Painting Quick and Easy on the Fly ~ 3 Expert Tips

Painting Quick and Easy on the Fly

3 Expert Tips for Easy, Clean & Quick Paintings

Painting quick and easy on-the-fly is simplest with watercolor and a pack or two of watercolor postcards. With a tiny watercolor palette in my satchel during my residency in France, I was able to create 15-minute paintings while waiting for lunch or resting on a park bench.

Painting Quick and Easy
watercolor painted on the fly

These magic postcard paintings are now a huge source of inspiration at home. See how just one of them led to a series of garden paintings>

Preparing for my Tuscan residency, three simple additions will make it even easier to bring home great paintings.

For Tuscan.  I need light-weight, portable, easy and clean-to-use panels which can be mounted and displayed quickly when I return for the holidays.

I am staying in a two bedroom apartment 20 kilometers south of Florence in the heart of the Chianti hills.  I don’t have a studio for two months. I paint en plein air and set my paintings up to dry around the apartment.

1 ~ Butterfly Panels

Painting Quick and Easy
linen and canvas mounted to multi-media art board makes a flexible, yet light-weight rigid painting panel.

I’ve been researching the perfect, light weight panel. In France, I used pads of linen canvas 11 x 14, thumb tacked to the cork board in the residency studio to dry. Without a studio I need a rigid panel which I can prop up along the counter top or baseboard.

Butterfly painting panels are available ready made by a couple different manufacturers. I am creating my own with Multi-Media Art Board and linen canvas. To create them, I am making use of supplies I already have on hand for a fraction of the cost.

Multi media boards are paper impregnated with resin. This makes them archival, dimensionally stable and rigid ~ yet feather weight. A piece of heavy-weight cardboard behind them will make sure they don’t bend when I attach them to my easel. Yet they are rigid enough to sit up against the wall to dry without additional support.

There are several ways to use these for painting. They can be painted on directly with oil, acrylic, watercolor or drawing media. They can also be gessoed with white or tinted gesso for a more customized painting surface. The surface can be further customized  by mounting canvas or linen on them. I am making some of each in different sizes.

2 ~ Mounting Canvas or Linen

Heat Press Method
Painting Quick and Easy
Heat Mounting Press

To mount them, I used archival heat mounting tissue and my mounting press. I used up an old pad of linen 12 x 16s. I trimmed my mounting tissue to fit the linen, with a little excess on all sides. I put it in the heat press for a few minutes, then let it cool. When cooled, I trimmed each one to size., So far I have made some 11 x 14s and 12 x 16s. I will also make some 16 x 20s. These will all fit flat in my suitcase.

Wet Mount Method
Painting Quick and Easy
Finished oil paintings on 300# gessoed watercolor paper (left) and Guerilla Panel (right) bounted to Cradled Wood Panels 1 1/2″ deep

If you don’t have a mounting press, you can use acrylic soft gel or matte medium to wet mount the canvas to panel. I used this method when I returned from France with my unmounted linen paintings. Finished oil or acrylic paintings cannot go in a heat press.

To wet mount, paint both sides with acrylic soft gel or matte medium. Lay them medium sides together and roll with a brayer from the center out to remove any air pockets. Wipe all excess medium away with a damp paper towel. Stack on a rigid table (covered with wax paper), interleave with wax paper, top with board, and weight with a heavy paint can. Allow to dry several hours or overnight. Cut to size when dry.

3 ~ Double Duty Gesso Panels

Dorothy Fagan
My satchel was large enough for watercolors, postcards and water bottle.

In France, I found a small watercolor palette and a stack of watercolor postcards fit perfectly into my satchel. On the spur of the moment, I could whip out my colors and paint . . . while waiting for lunch in a cafe or resting on a Paris park bench.

The only problem with this was that the watercolor postcards curled up. I could buy heavier watercolor paper and cut it into custom postcards. But maybe there’s something better . . .

Painting Quick and Easy
Absorbent white Gesso painted on a Guerilla Panel

It would be wonderful to have the same rigid panels do double duty for watercolor or oil (or drawing, acrylic, inks etc.) To do this, I am using Golden’s Absorbent Ground Gesso.  I like this gesso because it has some tooth, so is also good for drawing with pen, pencil or  charcoal. And guess what? It is intended for watercolor.

Since the multi-media panels (above) are white, they only need one coat. I also have some Guerrilla Plein Air Panels (also thin resin impregnated paper) which are brown, so they need two if you are planning to use watercolor on them. I am particularly fond of the texture created by the brush strokes in the gesso. This creates a much more interesting surface to paint on than a machined finish. I will show you examples of this in a later article.

The gessoed panels are for my small paintings, 5 x 7s, 6 x 8s and 8 x 10s. My larger oil paintings will be painted on  canvas or linen panels.

 Cradled Wood Panels for Presentation

Painting Quick and Easy
Golden Absorbent Gesso on multi media board

When I return from Tuscany it will be November and everyone will be focused on holidays. I’ve researched and tested several presentation methods which will make a nice, clean, contemporary and quick to ship presentation for my finished paintings.

During my French residency, I painted small paintings on 300 # Arches gessoed watercolor paper. At home, I mounted some of them on deep, cradled wood panels with Soft Gel Medium. This worked ok, though it would have been easier to mount a thinner 140# watercolor paper.

Painting Quick and Easy
3/4″ deep cradled panel mounted with 5 x 7 oil painting on canvas panel

Since then, I have tested mounting both the multi media and Guerrilla panels. I am pleased that they were much easier to mount than watercolor paper. They did not even require weighting  while they dried!

Painting Quick and Easy
1 1/2″ cradled wood panel with 300# watercolor paper mounted. Painting is done in oil on gessoed wc paper.

So this time I will mount my 5 x 7s and 6 x 8s on 3/4″ cradled panels. 8 x 10s and larger paintings will mount better on the deeper 1 1/2″ ones. These will make it quick and easy for me to present my finished works for sale in a professional, ready-to-hang way.

Play Along with the Muses

See how I set up my Watercolor Palette >
Sign up to Win my Tuscan Sun Original Watercolor>
Don’t Miss a Post>
See all of my Tuscan Painting Adventure>
Greve in Chianti ~ Taking Off Soon
Postcard Painting Inspiration
Create Your Own Experimental Watercolor Palette and Paint Along>

Experimental Watercolors ~ It’s all About COLOR!

Experimental Watercolor Palette

Setting Up for Success ~ It’s all About COLOR!

watercolor supplies
My watercolor satchel holds a flat 9 x 12 plastic palette, 2 brushes a few watercolor postcards and a plastic cup and water bottle.. 

The important thing about experimental watercolor painting is using good pigments. Not because you think you are going to make good paintings ~ because good pigments give rich colors your heart can feel. THIS is important!

If your heart doesn’t beat a little faster when you see the color hit your paper, you haven’t made the connection!

You will know you’ve made the all important connection when you feel your heart say, “oh wow I love that,”

Artist’s paints are true pigments with rich formulations. Student paints are not. They are diluted synthetic substitutes. It will be very difficult (if not impossible) for your heart to feel the energy of color resonance with them. If you are trying to save money, buy only a few good artist’s colors and use them. Don’t waste your money on student grade paint.

Artist Quality Pigments

experimental watercolor
Three Primary Colors 2 reds, 2 Blues & 2 Yellows.

My watercolor palette consists of only 6 colors. I use two reds, Alizarin Crimson and Cadmium Red Medium; two blues, Ultramarine Blue and Cerulian Blue; and two yellows, Lemon Yellow and Cadmium Yellow Medium.  With watercolor you do not need white paint.

One small tube of each will last a long time. Each brush stroke is 80% water and 20% pigment. This is another reason good pigments are so important.

My palette will help you learn to mix colors. The three primary colors, red, blue and yellow, are used to create most secondary and tertiary colors. By the time you need other colors on your palette, you will know which ones you can’t mix with these.

What to Paint On?

experimental watercolor
Experimental watercolor postcards in this photo are one from the New Hampshire coast and Hollyhocks from Provence, France. The Hollyhocks one inspired a whole series of large-scale paintings two years later. See more about this>

How color feels depends on what it is next to. If you paint a stroke of brilliant red paint on a greenish sheet of paper, it will look dull and lifeless. You will think you can’t paint! And you will give up and never feel the thrill of color beating in your heart.

Use good quality watercolor paper like ARCHES. Or make your own painting panels with Absorbent White Gesso so your colors will make your heart sing. This is why you are painting in the first place?

When I picked watercolor back up after 30 years, I bought 4 packs of Strathmore Watercolor Postcards for pocket change. Painting 30 of them changed my life.

Brushes, Pens & Palette


experimental watercolorTwo brushes are sufficient. I use one 1/2″ flat and one #8 pointed round brush. I currently use Creative Mark’s Minik brushes because they are less expensive than sables and hold up well to my abuse.

The biggest mistake is using a brush that is small. My two brushes look too big to many beginners. A big brush helps you see the big shapes of color. Keep it simple, bold and big ~ especially on a postcard sized painting.

Felt Tip Pens

On my way to France, I picked up two felt tip pens, one sage green the other sienna. These colors are earthy, so when I draw back into my painting with a few squiggly lines it grounds the fluid dream to the page. You might prefer different colors. Use your gut and pick two.

experimental watercolor
Two brushes and a couple felt tip pens

A flat 9 x 12 plastic palette is inexpensive, less than $8 and can be slipped into a plastic bag. It does not matter if the watercolor paint dries out on the palette. Just add water to soften the paint. To wash it off, simply rinse under a faucet and wipe with a paper towel.experimental watercolor

Eight small wells are for paint squeezed from the tube. 12 large wells are for mixing colors together with lots of water.  LOTS OF WATER is the key to painting with watercolors.

I have seen people use white plastic plates as palettes. This could work, but would be awkward and get expensive. Without separate wells to mix colors, you would going through plates quickly.

Postcard Painting Inspiration
Create Your Own Experimental Watercolor Palette and Paint Along>