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All I need for watercolor happiness is three paintbrushes, one small, one medium, and one large. This is the whopper:

Size 10. This big guy is great for those times when you need a lot of paint and/or a lot of water on your brush, for dabbing in lots of different colors for this kind of effect (this is foliage in a flower bed, for example):

First, use clear water to wet the surface:

Then start dropping in your colors:

I don’t make any brushstrokes with this brush, I just let the paint and the water and the paper do their thing:

Although I do have to control where the dark and light colors go:

You have to be careful to STOP adding color so as to not make the whole thing a muddy mess, tho.

This is my medium paintbrush:

Size 4. I probably use this one the least often. Here, I’m using it to lay down color for the foliage of a palm tree, over masking fluid that will reserve the details of the leaves (masking fluid…I’ll have to talk about that later).

Ater I peel off the masking fluid, I used my medium brush fill in the reserved details:

Now, this here is my FAVORITE brush, the one I use all the time:

It’s a Size Zero, but it’s still too thick for my purposes, so I take my sharpest scissors and I carefully cut off half the bristles:

And I end up with the tiniest, thinest, most useful brush that I LOVE.

Here, I am using it to paint in teeny tiny areas (I am, as you all know, a miniaturist, so I always have teeny tiny spaces in my illustrations):

I’m hard on this brush, as you can see, so I buy three or four at a time because I know they are going to wear out fast.

Outlines! this brush is fabulous for outlines!

And I just love love love doing brickwork with my wonder-brush. See how well this brush goes into all the tiniest corners?

For my non-American readers, this a quarter dollar coin that is approx. 25mm in diameter:

Oh…and lastly, the other thing that my medium sized brush is good for is picking up paint:

Just use clean water to go back over dried watercolor in areas, in effect “erasing” the pigment:



5″ x 6.5″
And it took me five hours to paint.

By the way, I got a call from the curator of European art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, regarding my query about their Monet:

She told me that the reason it is catalogued as an 1895 work even though it’s clearly signed and dated 1892…

…is because there is a whole lot of research that dates this painting as having been done in 1895, when it was left in the possession of Monet’s art dealer for years and years until about 1920, when Monet signed a bunch of his old canvases and for some reason he dated this one incorrectly as 1892. The clincher is that Monet did not even have his bridge at Giverny built until 1895. Still. Seems very slap-dash to me. Do you think his dealer was just trying to unload some old inventory when he had Monet sign canvases in 1920, when he was very famous but also very old and blind and sick? Because honestly…this picture is not up to Monet’s usual standards, don’t you think?

If you, dear readers, have found this post to be of any use to you, please let me know so that I can plan to go ahead with next week’s post about paints and paper … or I can just put up some cute cat photos (my herd has been very photogenic lately).





31 comments to Tools of the Trade, If Your Trade is Watercolor.

  • Cheryl Carr

    Vivian-your posts on supplies and techniques are invaluable tutorials. Please keep it up! People pay a lot of money for lessons like these.

  • janet bellusci

    thank you for the brush/technique lessons! i am storing them in my brain for future projects. i love love love your work!
    mushy sends her regards, too!

  • Carol

    The picture is beautiful. I LOVE the Chinese lanterns. Please continue with your post (maybe you could add a picture of Coco helping you paint???).

  • patty saul

    thanks for sharing the info about your tools and methonds. painting is so enjoyable,and you will inspire others to try it. I love your cat “tales”, maybe you could do a book about them?

  • Loved this post so keep going with the supplies you use. I love your lantern painting cant wait for the book, it’s really looking fun and interesting. Thanks for the update on the Monet painting too. What a story that would be if we could go back in time to that moment in time when he was signing the paintings. No not my favorite of his paintings, but I can see a dealers mind is a Monet after all..$$$ :)

  • Bonnie

    I love seeing the process you go through for your most lovely paintings! Thank you!! You made my otherwise dreary, rainy day a little brighter!

  • thanks for sharing, gorgeous and very instructive. I want more!
    so far, I’m mostly painting on rocks:
    but I did experience something similar to your technique working with lots of water on a slate. though right now I cannot remember which one!! sorry, I would have liked to show you that specific example

  • Patricia

    please, more about working with watercolors. I take classes every year but as I am a v e r y slow learner, the more instruction,the better! And you could always end with a kitty photo or two …

  • Barbara Lemme

    Your work is wonderful and all tutorials are gratefully received! Many thanks.

  • Mo

    vivian, i love these detailed explanations about the process you follow when doing your paintings. please continue ;)

  • Elaine

    I’ve been following your blog recently and have delved into the archives. Your blog is a total pleasure and informative too. Who can beat that? As a watercolorist, it is always fun to see what tools other painters use.

  • Susie

    Always always keep up the tutorials, I learn so much from your ‘classes’ and I often come back later to refresh my memory.
    Of course, cat pics are nice, too.
    And an art history lesson as well, how many people know this? Because of your attention to detail, your readers are in a special group of folks who know something extra, I love it!
    Just thank you…..

  • oh yes, please, give us more tutorials – paints and paper would be perfect

    AND some cat pictures as well

    thanks so much – you are my best teacher

  • Hey! It’s useful. Keep going. We are enthralled.
    Hi Vivian.

  • Sandy R

    I love your painting tutorials (as a amature artist myself), I adore watercolor and have used most of the items you mention. Seeing an artist use his/her tools of the trade is facinating. Your minitures retain so much light- which is a major trick to water coloring. Please post more ;-)

  • Immensely useful:)

    I have masking fluid:)
    My old one had dried in a heartbeat(10 years):)

    I love the chinese lanterns..
    I can’t wait for your book..
    Did you ever see The Forsyte Saga on Netflix or “ailleurs?”..One of the Forsyte’s is an might like this 2002-2003 series..
    Well.. we do:)

  • Laura

    Thank you for teaching. I have learned that artists favor 2 or 3 brushes from dozens. I have my favorites, too.
    Please consider screencast lessons. Maybe in time lapse style.
    Keep the tutorials coming.
    Maybe THIS is the subject of your next next book.
    Thanks for the back story about the Monet. Inquiring minds DO want to know. That teaches us to follow our curiosity.

  • Gigi

    I LOVE your tutorials! They teach me so much, in addition to inspiring me to get out my watercolors and trying out your techniques. Your paintings are absolutely beautiful! I love the vibrancy of the new paints. I can’t wait to see this painting your new book. Looking forward to the next lesson!

  • Oh, yes, yes, please! You’ve inspired me to do a small daily watercolor. Your lessons are so very helpful!

  • Love how you trim your wee brush so it’s just the size you need. I’ve never used masking fluid and would like to know the ins and outs of it, if you feel like continuing in this how-to vein. If not, you know, photos of cats make me happy too.

  • I dont know a water color from water polo. All I know, is that you’re severly talented, and I love your work. I am amazed that anyone can paint in such a small medium and have it hold up as a huge work of art, and a real feeling that moves, and conveys a whole WORLD to those of us that are lucky enough to see your work. How do you do it? You make it look so easy, yet, if it was, everyone would be doing it!!! My hat’s off to you, once again. Keep it up!!!

  • Joan

    Tutorials helpful????? Of course they are. I paint in watercolor, love to see the tools, paints, gear that any other artist uses. Your tutorials are very much appreciated. Please keep them coming.

  • i think its wonderful you share your wee secrets, but i am most enchanted with your whole vision, pure enchantment, a garden i could get lost in~

  • Vivian..we are at the last episode of the FSaga..unfortunately just lost our connection..but I cannot help thinking of you and your new book..hoping one day you may see these gardens and paintings:-)
    I tend to repeat myself…

  • Your tutorials are great. It’s nice to see am not the only brush trimmer out there. They are rarely pointy enough to suit me.

  • Lurve yr step-by-steps
    I don’t think you could ever make a muddy mess of watercolor…
    Show us one!
    I dare you :)

  • This was awesome. I can’t wait to see what kind of paints you use!!

  • Deb mattin

    I pour over these tuts under the misguided idea that I could actually learn how to paint. That’s not likely (not because the tuts aren’t wonderful, but because I have no talent), but I am getting brave enough to play with laying down some color for my art creations. Keep ‘em coming-and the kitty pictures are always a treat, too.

  • Jeannie

    Vivian, I loved your tutorial, especially about picking up paint with your brush and the wonder brush! I really, really like the painting. The laterns make it so festive and inviting. Thanks so much!!!

  • Carol Rexford

    I have to show my art teacher your size zero ideas–she kids me about my love of the smallest brush–but I use it a lot anyway! Keep up the lessons–love them.

  • Yes, yes, yes to tutorials. I appreciate how you teach to various levels. Also, I enjoy the photos of the cats helping, er supervising, your work. Thank you!