Leisure Painter

I hope you enjoyed my articles in Leisure Painter. If you are interested in drawing and painting Africa’s amazing wildlife, join me on an African Art Safari!  The safaris are suitable for any skill level and non-sketching partners/friends are welcome too.
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Alison Nicholls Part 1
Alison Nicholls Part 2
Alison Nicholls Part 3



lioness and cub

lioness and cub


Male lion

Atka, arctic wolf from Wolf Conservation Center

Atka, arctic wolf from Wolf Conservation Center

Atka, arctic wolf from Wolf Conservation Center

Arctic wolf Atka from Wolf Conservation Center

Elephant bull


Giraffe photo by Alison Nicholls


Zebra walking, photo by Alison Nicholls


Cheetah walking by Nigel Nicholls


White rhino photo by Alison Nicholls

White Rhino

Additional Watercolour Tips (Part 3)

  • A mistake is only a problem if you don’t learn from it.
  • The whitest white you have is the white of your paper. Preserve small areas of white paper where the light hits your subject. If you can preserve them by painting around them, great. If not, use masking fluid.
  • Take care of your brushes. Never leave them standing in water. Re-form the points and let them dry lying flat, not upright.
  • For years I used an old No. 10 round brush with a worn tip, switching to a smaller brush when I needed a fine line. Big mistake! When I bought a new No. 10 round, which came to a beautiful point, I realised I should have bought a new one long before. Now, with a lovely fine tip, I use a No. 10 for almost all aspects of my A4 and A3 paintings. Although the smaller brush created the fine lines I occasionally needed, the fine tip on the larger No 10 created those same lines, but with a certain looseness. I still use my old brush but only for mixing colours, so I save the tip on the new one.
  • If you’re working at a desk or table, stand up to paint wet-in-wet. Or, if sitting down, never lean your wrist or elbow on the table – it limits the movement of your arm and will show in your brushstrokes.
  • Mixing a colour with white makes it more pastel, not brighter.

Painting Wet-in-Wet (Part 3)
Painting wet-in-wet is what makes watercolor great, as you can create some absolutely stunning effects. As you practice, you’ll be able to control your wet-in-wet work, but you should always expect (and hope for) a certain level of the unexpected. This is also why working wet-in-wet can be so intimidating.

I’d suggest that you follow the steps below then take some time, and several sheets of watercolour paper, and experiment on your own, without expecting to create anything except marks and washes.

Watercolor washes by Alison Nicholls

  1. Gather your materials. I’m using:
    Cadmium Yellow and Napthol Red Light (Winsor & Newton watercolours);
    Cold press watercolour paper 140lbs, 9×12 inches (23x30cms);
    2-inch wide flat wash brush or a 1-inch wide flat wash brush;
    An old No.10 round brush, for mixing colours;
    A 3/4 inch
    oval mop brush (not pictured),

    Large white plates as palettes;
    Small piece of watercolour paper for testing your colours;
    Several water containers, so you always have clean water when you need it. 
  2. Mix washes of each of your primary colours. Make more of each than you think you need. Your brushes can easily absorb a lot of paint, and you don’t want all of your wash disappearing after your 1st brush stroke, so its better to make too much, than not enough. 
  3. Prop up 1 end of your paper so it is at a slight angle (I usually go with 3 – 5cms). The angle allows water and paint to slowly spread down the paper. If your paper is at a 45 degree angle or more. the colours will just drip off the paper rather then slowly mix and flow. Watercolor washes by Alison Nicholls
  4. Dip your flat wash brush into clean water, almost up to the metal ferrule. Give it a second to fill with water. Lift it out and gently wipe the brush against the side of the water container, to remove any large drips.

    Watercolor washes by Alison Nicholls
  5. Using long brush strokes, paint the water onto your paper. After 2 or 3 brush strokes your brush will need refilling with water. Don’t go over the same area twice, unless you see a dry area you missed. Work quickly, speed is of the essence. When you finish, the entire surface of the paper should still be damp. If one part has already dried, you either worked too slowly, or you didn’t use enough water. If your paper contains puddles of water, then you’ve added too
    much, so let the excess water drip off. When you start adding colour, you want the whole surface to look equally damp, so knowing how to dampen your paper correctly is one of the most crucial skills for a watercolourist. Watch for the sheen to appear (you can just see it in the photo above, and can also see it in the last photo). You see dimples because you are seeing the surface of the paper through the thin skin of water. If you used too much water you won’t see the dimpled surface, and if you didn’t use enough, it will look dry. You may have to look at your paper from different angles to see the sheen (depending on the angle of lighting in your room).

    Watercolor washes by Alison Nicholls
  6. Fill the same brush with some of the red you mixed and paint it onto your wet paper. Use the same long brush-strokes. Paint in random places, not everywhere, and not in a pattern. Leave sections of the paper white.
    Note: Look back at earlier photos to see how strong the red looked on my palette. I filled my brush with a lot of paint, but when it is painted onto the damp surface of the paper, the colour is diluted even more. Every colour will react differently and some colours have a much stronger ‘staining’ quality than others. You will get used to this over time.  This is another good reason to limit your palette of colours, so you get to know and understand your colours very well.
  7. Clean your brush thoroughly.

    Watercolor washes by Alison Nicholls 
  8. Fill your brush with the yellow (I’m using a 3/4 inch synthetic Oval Mop brush here) and paint over some of the remaining white (not all of it) and over some of the red. When you paint over the red (which is still damp) you may pick some of it up on your brush. That is fine, just keep on painting. Don’t try to mix the colours yourself, by painting with lots of small brush strokes and going over the same area several times. Instead, let the colours mix themselves on the damp paper. Don’t try to change areas where you think you made a mistake. In addition to long brush strokes you can also try using the edge of your brush to drop a little of the yellow colour onto the paper, then let gravity pull it down (as I have done in the photo above and below). The photo below shows the ‘sheen’ is still there on the paper after I’ve painted both the red and yellow, even though I haven’t added any more water to my paper. This also shows how fast you need to work (it helps if you are out of the sun, and not in a very hot, dry room where your water and paint will dry too quickly). You can also see how the damp paper has softened the square brush marks I made, pulling the edges outwards.

    Watercolor washes by Alison Nicholls
  9. Perhaps the most important step – leave your paper alone until it is completely dry. If your paper still feels cold, it isn’t dry yet.  
  10. While waiting for it to dry, write down the colours you used and note anything important – did you think you used too much paint, too much water, how about your brush-strokes? 
  11. When your paper is totally dry, see what you like and don’t like about it. What would you change next time? Keep your written notes with the dry paper and as you practice, you’ll figure out what you like and how to recreate it.  
  12. Now try again on a different sheet with different colours. Repeat! Enjoy!