Like an athlete preparing for an event, I practice my warm ups.
Making a color grid serves two purposes. It reminds me what colors I have, and it gives me a chance to be precise without having to over think what I am doing.
- This is my palette: I usually go down my watercolor palette of dry pans, and with a flat brush I paint single squares on a scrap of paper.
- Sometimes I'm in a blending mood: I chose colors and with the flat brush I apply them wet and mix them on the paper, again, in a grid of squares.
- Watching paint dry: how does my paint sit on the paper? Again, making a square grid with a flat brush, I generously load my brush with color, and apply it very wet, allowing the paint to super saturate the paper. Next to each square, I make another one with the same color but very diluted.
- Color play: I select color families and make a grid of them. All my reds, all my purples, all my blues, all my yellows, all my greens, all my earth tones. Sometimes I select complementary colors, sometimes all the warm colors and then all the cool colors.
- Living in the shadows: I use a neutral tint to shade my colors, with the original pure color on the left and then several progressions of deeper mixtures of that color with the neutral tint.
- There are the colors I'm going to use: I select the colors I intend to use in the painting for which I am preparing, and make a vertical line of them, and hand letter the names of the colors next to each one.
- Wreath: Using a single stroke of a round brush, I make a wreath. Sometimes I lightly draw a circle in pencil using a stencil, or a compass, or a large coin. First I make a wreath of leaves of precisely the same size, all going in the same direction, and another one where half the wreath mirrors the other half. Then I make a wreath of graduated leaves, each one a smaller copy of the one below it.
- Leaves in a spray: I loosen up my technique by painting leaves without a pencil guide, giving them bounce and movement.
- Falling leaves: I paint a single branch above a cascade of leaves in autumn colors, allowing the colors to blend on the paper.
- Autumn splendor: I paint single autumn leaves from photographs of actual leaves. Nature is more daring with color than I am.
- Ferns: I paint delicate ferns, in a gentle S shape, with a curl at the end. I paint very wet, letting colors mix on the paper.
Practicing these exercises gets my hand and eye in shape for painting. It allows me to both unleash my looseness and discipline my control.
This very act of applying paint to paper is a pep talk prelude to my serious painting session.
It's amazing to use a small hard bound watercolor sketchbook, and fill each page with one of these exercises. When it is full, it can either serve as an inspiration source, or as a cool gift for a friend.