6 Simple Steps to Better Paintings

Kathleen Lanzoni shares her best advice for overcoming the challenges every student and beginning artist faces.

“Winterly Light” (watercolor painting)

1. Artists are scared to make mistakes. It is natural. We all want to make beautiful paintings. Be kind to yourself and give yourself the freedom to play and make mistakes.

2. On the practical side, I suggest standing up when you paint. This will free up your entire arm, which will make you paint looser. When we sit down, we get very tight, using only our wrists and not our whole arm. Use the largest brush possible for an area.

“Mountain Gem” (watercolor painting)

3. When the watercolor gods help us paint beautiful unplanned passages, leave them alone! Accept happy accidents and try not to cover them up.

4. Know when to take a break from the painting and stand back. Once your water and paint are laid on the paper, leave it be and let the magic happen. Watercolor brushstrokes look better and are fresher if left to settle in the paper. In watercolor, there is no benefit to going over the same area again and again. It is so hard to leave our paint alone and not niggle. (Niggling is my technical term for overworking!)

“Cascading Falls” (watercolor painting)

5. Practice sections of the painting before starting on the whole — this is especially helpful with still life. If you are working in the studio, you will have more time to create studies. When plein air painting, the light and weather change fast so you have less time to practice. Instead, use your observational skills; spend time just looking at your subject. Make mental notes.

6. Do a value sketch to get more familiar with the subject. Start with painting one tomato instead of 15 tomatoes to see what colors may work; analyze the shapes and values. Then, after you have practiced, put them all together for a final painting. If you do practice studies, you have solved most of your problems before getting to your final painting. The masters always did studies!

“Her Belongings” (watercolor painting)


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Kelly Kane
PleinAir Magazine and American Watercolor Weekly Editor-in-Chief With more than 20 years experience in art publishing, Kelly Kane has served previously as Editor-in-Chief of Watercolor Artist magazine and Content Director for The Artist’s Magazine, Drawing, Acrylic Artist, and Pastel Journal. She has interviewed many of the preeminent artists of our time and written numerous articles about painting, drawing, art education and art history. She is now the Editor-in-Chief of PleinAir Magazine and the American Watercolor Weekly newsletter. Click here to send her an email.


  1. One learns something new every day. One problem I have is used to be a draftsman and so have the habit of painting with a tight grip close to the paper. Got to get out of that. HA.

    • I know what you are talking about. I was a draftsman and a technical illustrator for over 20 years. When I started painting I deceived to paint loose and never use a ruler again, lol. I am sticking to it.

  2. Hi Kelly, I have been waiting for a Weekly newsletter like this for ages. It has wonderful tips and ideas from some wonderful watercolorists. Is there a way to get back issues? If not, I will wait until next week for a letter. Keep up the great work. Appreciated.

    • Hello, Patrick! All of the articles from the newsletter are included on this website, so feel free to browse around! 🙂


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