How to Paint with Confidence

Confidence is an intangible but essential quality to good painting and drawing. Telling someone to paint more confidently is equally as useless as telling a shy person to be more outgoing: and yet, confident brushstrokes and artistic decisions telegraph through the layers of paint and improve the finished work in a powerful way. With that challenge in mind, here are some tips for becoming more confident in your painting. 

Nail the Drawing. Hey, watercolor is hard. That’s why this website exists. Personally, I like to make the painting stage as easy for myself as possible, by doing all the hard work and decision making up front. I like having a tight, detailed drawing to follow. Setting myself up for success means I can focus more energy where it counts. 

Use fewer colors. A limited palette is a great way to learn how to mix pigment, and as an added bonus, it creates an overall harmony and consistency in the painting. James Gurney wrote that “more paintings suffer from the ‘fruit salad disease’ of too much color rather than from murky mud…more colors don’t make a better color scheme.” Once again, if you pre select your colors, you’ll know that the painting will stay harmonious, and you won’t be able to accidentally ruin the composition with an out-of-place pigment. 

Put yourself on a timer. Nothing will ruin the confident look of a painting quite like overworking, or “noodling it”, as we like to say. Set a timer for less time than you need. You’ll automatically start to prioritize the most important aspects of the piece and minimize the rest. The end result will have a surprising level of freshness and spontaneity. 

Use a bigger brush and fewer strokes. Always use the biggeest brush possible. Never use two strokes when you can use one. Learn to pull the brush smoothly along an edge instead of utilizing short, choppy strokes. You may go outside the lines at first, but the hand-eye coordination you’ll gain will pay dividends for the rest of your life. 

Remember that this likely isn’t your last painting. Take some of the pressure off of yourself! If you mess up horribly, you can always begin the painting again. Rather than put your piece on a pedestal, view it as it really is: one more paving stone laid on your personal road to mastery. 

And as always, paint more, and be patient! I’ve found that most people severely underestimate how much time and effort it takes to really get good at painting. You’re worried about how this individual painting will turn out? Ask yourself instead where you want to be in five years from now. Or ten. Or thirty. Play the long game: you probably won’t notice an improvement between individual works, but if you look at your own work from a year ago, likely you can see the difference. 

That’s all I have for you today. Hey, if you like the flower painting at the top, check out the video below! You’ll see my complete process, and you’ll get to listen to narration from myself and my excellent assistant Max. 

Let’s all get better together!