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This summer has been a whirlwind of events and family-fun with very little time for painting watercolors. I get rusty and a little distracted when I don’t paint regularly, so I look for efficient ways to shorten the path to my brushes. Here are six tips to paint more when time is short, because there’s a great deal of joy & happiness mixed into all those pigments, and we have to actively and deliberately go after it. 🙂

Work in Progress on the studio table

Six Ways to Paint More When Time is Short

  • Pre-Draw your work.  Plan your next series, and get the drawings or rough sketches of what you plan to paint laid out in graphite or watercolor pencil – whatever you use to set drawings under your watercolors. When time is short, and you get 20 minutes to paint, grab one of your already-drawn, ready to add pigment starters, and lay in a few color washes with that first (or last) 20 minutes of the day.
sketching watercolors
Sketch your watercolors in advance till you have a nice little pile ready to paint on a moment’s notice
  • Use Watercolor blocks. There are many manufacturers of watercolor paper blocks, and they’re available in a variety of surface finishes and size formats. (I like Arches, Strathmore, Hahnemuhle, Bockingford, Sennelier and Canson) If you’re unfamiliar with watercolor blocks, they’re just like a pad of watercolor paper, with glue along the edges, all the way around, to hold the stack of paper sheets tight against a stiff board.  This saves you the time it takes to soak, stretch and mount the watercolor paper before starting to add wet media. When your painting is finished, and completely dry, slip a letter opener or the tip of a paintbrush handle under the short section left unglued on the block, and gently slide it along the perimeter of the paper to release your painting from the block.
how to use watercolor blocks
Watercolor blocks are glued around the edges, so your paper stays flat while painting.

Watercolors are Simple Supplies

  • Keep your watercolor supplies in a tote bag. One of the best things about watercolor is that they’re compact, and portable. Put 5 or 6 supplies together; a field palette & brushes, a shallow rinse cup, a pencil and a watercolor block in a tote bag, and take it with you. Sketch quick watercolor studies in the bleachers at soccer practice, or at a family gathering from an armchair. I take the bag with me from room to room;  in the evenings, I sketch and paint while my husband watches TV or works on his laptop so we can sit close on the couch and happily wind down the day together, each in our own way.
portable supplies for taking watercolors with you
1) watercolor block 2) watercolor field palette with brushes inside 3) drawing pencil 4) eraser 5) shallow rinse cup 6) headphones for music or audiobooks On your mark, get set, GO.
  • Communicate your intentions. Let the people in your life know you’re planning to fit mini-sessions of painting into your daily schedule. If the folks around you understand the plan, they can be encouraging when you pull out your supplies for 30 minutes of art-making. (They might even join you!) It’s a lovely way to participate when the family is gathered around a table in the evenings. You’ll still be listening and engaging, as you dabble in your watercolors. And you’ll be modeling good habits to the littles in the room. You may find that participation in conversation while you work helps lighten the grip on your pencils and brushes, because the part of your brain that would normally fret over accuracy is busy with conversation and connecting to your peeps. This kind of distraction, like audiobooks, helps us stay loose and fluid in mark-making.
painting and sketching when time is short
You can get quite a bit of drawing or painting done in 20 minute intervals. Just three of those sessions adds up to an hour of work.
  • Schedule your time. Even if the day is frantic with To-Do’s and events, you can schedule a block of 20 minutes to paint and draw. If the day looks too full, plan to sketch just before bedtime, or while eating lunch. But schedule it, on the calendar, in ink, so you can pre-motor-plan and have your supplies ready. Tuck reference material in your watercolor pad. Think ahead to what you’ll paint, and don’t let social media, TV or email overtake your fruitful, solid art plan.

    When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur…. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens — and when it happens, it lasts. ~John Wooden

  • Join a friend. Appointments keep us accountable, but when the appointment is with yourself, and the plan is for fun painting-time, it’s too easy to talk you out of it, because emptying the dishwasher and weeding the garden nudges priority. If you make an appointment with a friend to paint for two hours a week, you’ll be more inclined to stick to it, because you’re each counting on the other to show up and make it happen. Just a few hours a week will lead to finished paintings and some lovely social time with a fellow artist.

What tips and tricks do you roll out to insert painting time in a busy schedule? If you have practical methods that might be useful to others, share them in the comments. And if you try either of these six tips, let us know how they worked out for you.

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post!


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aerial landscape watercolor art

Art Quote

To get good, it’s helpful to be willing, or even enthusiastic, about being bad. Baby steps are the royal road to skill.

Daniel Coyle
Click the rinse water to sign up for a free watercolor paper primer download

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10 thoughts on “Six Tips to Paint More When Time is Short – and a Watercolor: Quilted Aerial”

  1. Belinda! I love your posts and tutorials. I recently returned from a beautiful tiny island in Maine- and with my little folding stool and tote bag of watercolor supplies I managed to fill a mixed media sketchbook with quick studies of the island, woods and fields,stopping there and there to sketch in paint.I didn’t even use a pencil- just went in with the paint! I had a book by Charles Burchfield with me for inspiration.There’s more paintings to do more around my hometown! Thank you for your inspiration – your work is so wonderful!

  2. Yes Belinda! – weird synchronicity – yesterday, before reading this, I found a sketch in my watercolour journal that I had done while riding in a car on a rough road – too rough to paint. I thought “why don’t I do this purposefully, lay in sketches, ready for paint, even if I don’t have time to paint. It makes short time slots work..” And here you are, my guru, giving me the same huge nudge. Thanks! ~ Mary

      1. This has been a real boon for me Belinda – suddenly I am enjoying doing more in my journal.. Who knew?! ; – )

  3. Marilyn Thuss

    Pre-drawing some work……brilliant Belinda! Great idea! We are going to the beach for one last summer fling in early September and I always lug all my supplies in case I can paint. But I usually don’t have big enough time blocks and I loose incentive. This is the perfect solution……if I have some work ready to go then it becomes so easy and fun to actually paint on vacation! I love your blog, both your writing style, your subject matter, and your paintings always inspire me. Thanks….Marilyn

    1. Hi Marilyn! Thanks for your kind words, and I hope (hopping up and down with excitement) that this last summertime escape leads to painting time for you, and maybe even with some of your family members who’ve never tried it! Work small, and loose and leave all expectations of mastery locked tight in the trunk of the car so you can just have fun!

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