Watercolor is the best for portability and convenience.
While watercolor can rise to the occasion of large scale work, it’s essentially the best paint for portable, spontaneous expression. It loves pairing up with drawing, ink, and chalk – the most direct route to color in drawing.
Watercolor is the key to really understanding color.
Transparency and optical color mixing is key to understanding color, and watercolor demands our participation in understanding both. Working from light to dark and reserving whites may not be identical to how you set up your opaque paintings, but everything you learn about color layering and interaction will feed your skill set in opaque paint. You’ll be able to anticipate the interactions of transparent colors with a great degree of accuracy and you’ll develop an appetite for the unexpected interactions of transparent layers – in watercolor and beyond.
Watercolor is fun and fanciful and keeps you painting.
Even a neutral-obsessed moodypants painter like me can’t resist the prism-like color that you can get out of watercolor. Its un-mitigated out of the tube nature is frolicsome at heart, more so than anything else I’ve used. When you have fun painting, and when you let yourself have some fun painting, it keeps you going.
Watercolor teaches you what you need to know about control.
First of all, control is OK. There is nothing wrong with wanting control, and watercolor can give you the tightest of control. You can use watercolor with a dry brush and re-create reality down to its finest eyelash. You can also approach each painting as an event and an experiment, generated entirely by chance. You can paint somewhere in between.
But watercolor is the best bringer of constructive chaos. Should you choose to go out of the constraints of tight control, you are playing in the realm of fluid dynamics. You’ll cement your relationship to surprises, and how much you like them or don’t like them.
Watercolor has a democratizing tendency, and communal possibilities.
A lot of art critics have always treated it as “the lightweight.” We’ll keep things G-rated here and call those people “gatekeepers” but I’ve got some synonyms.
Watercolor has historically been accessible to hobbyists, women, and cultural “outsiders” when other media were less so. It’s reasonably safe for teaching and using around small children. It can be (and has been) brought to every kind of place – from cafes and parties, to outpatient infusion rooms, to active battle fronts, to schools, to the Antarctic research station (switching vodka for water.) If you want it to connect you to the workingest world of working artists, it will – it is the immediate human imprint – pigment, life, and water.