Kerrie Woodhouse

Whimsical Watercolour

art tips

How to add a watercolour background to your paintings

art tipsKerrie Woodhouse

Choosing the right background for your watercolour painting can make or break the whole painting.

Don’t be alarmed though - even though the background is important, it doesn’t have to be complicated. There are lots of options available to you and once you know what there is to choose from I am sure you will find the whole process far less vexing than it might once have appeared.

Let’s review your options…

Where do you get your creative inspiration?

art tipsKerrie Woodhouse

Apparently if you ask Neil Gaiman where ideas come from he might just say something like, "a little shop near Bognor Regis". For inspired creatives who produce consistently it seems to be something of a tiresome question. Hmm, must be hard for them. But what do us lesser mortals do?

Well, as far as I can see, the difference between consistent creative producers and those of us asking these sorts of questions is that the producers have figured out how to 'show up'. 


You see it’s a bit like that witty comeback. You think of the best one liner - somewhere between a few hours and a few days later, don't you? You had to have the snarky encounter and then give your brain a bit of time to work on a suitable response. Same with writing, same with painting, or any creative work for that matter.  It’s only when you engage yourself in the physical act of doing the creating that the wheels start turning.

Don't have great expectations of that first effort or two, however. Remember your comeback line? The first thing your brain came up with on the spot was probably something close to, "I know you are, but what am I?" Then, instantly recognising that some improvement was possible, your brain kept grinding away churning out pithy alternatives until, at last - perfection! (Too late of course, but a perfect reply, nonetheless.) 

So the trick is to create. Want inspiration and ideas? Show up.

That's when you get inspired. And also improve your skills, problem solve, not to mention just plain old enjoying the process of creating. Writing, drawing, basket weaving - doesn’t matter. It applies across them all. Begin the process. Enjoy the process. Let the product begin its evolution into something better and better.



You see, it’s science. There's this thing called the Reticular Activating System in your brain. It sets out collecting bits of data from your world that match whatever it thinks you are looking for. If it is a witty comeback line then all of a sudden snippets of eavesdropped conversation, Seinfeld reruns and newspaper letters to the editor all seem to appear with some relevant insights, feeding into your creative problem solving machinery.

So it is with any other creation. The difference between composing a witty retort and writing a novel or painting a picture is simply a matter of scale.

But back to that question regarding the source of inspiration for a moment. The answer is you. Your world and everything you experience. Anything that touches your heart in any way.

You swim in a sea of inspiration. In fact, there is so much of it that you can't see the wood for the trees. Only when you begin - something - anything, do you give the Reticular Activating System its command to seek. Then like a bloodhound on a scent trail it is off, filtering and collecting salient pieces of your world to inspire your creation.

Now, I'm not saying showing up is easy. But it is better to have a more practical step to take as opposed to waiting for some sort of mystical holy grail of ideas to be revealed. 

There are pitfalls, like of course, that inner critic poised to speak out as soon as creation begins, if not before. But whatever form your creative work takes, your job is to get started.

Put pen to blank page, apply fingertips to keyboard, clay to the wheel. Dip your brush in the paint and get it moving.


Over the years I have come up with a process to prime myself for any studio time. (I have inventively named this My Prime Process.) It is the best way I know of helping me to Show Up. It addresses nearly all my objections and gets me working. I do it first, before I start painting anything else or even writing. But I have also found that it serves so many other purposes.

Find your way to get started.

Then do it.

You never know where it might get you.

Looking for more tips about showing up in your art practice? I have an online class that’s got you covered - click here to find out more about it.


The essential art supplies you won't find in the art store

art tipsKerrie Woodhouse

Shock! Horror! The manufacturer of my favourite pickles changed the shape of the jar! I know... first world problems.

But you see these pickle jars are an essential part of my painting process. They hold the water for my watercolour painting and I usually have a selection littered across my desk. I need two really, one for clean water and one that I can use for rinsing off my brush. But they seem to multiply.  It is funny how such a small thing seems to be important in my painting process. Its a matter of ritual I suppose.

It got me thinking about all the other essentials that I wouldn't be without in my art studio - the ones that you won't find in a art store.  I love that! It makes me feel all resourceful and thrifty.

essential art supplies you won't find in the art store

Here's the list:

Pickle Jars

Ok. I won't go on about these any more. (But I don't think I could paint the same without them.)

Old hair spray bottle

I think that when I first had need of a bottle to spritz water about it wasn't so easy to find them such a thing in the stores. I found a bottle of hair spray in the back of my cupboard. It was surprising because I don't ever use hairspray and also because it was not the aerosol kind but the one with a removable top attached to a long straw that goes into the inside of the bottle.

Clearly it had been sitting there waiting to be emptied, well rinsed and repurposed as a water spritzer in the art studio. Essential for waking up the watercolour palette in the morning or spritzing over the acrylic palette once in a while to try and extend the drying time of that beautiful buttery paint that is squeezed out onto the palette.

And if you spray it directly into a watercolour wash you can get some lovely effects.

Molly the Dolly

Now, I know that you can get a proper mannequin for the purposes of figure drawing but they are not terribly approachable creatures, I find. It's an intimate business this figure drawing lark, you know.

Much easier to have a sweet face smiling up at you regardless of the awkward pose you are requesting.  Molly the Dolly sits with me on my desk with her fully articulated joints and a very patient disposition. She even has the prettiest little fingers for me to draw as opposed to the mittens that artist mannequins usually come with.

Old Credit cards

So these I seem to have plenty of! Old store cards are also good.  I love them as scrapers for spreading gesso or acrylic paint over my art journal pages.

They are part of my watercolour kit too. You can cut them up into nice sharp shapes for the purposes of scratching into wet watercolour paint for some lovely effects. In fact you can sometimes get them sharp enough to scratch out white marks on paintings that are completely dry to make details like highlights in eyes. Of course you can use a craft knife for this, but doesn't a shard of credit card sound a lot more fun?


If it is a bit later in the evening and you have it to hand, you might see your way to sparing a drop of vodka into your watercolour wash.  You can get plain alcohol from a pharmacy, I believe.

However.... painting in collaboration with a spot of vodka.... how can you not?

A drop of alcohol spreads in a perfect circle. Sometimes they turn out like dandelion heads. Delightful.


On the subject of getting texture into watercolour paints, we cant ignore what the kitchen has to offer. Salt.

Drop salt into a nice juicy wash of watercolour and leave it to dry completely. The salt soaks up the water pulling the pigment with it. This leaves little star bursts in the colour when you brush the salt off.  For a slightly different effect you can tip the paper at an angle when you drop the salt on letting it slide down the page a little before you let it dry.

essential art supplies you won't find in the art store

(Now it occurs to me that if you had tequila you could substitute that for the vodka and since you have the salt out you may as well make yourself a Margarita. For the good of the painting.)


You are going to need an actual candle stick or some such (I use a floating candle because that is what I had to hand). Before you start painting with watercolour you can rub the candle across parts of your paper.  The was will resist the watercolour and preserve the white of the paper. You can do this rather purposefully to put a bit of texture into something like brickwork or as highlights on water, for instance.

essential art supplies you won't find in the art store

Chux Eraser

These are those little white abrasive cleaning blocks intended for removing marks from walls and that sort of thing. Where I am, the available brand is Chux but I bet you will find something like it in the cleaning aisle of the supermarket wherever you are.

If you rub these little blocks (slightly dampened)  over your very dry watercolour painting you can actually remove a bit of the paint revealing the highlight. Go carefully. It is scratching off the top layer of paint and paper -  don't be too aggressive or you could end up with  a hole in your painting.


Speaking of watercolour texture, how about getting an old toothbrush (ok to be honest that seemed a bit yucky so I used a fresh toothbrush for this) and dipping it in watercolour paint, watered down acrylic paint or  ink and flicking it across the page. Lovely!

It's best to hold the toothbrush with your thumb over the bristles and then pull your thumb nail back over the bristles releasing the colour in delightful random splatter over the page. With  a bit of practice you can learn to control this at least a little bit and then use it in particular areas to indicate things like stars in the night sky or a field of flowers in the distance. But filling journal pages with  nothing but abstract toothbrush splatter is a charming way to spend a lazy afternoon too.

Cotton buds

Now these are just fun things to have around. I wouldn't dream of sticking one in my ear somehow but I use them as mark making tools  - cute little dots they can make.

They are also handing for dispensing things like mineral spirits/ blending solvent/ Gamsol when you have your colouring pencils out.

What is this blending solvent you ask? Well, before you rush off the to art store you might want to see if you have any .... vaseline.


Yes, vaseline. This can be used to transform your colouring into something more like a smooth painting. The vaseline reacts with the coloured pencil and smooths it out giving some lovely blending effects. Similar to what you might achieve with something like Gamsol which is made specifically for this purpose.

Don't believe me?




Ok maybe this isn't essential for you but it is for me.

I am seldom without a cup of tea and painting is no exception. A word to the wise though... it is best to move the teacup a safe distance from the water jar.... that could end tragically...

Why do artists work in series? (and why it matters to you)

art tipsKerrie Woodhouse

Conventional wisdom for artists is that they should work in a series. In part, this is to do with the more commercial aspect of an artist's work - developing  a body of work for which they are known. But really I think this undershadows some of the more important benefits that arise when you work in a series. Wherever you are in your creative journey there is merit to taking on board some of the ethos of working in a series.

In fact even if your creative project is your big beautiful life as opposed to a particular creative hobby there is merit to giving yourself some sort of 'series' to work on in order to reap these benefits.


The Learning Curve

When we first start doing something it is hard. New skills can be acquired and while I believe we can learn pretty much anything we set our minds too it would be naive to think that this can be done without a lot of hard work and probably a touch of frustration. From psychology to economics the idea that  the more we do something the better we get at it has been graphically depicted as a learning curve.

work in a series

Different labels are applied to the axes but essentially they all depict time or experience along the horizontal axis and some measure of learning, progress or production on the vertical axis. When you start out you have to acquire all the necessary skills to achieve competency. This is shown by the steep and painful looking incline at the beginning of the curve, before it flattens out. But fear not! Perhaps it is not all that bad...

Josh Kaufman is of the opinion that you can learn anything new in about 20 hours. The basic skills you  need to do pretty much anything can be tucked under your belt in 20 hours if you give it a bit of thought and set about it deliberately.

Doesn't that seem nice and manageable? Josh is very convincing about it. You can check out his TED talk on the matter over here.

So of course, the first time you draw a face will probably feel really difficult. It will be much harder than the 5th time you draw a face. If you abandon face drawing after that first attempt you will never get to experience that. Perhaps you jump to drawing animals instead. Guess what? The first time you draw an animal, it's really hard!  The way I look at it, if you don't work in a series of some sort then you are being rather cruel to yourself. You are effectively condemning yourself to a sort of purgatory at that steep end of the learning curve. Don't be mean to yourself.  Work in a series.

Stepping out of your comfort zone is all very well but certainly not a permanent state I am striving for. I think we deserve to give ourselves some breathing space at the level of competency before striding out beyond the comfort barrier once more.


One of the obstacles every creative person deals with is Resistance. And yes I do think it deserves a capital letter (I think Stephen Pressfield would agree.)  Resistance is essentially a defence mechanism. It is the voice that pipes up with all manner of suggestions to avoid committing to the creative act. It is our response to fears of failure, judgement and criticism. It is a sneaky beast that manifests in many ways. For me, it appeared with the question, but what would you draw? What indeed.  Predetermining the answer to this question by selecting a series theme in advance has helped me immeasurably here.

Resistance pipes up again. You are not very good at drawing those. One of the very good reasons for working in the series is to overcome this precise problem.  Sometimes the only way to silence the voice of Resistance is to go ahead and create.

work in a series

What do you really think?

It is my belief that the call to create is born of a need in the individual to discover something about themselves, their experiences and their environments. I don't think that this is immediately apparent to us all. Of course there are some that are driven to create art about their most passionate personal or political causes. But the rest of us are not all blessed with such clarity. Sometimes you don't really know what you think about something until to start to examine it. In fact, sometimes we do not even realise something is troubling us until we begin some kind of creative process like writing, painting or knitting and then, inevitably, out it will come.

work in a series
work in a series

Carl Jung used mandalas for this intentional process of self discovery.  Even unintentionally, I believe that making space for some sort of creative activity allows your inner wise self the space to purge whatever it sees fit. But it is not a quick fix. I think the magic happens when you offer your inner wise self this opportunity on a consistent basis. To me something like a regular sketchbook practice or journalling is in fact a series of its own.

I have been giving myself the challenge of a new series each month for more than a year already.

Want to see what I have been up to?

Head over here to have a look.

Your 7 best excuses for avoiding your creative project

art tipsKerrie Woodhouse

I know what it is like. There is that tiny little voice inside. It is like a small child tugging at your sleeve. There are things she would like to do. Paint. Draw. Bake cupcakes. Write that novel. Start learning to play the guitar. (I'm kiddding... obviously its a ukulele she wants...) She gets quite excited about these things. It we are honest, she has been wanting to do these things for quite some time. But you always have an excuse for her. Do any of these sound familiar?

That little inner voice that tells you to write that novel or paint won't go away, will it? What are your best excuses for avoiding your creative project?

That little inner voice that tells you to write that novel or paint won't go away, will it? What are your best excuses for avoiding your creative project?

We don't have time

Yes, you are busy. Of course you are. But you still have some control over how you spend at least a portion of your day. If an emergency arises or a friend pops in to visit unexpectedly you will probably manage to shuffle things around and still get everything done that you need to. And if we are honest, even 15 minutes a day doing this thing that your inner voice won't give up on can be enough to make significant progress on your project if you can be consistent with it.

We have more important things to do right now

By important, you mean not fun, right? There is a danger that we can start thinking that life is hard, that important things are difficult, that the good things in life are only acquired through struggle. So if you are doing something that is easy and fun, it must therefore not be important or worthwhile.

best excuses for avoiding your creative project

best excuses for avoiding your creative project

We need to spend our time doing something more useful

Discounting a project on the grounds that it is trivial and time wasting is an easy trap to fall into.  The thing is, that little voice is still nagging you, isn't she? Even if you avoid your project in favour of something practical (like the laundry, shopping around for a better insurance policy, or some other tedious, grown up, but very 'useful' chore) you are not fully present to it. Part of you can't shake the doubt that you are letting yourself down. Is this thing going to be on your list till the day you die?

We could, but we don't have the right supplies

Ah yes. You would start that novel, but you just need to wait until you get a new notebook from Typo.

You already have all you need.

Just start. You will be glad you did.

We are a bit old for that, aren't we?

So is that it then? It's all over? If we didn't start this thing young or get it out of our systems before we grew up it's too late?

Did ice cream stop tasting good because you stopped being a child?

If it was fun then, it is probably still fun now. And it is never too late to learn something new. Better do it today, because tomorrow you will be even older...

We are not very good at that

Now we are getting to the heart of the matter. This is fear.

We tend to think that we will be judged, scorned or humiliated if we attempt to do something that we are not totally adept at. This still seems to be the case even if we are doing something totally private like drawing in a sketchbook that we have no intention of sharing. We are protecting that inner child from criticism. But we are also eliminating the chance of new experiences and the acquisition of new skills not to mention the fun you might have in the process.

We are not really 'creative'

Oh yes we are. Just look at how many imaginative excuses we came up to avoid having to face our fears and do this creative project (which we actually really want to do).

No matter which one of these excuses you tend to use, or how many you combine, you have not  managed to dismiss that little voice. So you may as well just heed that creative calling.

Life is finite.

Don't miss your chance to do these things that you can't stop thinking about.

best excuses for avoiding your creative project

best excuses for avoiding your creative project