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Watercolor: You Can Do It!: From Concept to Finished Painting

Watercolor: You Can Do It!: From Concept to Finished Painting

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Watercolor: You Can Do It!: From Concept to Finished Painting

4.5/5 (8 évaluations)
308 pages
3 heures
May 15, 2019


A complete watercolor instruction guide, this long-time bestseller is full of vibrant illustrations, examples of what to do and what to avoid, and tips that make the medium accessible. Written by a true master, it presents practical information on the basics of setting up a good painting — composition, color, and light — before discussing the medium's advantages and concluding with informative demonstrations.
Tony Couch emphasizes practice as the key to developing watercolor skills. Starting with equipment choices and methods for controlling paint on wet paper, he proceeds to discussions and illustrations of the elements and principles of design. Other topics include working with color and value, pulling together a composition, and acquiring techniques for handling watercolor. Easy-to-follow examples chart the progress from a rough sketch into a finished painting. Watercolor: You Can Do It!  is an ideal companion for beginning to advanced artists, suitable for individual study as well as a text for art students and teachers.
May 15, 2019

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Watercolor - Tony Couch


Copyright © 1987 by Tony Couch All rights reserved.

Bibliographical Note

This Dover edition, first published in 2019, is an unabridged republication of the work published by North Light Books, F&W Publications, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1987.

International Standard Book Number

ISBN-13: 978-0-486-83431-3

ISBN-10: 0-486-83431-X

Manufactured in the United States by LSC Communications

83431X01 2019



Dedicated to Ed Whitney who lit the fire

About the Author

For most people, one professional career at a time is plenty—but not for Tony Couch. He pursues three successful careers—as a pilot for Delta Airlines, a watercolor artist, and a watercolor teacher—each with the same zest and enthusiasm evident in the pages of this book. Couch received his bachelor's degree in art from the University of Tampa and also studied with Edgar A. Whitney at the Pratt Institute in New York City. He has written articles on watercolor instruction for North Light, American Artist, and Palette Talk, and has produced a popular series of video tapes on watercolor painting. He teaches popular watercolor workshops throughout the United States and abroad and has won more than fifty art awards. Couch is an elected member of the Academic Artists Association, the Hudson Valley Art Association, Knickerbocker Artists, Salmagundi Club, the Society of Marine Painters, Watercolor West, and the Pittsburg, Georgia, Southern, and Midwest Watercolor Societies. He lives in Georgia.

Putting together a book takes a lot more time and effort than I had at first dreamed, and I am grateful for the considerable help and encouragement I received en route.

Particularly from the rest of the team: my wife, Bonnie, who watched the store and put out the fires while I wrote and painted, and Steve, Colleen, Anne, Belinda, and Tony Jr. who aided in various ways.

And Ril Donato of the Donato Photo Works for sterling darkroom production; the outstanding painters in chapter 15 and The Cleveland Museum of Art for giving permission to use their work; Gail Novak and the Belgian vice consul Paul Quaghebeur who posed for photos; North Light editor Fritz Henning who will wait four years for a book; editors David Lewis and Greg Albert for their enthusiasm and valuable help, and all those prodding students who asked, When is your book coming out?

Grain, 15 × 22




What I Use and Why

Controlling Paint

Make It Behave on Wet Paper

The Artist's Role

Shape Maker, Symbol Collector, Entertainer

Elements of Design

The Seven Parts of a Painting

Principles of Design

Eight Principles for Building a Painting

Working with Color

Keep It Simple

Working with Value

The Basic Patterns


Putting It All Together


Ways to Handle Watercolor

Trees and Foliage

A Collection of Symbols

Earth and Sky

A Collection of Symbols

Water and Waves

A Collection of Symbols


Why, Where and What I Paint

How I Paint

Three Demonstrations

Color Gallery

A Selection of Useful Examples




I have some good news and some bad news for you. First, the bad news: if you expect to be a reasonably competent painter, you'll have to work at it consistently for a few years.

Aside from spreading paint on paper, there are two other skills you must acquire:

1. You must be able to draw, and

2. You must be able to design.

Now the good news: You can do it!

And I don't care how little talent you think you have or how much more talented others seem by comparison.

The word talent is a misnomer and has misled countless students away from painting. A better, more descriptive word is interest.

The artist that improves is one who is interested in improving. He or she does the things, spends the time, and goes through whatever toil is required to learn, while the less interested artist skips over it. Hence, we always see more rapid advancement by the interested artist. Remember the formula:

W × T = I

More work times more time spent working nets faster improvement. Conversely, less work times less time nets little improvement.

Perhaps the cause of this talent misconception lies in the fact that talent and aptitude are often confused. There is such a thing as aptitude; some have more aptitude than others for various skills, and painting may be among them. This only means the student with more painting aptitude will learn faster than the one with less or none at all.

It does not mean the one with greater aptitude will necessarily learn more!

It's even possible for one with less aptitude to arrive at the top before one with more—provided greater time and effort has been spent.

In any case, once near the top, no one can tell or even cares which artist had greater aptitude during the learning process. Their skills will be comparable, while their paintings are unique.

I also suspect the talent gospel is spread by those of us looking for a simple out. It's self-justifying to say, He's a better artist than I am because he's so talented. (See, it's God's fault, not mine. Who can think less of me for lacking talent?) Many would rather not admit that the price in effort was too high, and that talent had nothing to do with it.

Reading books and attending workshops are great aids to learning; they're the most direct route to your goal. A long stretch of the route, however, is practice—and there are no shortcuts there. You must practice drawing, practice design, practice painting, practice creativity, practice, practice, practice!

While you practice, keep in mind that watercolor painters are divided into two groups: those who have been discouraged and those who are going to be discouraged. There's nothing wrong with discouragement; it's part of the game. The crime lies in quitting because of it. I did once—for six years—and I've been kicking myself since. If you have the desire, you'll be a competent painter. The only way you can fail is to quit!

The fact that you've read this far tells me you have some interest. Are you interested enough? I'm betting you are. So grab your brush and read on—I'll show the way. I'm expecting great things of you.

Avalanche, 22 × 30

Drydock, 15 × 22



What I Use and Why

In general, watercolor artists use the same equipment and supplies, with differences dictated by personal taste.

Here's a list of what I use—you may want to add to or subtract from it. While good equipment is a help, there is no magic in tools; award-winning paintings have been painted with the most simple of them.


You can paint with only a plain white plate or a butcher tray for a palette. Put a puddle of each color near the edges, and use the middle for mixing. There's an economic advantage, however, in using a palette with a cover: it will keep the pigment moist and soft so you can paint another day without first scraping off and throwing away the old paint. It's impossible to get the dark, rich values and bright chroma you need when working with dried, hard pigment.

Paint will normally stay moist in a closed palette for four days or so. Keeping a moist sponge in the palette will keep the paint moist a little longer, but mold may form on the paint.

Painting every day is the best solution. Few can, so the next best course is to keep a spray bottle (hardware store variety) of water near the palette. If you haven't been painting, open the palette every fourth day or so and spray the paint. It only takes seconds, and your paint will remain soft indefinitely; you'll never again have to waste it.

Keep the spray bottle with you when you paint. The pigment has a way of drying as you paint—particularly outdoors.

Beyond this, you'll need a palette with deep wells—about one-inch square or larger—so plenty of pigment can be kept in each. There is no way you can paint broadly and boldly, as you should, without a large brush, and a large brush is useless unless it has a large well from which to pick up paint! Keep the well at least half full. I use a Robert E. Wood palette.


There are two principal shapes: flats—which have square, chisel-point ends, and rounds—which are round and end in a point. They come in all sizes, but I use only a two-inch, a one-inch, and a one-quarter-inch in the flats and a #8 round and a rigger. The rigger is a small, round brush with longer hair. Since many art store clerks don't know the term rigger, you'll have to be more specific. Grumbacher makes one called series 4702. A #3 or #4 is good.

The flats are used for angular shapes and particularly for sharp, crisp corners. The rounds make curved shapes easier to paint. I use a rigger for the thin lines (calligraphy).

In general, I paint with as large a brush as possible for the shape being painted to force myself to paint broadly and boldly. Still, there are smaller shapes that require smaller brushes. Buying a brush size to fit every possible size shape would delight the brush manufacturers, but it is neither practical nor necessary. I find the few I mention here enough.

I start with and probably paint 90 percent of most paintings with the large two-inch and one-inch flats. The smaller shapes and details are painted last with the smaller brushes.

Brushes are made of various types of hair, the optimum being red sable, which has become expensive. White nylon brushes are now available, however, and work every bit as well, but are priced lower.

The store clerk may not know them as nylon, but rather by the trade names, such as Erminette, White Sable, etc. You might recognize their snow-white appearance.


Tube paint is the best, as its toothpaste consistency readily allows varying amounts of paint to be scooped onto the brush. Of several brands on the market, I know Winsor & Newton is good, as are Grumbacher and Liquitex. I'm not familiar enough with the rest to comment, which is not to say they should not be used. What you need is transparent watercolor. Gouache, tempera, and casein are also watercolor, but they're opaque, and in this book, we're concerned with transparent painting. In general, the brand isn't important as long as the paint is permanent—that is, it should not fade on the painting in a few years.

The colors I use are all permanent in the major brands. They are

lemon yellow or Hansa yellow

New gamboge or cadmium yellow

raw sienna or yellow ochre

burnt sienna

cadmium orange

cadmium red

alizarin crimson

Thalo purple

viridian or Thalo or Prussian green

Winsor or Thalo or Prussian blue

ultramarine blue

ivory black

How the pigment is arranged on the palette is unimportant as long as each can be located readily while you're painting.

Since you'll be thinking cool or warm and light or dark as you paint, it makes sense to arrange the palette that way. Put the cools on one end and the warms on the other, and within these groups, arrange them from light to dark.

A palette with deep wells and a cover to keep the paint moist is ideal. How the pigments are arranged is unimportant as long as each can be located readily while you are painting.


Watercolor paper is available in four weights (thicknesses) and three textures. The weights are 400, 300, 140, and 75 pound, or close variations thereof. The thickness of the paper increases with the weight. The textures are hot-pressed (smooth), cold-pressed (medium/rough), and rough. Texture does not influence the price, but weight does; the price increases with the weight. Watercolor paper comes in 22-by-30-inch sheets, loose or in a quire of 25. It is also available in a larger 25-by-40-inch elephant sheet, and in a roll of 43 inches by 10 yards.

You will find paper in blocks in sizes smaller than 22 by 30 inches. These are pads of the same paper, usually 140 pounds glued at the edges on all four sides. They can be separated with a knife.

There are several brands of paper on the market, and each produces slightly different painting results. Since this could be confusing to a novice painter, I recommend picking a brand and staying with it until you've reached a degree of proficiency. If you paint very long, you'll learn to use the best you can buy—for better results and because the difference in the price of papers is not great.

Since a given texture is the same in all weights, there is little advantage in using one weight over another, except for price. Some painters, however, prefer the thick 300-and 400-pound sheet because it won't wrinkle as they paint. But this minor

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    Great tips on design and techniques Highly recommend this book