How to Simplify the Process of Watercolor Painting

"I love the process of sketch painting. Sketch painting in simple terms is a sketch and 2 washes. It should take no more than a few minutes to complete."~ Al Kline

Painting is all about breakthroughs and improving outcomes.  Lately, I’ve been quite satisfied with something I call “sketch painting.  ”  In simple terms, in watercolor, it’s a sketch and 2 washes.  I am also doing a lot more drawing and sketching, which is improving my overall compositions.

I’ve been quite happy after my trip to Florida where I did a number of bird studies.  Here are some paintings from that trip:

All of these paintings are done on 1/8 sheet watercolor (sketches). Instead of traveling with my easel, I’ve been traveling a little lighter lately, and just taking some simple equipment including:

1. A clip board

2. 1/8 sheet cut arches rough watercolor paper

3. Sketch pencil

4. La Petite Palette of paints with 3 primary colors and some earth tones (Daniel Smith Paints)

5. Travel brushes

It seems with these type of sketches, the less you do, the better it looks. I also like the look of simple washing in wet on wet and allowing some of the colors to blend.

The process for me was simple: 1) sketch , 2) single back wash with texture and 3) Let partially dry and paint the bird .

In this 2nd wash, I would usually add the shadowing. It really doesn’t get simpler. My next project will be to do larger works , including some landscapes , and painting them in a similar fashion.

There is no one better at the simple 2-wash step with shadowing in the final stages than Herman Pekel. I attended his workshop last month , which helped in keeping my painting process a little more simplified. You can read my experience with his 5 day workshop on this site.

Enjoy and happy painting!


  1. Always good to simplify your watercolours! less is more they always say! But John Salminen’s art I really like too! your article made me smile to! your simplify but also name the La Petite palette. Not really a simple palette! 😉 I always admire Thierry Duval with his old Tea Saucers! Regards Edo

    Liked by 1 person

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