Kudos sir! I like, and envy your practice.

12-27-2007, 06:29 AM
Good idea Mike, I used to have a tiny paint box and sketch book at work and pratice tiny paintings like those in my lunch hour.


maggie latham
12-27-2007, 08:13 AM
:) Mike,
Lovely little paintings. I do this all the time also. In fact some of my little loose ones, when matted and framed up…. out sell planned paintings! Something about the spontaneity I think.

I also use these little guys for original greetings cards to send as thank you notes to clients or just to sell with a lower price point in the gallery.

I usually limit myself to either two or three colors and ‘push the paint around’ to see where it leads. I think you learn a lot about how to handle paint, and a lot about the properties of color, pigment and how they react with each other from making little paintings in this way. It also helps to eliminate a lot of pencil work in larger paintings (as you fine tune your eyes and gain more confidence in applying paint in the right place).

I used to keep sketchbooks and do little studies in watercolor and gouache in those, but these days I work like you above…….. on a large sheet of paper, (full or half size sheets or blocks) masked off, and then tear the tiny paintings to create a deckled edge. I usually then mount them with double sided tape into larger spiral bound hardback sketchbooks with color notes etc. This works for me as a way of filing them and keeping them in one place to refer back to.

Maybe we should start a whole ~on going thread~ for people like us who work in this way….now, wouldn’t that be fun?

12-27-2007, 10:27 AM
Nothing new here...these are part of preparatory work for larger work.Value sketches are more helpful in my case.

Maybe not for you watercolorguy, but for many this serves as a great idea and also points out the value of practice and having some fun...
And for beginners, it is an invaluable lesson in a fun way to practice and improve...

Thanks for posting this Mike!:thumbsup:


12-28-2007, 01:06 PM
Hi Mike,

I like what you have done and as a so-so dabbler in watercolor I started doing the miniatures too. They make nice studies and it's "less threatening" to a newby to mess up a 3X3 than a 9X12. If I am not mistaken, somebody has published a how-to book on the subject, but I can't recall the names. Thanks for showing your nice work and adding the topic.

12-28-2007, 04:41 PM
I think these are great. When I had my first WC lesson my teacher had us do 4 small paintings using different techniques. It was really useful. I should go back to practicing this again.
Thanks for reminding me.

12-28-2007, 08:08 PM
I agree it is a great way to loosen up with out the threatening lose of a perfect sheet, I disagree with the idea that it is only for Newbies, as all should return to it once in a while.

12-29-2007, 09:21 AM
I love your little practice paintings and thanks for the tip. I have been thinking about painting something, but I just can't seem to get it in gear to do so, but I think by doing this, it will give me the 'get up and go' to put something on paper. I am still very new at painting and I am positive that it will help me in so many ways. Thanks for the post. Happy New Year. Sue

12-29-2007, 01:08 PM
These are wonderful little sketches!! :clap: I really love they style you show. Plus a great idea to get going after a lull, or just for fun! Thank you for sharing!

12-29-2007, 01:26 PM

I love these! This is just what I need to do and don't!:)

Maybe this will give me the kick in the pants I needed, LOL!

Mentor point from me.

12-29-2007, 01:45 PM
hi Mike,

Looks to me as if these practice paintings are covering a lot of aspects of painting that are necessary to learn about: Using a limited palette, using a large brush, wet in wet washes, composition, etc., etc. Can't do much better than that.

Because you weren't worried about doing a "real" painting, you were free to let the paints do what they do best—flow on the paper. Try not to put three colors on top of one another to avoid mud and make sure each wash is dry before putting another on top of it. Learn to work with your backruns, they add zest to many a watercolor painting if they aren't in a bad place. :D

Keep up the good work, I think I'll give you a Merit Point today because you have done so well and shared the outcome with us. Maybe you've even inspired others to emulate your practice.

BTW, when one of my watercolor instructors wants to show us a variety of different techniques before our class begins, she often using masking tape to divide a full sheet into smaller sheets as you have done here. :thumbsup:


12-29-2007, 05:12 PM
a Merit Point today


Only 1 merit point? Ease up there. Mike deserves at least 20 and probably more.

Regards and Happy 2008 to all

12-29-2007, 05:43 PM
Unfortunately, we are only allowed to give one merit/mentor point a day per month to an individual by the powers-that-be, so if you think Mike deserves more, you will have to award one to him from you, I've given him mine for today. :D


12-29-2007, 07:44 PM
Wow, I'm glad to see that others thought my post was worthwhile. I'm glad to see others interested in trying exercises like these to improve their skills with much reduced pressure to "perform". I've really enjoyed it, myself, and will continue.

One thing I neglected to mention is that I was holding the pad of paper pretty vertically for much of this work. I found that I liked working that way quite a bit (previously, I'd been working nearly flat). Now I feel the need to get a little table easel or something (one more piece of "gear" for my wife to kid me about :)).

mimitabby - Glad to hear you will try it. Be sure to post your work :)

enigmacat - I had been doing "larger" (only up to 9x12") work after a long period of doing smaller paintings and line & wash drawings. It was kind of fun to go back to a smaller/quicker format for this practice. I do appreciate what you mean by the freedom of a larger piece, though. I hope to be able to translate what I've learned from this practice to the larger form.

rgb - I actually think that alternating between pure watercolor and line & wash helps to improve both (at least I hope so). I will continue with both. I have to admit that, right now, pure watercolor is the spinach and line & wash is the dessert. Hopefully they'll both become dessert!

troutbum - I agree - they are a means to an end, even if that end is some other completely unrelated watercolor that I do someday. Thanks...

Doug - I too keep a small paintbox (a Koi 12-color set with a tiny waterbrush) and a small watercolor moleskine and Rapidoliner pen in my computer bag at all times, and have done sketches at lunch (admittedly, line & wash) a few times. I like having a time limit. Seems to keep the work fresh and simple.

Maggie - I would love to see yours and others' small quick works. I did look through some of your posts, and I love your pastels. I have a soft spot for pastel, and hope to sometime try it again.

Linda - You hit the nail on the head - I posted this to try to inspire other beginners to give it a shot if they hadn't before. I think it's very well worth it.

johnb2 - There's a book out there called Work Small, Learn Big. Could that be the one you're thinking of? I haven't seen it in person, but it sounds interesting.

Arlene - Seems like anyone of any ability could benefit in this sort of "play", especially if they are considering trying a different technique. You're welcome for the reminder :)

Ral - See my comment to Arlene :)

susanhaig - Yes, I found it took a lot of pressure off me, because I had no real skin in the game. I "knew" up front that I would not try to produce anything frameable, but would only concentrate on technique: value, proper wash technique, paint thickness, etc. Give it a shot and post your results here. Would love to see them.

lpb - Thank you, and happy to share :)

lizcar57 - Well, thanks for the mentor point. I appreciate that. I'd love to see your work!

painterbear - Yes, they have been a great training ground for me, and I'm going to continue. And, thank you very much for the merit point :)

12-29-2007, 10:05 PM
One thing I neglected to mention is that I was holding the pad of paper pretty vertically for much of this work. I found that I liked working that way quite a bit (previously, I'd been working nearly flat). Now I feel the need to get a little table easel or something (one more piece of "gear" for my wife to kid me about

I like to put the top of my board on a roll of masking tape or something else that will elevate it. That lets gravity help the washes run down the page.

Try propping up your board like that...until you get the easel, that is. ;)


12-30-2007, 04:58 PM
Dear Sylvia,

I was being facetious!

BTW, are you a Buckeye Fan? You live close to Columbus and Ohio state. I see Penn State won last night.

12-30-2007, 05:39 PM
So was I, that's what the ;) meant. :lol:

Not a Buckeye Fan—I'm a Nittany Lions and Joe Paterno fan since that's where my husband and I both went to school.


12-30-2007, 06:49 PM
Wow! These are really delightful! Very loose and refreshing! I would consider myself ARRIVED if I could do minis like this! Guess I should give it a go...

Rita in NJ

12-31-2007, 12:13 PM
WE ARE..............PENN STATE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mike, thanks for the inspiration.. here are a few of my little paintings done last night.


12-31-2007, 05:51 PM
Fantastic "mini" paintings, Mike! Maybe just what the doctor ordered to get me outta the painting doldrums.

Thanks for the reminder that painting should be fun.

Ms. Gee
01-01-2008, 02:54 AM
A simple step like this would have saved my last painting. You've taught me a lesson. (Now I just have to practice it!)

Thanks for reminding me what I should be doing!

01-01-2008, 07:12 PM
Rita - Hmmm, I feel a lo-o-ong way from arriving, but I'm very flattered :-) I would like to see your efforts, should you give it a go!

Sue - Way to go! They all look good, but I especially like that pitcher - nice complementary colors. Keep 'em coming...

Debi - Please post your efforts should you give it a go...

Grace - I was just reading an older book by Rowland Hilder, and I was intrigued by his "dryer" sky technique. Now, I need to give it a few goes in this small-n-quick format, myself.

07-09-2008, 07:52 AM
mike, great idea!!
i have actually read about that approach in a few books, but have not tried it myself....it is certainly a great idea to just have fun with the paints...
and i am very glad more positive comments have been made supporting your post...there is always something new we can all learn ....so good on you, and i am going to give it a try as well...

07-09-2008, 07:53 AM
just noticed that this is an old thread...oh well...

07-09-2008, 08:32 AM
This has been reactivated, but that doesn't mean you still can't do the mini watercolors and post them here. I'm sure others who may not have seen it the first time around will get some benefit from reading it and doing the paintings and posting them here too.



Painter Nan
07-09-2008, 08:47 AM
I love these, I use to do them and now that I am trying to re learn what I knew.....I think it will be a lot of help, the no drawing/sketch first is scary for me.

07-09-2008, 11:18 AM
I too, think this was a good thread. Inexperienced painters such as myself, often need these helpful ideas to get painting again. It helps to break through that block that keeps us from starting a painting. I also love the paintings! Thanks, Jane

07-09-2008, 12:14 PM
I'm glad this thread was *Reactivated* because I hadn't seen it the first time around... and, interestingly enough, I've been doing something very similar...

I keep a stack of 5x7 paper in various weights and surfaces by my easel... The little mini paintings make wonderful warm-up exercises... or, I like to try a new technique on them... or... just PLAY!!!

As it turns out, they make WONDERFUL little cards to give away for *occasions*... you know... birthdays, etc...

I'm currently working on a half sheet of a canvasback duck... there's a lot of detail and I'm taking my time with her... BUT... I did these two little 5x7's on Arches 140# rough... one yesterday and one today... as it turns out, I'll be giving them away as birthday cards at a luncheon... TODAY!!! :)



07-09-2008, 02:34 PM

I am finding that picking up a brush and playing has a great exercise for me too.

I am always telling myself that I just can't get into tackling a "real" painting "right now." But I started keeping a few materials by my phone . . small pieces of paper or a pad of wc paper, a couple of brushes, a small paint sketchbox of colors, and (don't laugh) a small, squat cut crystal vase of clean water (put it all on a pretty tray and it's my excuse for letting it sit out :D )

The other week I doodled this during a long boring (on my part :lol: ) phone conversation, but then I framed it and gave it as a birthday gift.


Sometimes it's a simple image . .


Sometimes a little more involved . . .


It might be something that later I might see if I can take it further and try to do something more with it, or not . . .


Sometimes it's just to practice a technique like rocks . . .


If I had sat down to do a giraffe painting, I would have been intimidated because I've never painted animals, and so I probably would never have even tried.

But on a recent visit with my little grandson, he wanted to watch Gannie paint. When I asked him what he wanted me to paint, he said a giraffe :eek:

At 3 1/2 years old, his attention span is about 20 minutes . . . so 20 minutes later . . .

So as Martha says, "It's a good thing!" :D


07-09-2008, 03:08 PM
Char said - "I'm glad this thread was *Reactivated* because I hadn't seen it the first time around". I agree - there are lots of these gems hiding in the forums. I'm glad that this one resurfaced. I will definitely give it a try.


07-09-2008, 05:17 PM
I'm so glad to see "new" paintings posted here. :thumbsup: Lovely works Char and Grainne! :D

For more along these same lines, take a look at the February Monthly Class called Easy Wash Techniques (http:///www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=475094) led by Maggie Latham. I think you'll find it to be interesting and useful as well.



07-10-2008, 05:19 AM
Hi Mike
It was good to see your post with these small watercolors. It is good fun to do such little ones sometimes.

Scene Chaser
07-10-2008, 07:49 AM
Thanks for reminding me to practice. This is a great idea. Nice little paintings, too. I'll try Doug's practicing at lunch .

07-11-2008, 12:01 PM
OhWowOhWow, Grainne! These are gorgeous little studies and chits of paper... I just love them... and they'd be so beautiful tucked into little places on your walls!

If anyone hasn't tried Maggie's *Washes* techniques, they should... it's a lot of fun... and the little paintings turn out to be wonderful studies that can be used as gifts, too! :)

Here's today's card (I'm giving it away on the weekend)... Arches 140# rough 5x7... M. Graham and D. Smith paints with a little ink...


07-20-2008, 01:46 PM
Hi Mike,

Thank you for sharing. This is valuable information!!!
I never tried this before, you are so kind for sharing this with us.


07-20-2008, 04:30 PM
I just joined the site yesterday and did not see this before either so I am glad it was reactivated. These wonderful little mini works are just the thing to get me back into painting after a long dry spell. Doing a large finished painting right now was intimidating. Thanks Mike. :)

Botanygal Sheila

07-20-2008, 04:53 PM
a great idea, one I often forget to do or dont make the time to, thanks for sharing !!

07-23-2008, 11:29 AM
Thanks for the reactivation of this thread...I will be trying some of these, along with those washes Maggie does....very inspiring, as I dont do real pictures well in w/c. (Hoping to get better with practice, though).

07-23-2008, 05:43 PM
This is a really great idea, thank you for posting. I love your style and the lighthouse is my favorite. :)

07-24-2008, 03:52 AM
I like to do this too. it has helped me learn more.

11-14-2008, 11:44 PM
Wow, I just came back to this thread after a long time gone. It's so great to hear the words of encouragement, and to hear that others are trying out this practice technique.

Thanks for all your responses!

11-18-2008, 06:28 PM
Great idea Mike, I like to paint plein aire but find it hard on the back, so tried from the car, ok but had to bring too much stuff along. With what your suggesting all one needs is a brush, 3 paints little water and paper and painting from the car should be much easier. Thanks, James

11-18-2008, 10:12 PM
Rather than pondering what to paint, I am going to do some mini watercolors. May be that will get me going. Thank you for sharing.


11-21-2008, 11:15 PM
Thanks for reactivating this thread!!
I just finished a 6 week (one night/week) watercolour class that was stretching my knowledge of watercolour techniques. The last night of the class we also were reminded it's sometimes just nice to PLAY!! What a great way to learn- isn't this how our children learn some skills- through play?? I like the idea of mini paintings and no drawing/sketching. i should do more of this!! :)

11-23-2008, 04:49 AM
Doing mini-watercolour paintings is a great idea. Not only do you practise your colours, trying to keep them fresh, contrasts, values, etc. but you have to keep them simple, without too many details. They incite you to practice, since they don't need too much thinking and preparation. What's more, these small paintings are wonderful cards that you can use to send for New Year, birthdays, etc. and I sometimes use them as name-cards when I lay the table. My guests are always pleased to leave with a small gift...

11-25-2008, 03:56 PM
Mike these little ones are just perfect and are a splendid way to spend the time. So glad you posted them.

12-31-2008, 06:58 PM
I agree with everyone. I would definately not have had the courage to do my first painting if it was any larger than the "postcard"-size one that I did. I will take the advise of this thread and keep going with a few more mini paintings.

An Old Lad
12-31-2008, 07:20 PM
I really like the sketches too. A couple of them in particular look like they could easily be sold! I like doing quick sketches like that but more often than not I try and do smaller projects with deffinite purposes. If I don't have an end goal then I'll paint over all my good paper too quickly and often time wont have anything to show for it. I love the arts and my biggest delimma is allowing myself to move forward while ratioing my supplies to myself, and freeing myself enough to be creative and still end up with a nice peiece.

The Size of the paper only matters to me in relation to the total amount of paper I have. It is only recent that the brilliant idea of cutting large sheets in half in order to conserve paper* has dawned on me. I enjoy painting and the size of the paper I use has no bearing on my creativity...Though I'm me and this pertains only to myself.


12-31-2008, 09:58 PM
What a cool idea..... and inspiration to get going in the New Year :thumbsup:

Thanks for posting this, and to whomever dragged it back out again and dusted it off...this is a thread worth repeating! :)

12-31-2008, 10:42 PM
Mike ,Really nice work...I like the one with the light house...
.I have started to do journal work...
.I had to laugh at th first reply to your post..."nothing new here"....Be Well Eddie

01-06-2009, 12:27 AM
Hi Mike,

I think this is a great idea. My paintings are tight and detailed, take hours to complete and have really become "work". I look forward to having some fun again with little mini paintings like you are doing! They will be fun and easy with no pressure and I think they will remind me how to ENJOY painting!!

Thanks for the idea!


maggie latham
01-09-2009, 03:34 PM
Hello everyone,

I am so glad this thread has been reactivated!:) As I mentioned earlier, I work like this a lot….it is a good way of being loose and working out compositions and value mass….or a colour palette.

Like Char I also use lots of these little guys as original art cards, and mount them onto good watercolour card stock with double-sided tape.

Thought I would share some of mine…an eclectic mix from the past year or so. Some are in India ink, some in watercolour and gouache. The easel photo is from a couple of years ago when I used to live in South Florida…the weather was so hot that by nine in the morning my washes dried almost instantaneously!....A far cry form the freezing weather in England at the moment!

I like using India ink, as it really makes you focus on value and composition right from the start……I use ink as another artist may use charcoal…and as it is permanent....... lay in watercolour washes to ‘tint’ the little mini painting once dry.



This is a small one (painted plein air) from Florida, mounted to blank card stock..



Here you can see the progression from ink to washes...it is FUN!


These are in gouache and watercolour.....the top one is mounted in a mat and the second one is on a blank card. These were painted recently for a freind to give as a Christmas gift to his girlfriend. I struggled with the composition as I don't often try painting people...or work from photos.....both 5x7ish. I used my friends photo as the reference......and did them both quickly on the same sheet of paper.

Can’t wait to see everyone else’s work….. Maggie

01-09-2009, 03:58 PM
Hello everyone,

Great thread...glad it was reactivated. I am a newbie who is teaching himself, collecting little gems here and there as I go along having fun.

I do find myself, like Sharon, having very tight, highly controlled paintings -am I the only borderline OCD here:) ?

Recently started trying new techniques and trying to get out of my comfort zone...this (along with some speed)...might be what the doctor ordered.


01-09-2009, 08:43 PM
Maggie, yours are splendid! I also love working with black India ink. It has lots of uses especially with watermedia or even to cover up "bad" areas that just aren't working.