You need nerves of steel for this

watercolour painting by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of bogland in Connemara

I’ve been learning a bit about watercolours recently – there’s a lot to absorb – and it takes a very different frame of mind than does the oil painting. But that’s one of the reasons why I like it!

Of course, the first thing is that you start with the palest colours and you build it up layer by layer. (transparent glazes)  It’s possible to produce strong, vibrant colours – de réir a chéile.  I didn’t know this, I always thought that watercolours were a bit wishy washy but no, they don’t have to be like that at all.

My biggest problem is that I try to be too neat.

I can’t explain it but when I start filling in the detail, I bend closer and closer to the page and I use smaller and smaller brushes. The watercolour experts would say that you should do the opposite – the secret is to use the biggest brush you can. You will then be open to all sorts of “happy accidents” and interesting effects that happen as the paint is drying.

painting by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of Poulnabrone Dolmen, Co. Clare

You don’t have to be too “traditional”, you can be as adventurous as you like – but it takes practice.  You have to bide your time. Too often I’ve ended up with a muddy mess because I didn’t wait for layers to dry first. Of course you could use a hairdryer to speed up the drying but if you’ve a head like mine, you mightn’t have a hairdryer(!)

But let me tell you, it takes nerves of steel – whether you’re adding in tiny details or struggling to contain a lake of coloured water that is threatening to obliterate those selfsame details… it takes the patience of a saint, the dedication of a Ninja (and perhaps, just a teaspoon of eccentricity).

And good things come to those who wait… but what do you think?  Which would you prefer?  – the detail or the “happy accidents”?  See the comments down below.







  1. Well said Eoin ! – have you seen the Nolde ‘unmade paintings ‘ , his watercolours , at NGI ? Wonderful ; I’m devoted to watercolour and learning all the time ; it’s THE medium for me ……………..also ink and wash .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Eoin,

    I come down on the happy accident side. No1 has a lovely stained glass quality, as well as the energetic mark making. I hope you get chance to enjoy the Emile Nolde’s in Dublin.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I started with watercolour, moved to pastel and now I work mostly in oil. My watercolour paintings were always very messy – I couldn’t be bothered with fine details, and I didn’t want to wait for the paint to dry before adding my next wash. I couldn’t go back to watercolour.

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