Getting Trashed

Innocence by Jean Haines, watercolor painting. Tips from the artist and instructor.
Innocence by Jean Haines, watercolor painting.

Watercolor Painting Tips from the Bin

I’ve heard of painting for yourself, for school, for work, but painting for the trash can?! Artist and instructor Jean Haines says it might sound odd but when you paint like it doesn’t “matter” all of a sudden you loosen up and just might produce your best art ever! She gives us her best watercolor painting tips for this particularly surprising — and fun! — situation and explains why working this way really isn’t rubbish at all. Enjoy!



Foxgloves by Jean Haines, watercolor painting.
Woodland Fantasy by Jean Haines, watercolor painting.

Stage Fright

The aim of an artist is to create. But with this desire to make wonderful paintings that can be framed or exhibited comes an enormous amount of pressure. We expect to always succeed in our goal to capture a scene or subject. I strongly believe it is this stress factor that can put off the beginner or lead to gaps in a professional artist’s practice–times when they simply don’t feel like they can pick up a brush and be successful. Or it becomes a point of despondency because one thinks he or she will never able to reach his or her goal.

Play at the Start and End

In my studio I start and close each day with color experiments that, over time, have improved my art and my knowledge of the watercolor painting tips in the medium. In my watercolor art workshops I encourage everyone to experiment similarly with color first rather than always aiming to create a masterpiece straight away.

Many experiments don’t turn out right the first time, and it’s alright to toss them in the bin (which is what we call the trash can in England). But while I am painting for the bin, I often unintentionally create pieces that are perfect for framing. Or stumble on a way of working that I love and use more intentionally going forward.

Three of My “Bin” Paintings

The key is to create a fun and light mood while experimenting, which is what I try to do during my watercolor painting lessons, and the results are incredible. I sometimes get the feeling many artists are too serious about their work and that they have forgotten how wonderfully enjoyable the experience of creating can actually be!

Fresh Color

I painted this watercolor exercise (with cadmium yellow and French ultramarine blue) for fun, for the bin, and with the aim of simply achieving vibrant fresh color on paper with texture effects for added interest.

Watercolor painting tips for the bin. Tip #2.

Follow the Flow

In this watercolor painting for the bin, pigment is breaking up by use of simple water application. I refer to this watercolor painting technique as “water flow.” Indigo and French ultramarine blue formed amazing patterns in the experimental wash.


Abstract Focus

These are abstract result from experimenting purely with watercolor and textural effects. But what is exciting when you realize that realism and abstraction have a conversation. I started with this abstractly, but see how a butterfly wing is forming? That’s the kind of discovery I will take with me when I paint the delicate wings of a butterfly.

Flow by Jean Haines

Sounds Silly But…

Having fun with this process is my number one watercolor painting tip and has aided my own growth and led me to completely new and exciting discoveries in watercolor painting techniques.

Look for the New

I constantly challenge myself by looking for new color combinations and pigment reactions, and I am fascinated by the reactions of artists attending my demonstrations. The joy they express when told not to paint a subject but to simply love working with color is amazing. I think possibly being given permission to “play” instead of always aiming for that special painting frees our inner artist and pushes us on our own road of discovery.

Watercolor painting tips: Summer Haze by Jean Haines, watercolor painting. See how the abstract stems and leaves of these flowers are infused with a sense of play and freedom? That's what painting for the bin gets you!
Summer Haze by Jean Haines, watercolor painting. See how the abstract stems and leaves of these flowers are infused with a sense of play and freedom? That’s what painting for the bin gets you!

One More Exercise

So the next time you don’t feel like painting, how about letting go of all your inhibitions and self-imposed restrictions and free yourself by doing this exercise:

Paint four scraps of paper with different colors. Set yourself the challenge of making each one unique. Increase the challenge by not allowing yourself to use your favorite shades. Look out for great experimental results and use them in your more serious compositions. And remember to simply paint for the trash bin and take the pressure off of your shoulders.

I was once told if your bin isn’t full, you haven’t practiced enough! Although be warned, this exercise can become completely addictive, and that means taking out “the trash” more often!


Freedom and Fun

I love Jean’s energy and unself-conscious approach to her painting. As a watercolor artist, she’s definitely shown me that color is king and that a sense of play is an absolute must. If you are looking for more on how to paint watercolor without forgetting the fun, we have Jean’s very own kit to take you there. Watercolor Workout with Jean Haines is a kit of inspiration and instruction that seamlessly blends how to make incredible artwork while keeping that feeling of freedom and fun–which is what our art should always be about! Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

6 thoughts on “Getting Trashed

  1. I was completely “stuck” w/the pressure to produce hangings for several galleries, finally getting to the point where I was paralyzed with fear that I could no longer paint anything worth hanging. So I stopped supplying the galleries and started painting for the sheer joy of creating. Once again, I am in love with my art journey, and lo and behold, a number of excellent, fresh pieces have resulted from my freedom to create for ME. Jean’s advice is excellent…a (art) life saver for many of us.
    Carolyn Yager

  2. I’m just an amateur artist but have so many ideas I don’t know what to do with them. However, often I get stuck–am hesitant and don’t start a sketch or painting or collage. I get all caught up in the planning stage, or begin with frisket and get no further. The ideas in this article are so inspiring!! Thank you Courtney and Jean Haines!