Georgia Mansur | Plein Air Like a Pro: Watercolor Toolbox Tips

Vineyard Vista, watercolor painting by Georgia Mansur

Vineyard Vista by Georgia Mansur


Hi, my name is Georgia Mansur and I am excited to share some tips and techniques with you! I am an international ambassador for DANIEL SMITH Paints and have chosen 16 top colors from my own palette ~ so I have a lot to share with you! I would like to give you some tips that will prevent you from making some classic Rookie Mistakes and set you up for fast tracking your plein air journey. I want to take the fear out of your outdoor painting adventures and get you comfortable, so you can paint like a pro!

Georgia Mansur plein air painting with her easel

Georgia Mansur plein air painting

Watercolour is one of the most beautiful and expressive forms of painting – and many would say, the most difficult medium to master. One of the joys of teaching is the opportunity to share some great tools or ‘secrets’ that break down the fear of working in watercolour and making it more accessible for people to experience this juicy and exciting medium.

With a bit of structure to create the framework for your painting, you will have greater freedom to be more spontaneous and allow the medium to work its magic.

Every time I teach a workshop I am reminded that there is a very high level of anxiety amongst the students before we begin. FEAR is the one thing that prevents us from achieving our full potential. This manifests itself in negative energy by that voice in the back of your head bringing up:
INSECURITIES we won’t be good enough.
DOUBTS about ‘what in the world am I doing here?’.
Questions like ‘will I be the LEAST EXPERIENCED?.’
And most importantly, ‘Will I look STUPID??!!’.

Rest assured I have felt it too ~ when I first began demonstrating I thought everyone watching must be able to hear my heart pounding inside my chest!

Once you understand that these feelings are totally NORMAL and that you are not alone in feeling this, REAL learning and personal growth can truly begin. Those that are able to accept and acknowledge these feelings are present but keep moving forward and through them anyway will get the sweet nectar of development and success.

So, if you feel uncomfortable right now, that’s okay. Just sit with it and let it wash over you so you can get out to the deeper water and ride that big wave in all the way to the shore. Let that fear you feel be the energy you harness to take your skills to the next level. Creativity truly does take courage so congratulate yourself for taking this big step to improve your skills and know that your world is about to be rocked!

Boats Lake Como, watercolor painting by Georgia Mansur

Boats Lake Como by Georgia Mansur

What I have discovered personally is that painting has taught me everything I need to know about LIFE. It has taught me when to be patient, when to jump in ‘boots and all’, self-discipline, risk taking, how to communicate and connect with others and…
HUMILITY, OH has it taught me humility. Again, and again and again….

But by being open to failure, or in this case, making bad art in the higher pursuit of making incredible art ~ we must leave our ego behind and risk it all. If we keep playing small by doing what we know we can already do, our growth process stagnates, and we never progress.

So here I invite you to listen with an open heart ~ even if you think you already know something about whatever I am talking about, try hard to really listen and get inside what I am teaching over the next installments of this column.

You may find a deeper understanding to concepts that you already know, and you may gain access to the key that opens the door to the next level of your own painting journey. It may take you a while to make that happen in your own work but understanding comes before performance.

We often are working from a level of a little bit of knowledge and some success yet that mastery we hope for seems elusive and slippery. It can be hit and miss at times with our painting success, so I hope you will gain some critical pieces of the puzzle of your own experience by what you learn here.

The most important thing is to listen with an open mind and heart, and your progress will surely follow. Please know that you are not alone in feeling anxious or uncomfortable, but I promise you that you will gain insight into the painting process to get the results you love. Please consider one of my workshops if you wish to address any specific concerns and I will do my best to help you in person (see my website: further below for dates and locations around the world).

The key here is your willingness to step outside your known comfort zone and try the things you learn here. Brush mileage will be the thing that bears artistic fruit but with good guidance and solid foundations you will find your stride and artistic voice much more quickly.

Creekside Jackson Hole, watercolor painting by Georgia Mansur

Creekside Jackson Hole by Georgia Mansur

 Now to address the mechanics and process of your watercolour success in the field.

Mother Nature is the best teacher of all and you have all the information you need right in front of you if you know what to look for.

Painting on location is very different to studio painting where you have all your creature comforts and materials at your fingertips. But it is absolutely the BEST way to improve your work. Painting en plein air forces you to assess the situation, make some important executive decisions quickly and distill what you are seeing and experiencing into a moment in time~ it teaches you how to respond in the moment and quickly capture the essence of what grabbed your attention.

And guess what? If you can do that you can also capture the attention of your viewers because YOU get to decide what is important in your painting! You become a storyteller, leading your viewer in and through your painting and letting them see inside your world. This is how we express ourselves and share how our experiences made us feel. We are very privileged to be able to share our creative expression and visual voice ~ this is something only you can do from your unique point of view so please don’t be afraid to let your light shine!

I am going to teach you some simple techniques on how to do that and demonstrate how I go about doing this in my own practice over the coming installments of this blog. Now I will share my tools and process with you.


Georgia Mansur demonstrating plein air painting at Wolgan Valley

Georgia demonstrating plein air painting at Wolgan Valley

I have tried many different easel setups over the years and I have found one that works best for me. There is nothing worse than feeling like you are wrestling with an octopus that is heavy and uncooperative! This is a very personal decision, so I recommend you check out what is on offer online and choose what suits you ~ you will likely have to kiss some frogs before you find your own ‘Prince’. There are many to choose from and you will need to think about how much it weighs if you are doing lots of hiking ~ you need to be able to carry it all yourself. Please note* if you are working from the tailgate of your vehicle, weight may not be such an issue, but I recommend paring down your materials to be as light as possible anyway ~ less is more.

I mostly use the STRADA mini on a tripod because it is strong and lightweight, and can handle a lot of abuse from traveling about 8 months of the year teaching around the world. It doesn’t have any screws or bolts to fiddle with and packs neatly in my backpack with its nesting detachable wings.

My tripod is lightweight but strong and has a quick release plate and snap to position legs, which make setup and breakdown time super-fast and easy. I would avoid the twisting telescopic legs as they tend to fall out or seize up over time. Trust me, you want to be ready to pack up in a moment’s notice if the weather suddenly changes! There are lighter options, en plein air pro also makes a good one for watercolour that is quite a bit lighter. Check out my blog post on my blog, (blog link below with my website and Facebook page) for a review of materials and packing tips.

AND because I teach in ALL Watermedia (watercolour, acrylic and water soluble oils), I swap out my 3 identical palettes depending on what I am demonstrating. I essentially use the same cololurs in all media, but they might be called different names. More about that a bit later.

Abbey 2, watercolor painting by Georgia Mansur

Abbey 2 by Georgia Mansur

Safety: The first thing you need to do is set up your easel somewhere that is safe (like not with your back to the ocean or on a cliff face with slippery rocks). Although listening to music is nice, having headphones in does interfere with your ability to hear approaching vehicles, persons, machinery or animals.

If you are in a tick zone, poison oak, or heavy insect area take the necessary precautions to protect yourself by covering your skin or using insect repellent. It’s a good idea to know the flora and fauna of the area you will be painting as it is sometimes necessary to carry bear/moose or pepper spray, wear boots or have a snake bite kit handy. Carrying a phone is also a good idea if you are alone but make sure you are in a service area of course.

The next thing is to check that your palette and painting have similar light on them ~ try to set up in shade (avoid dappled light) or undercover if at all possible where you are protected from weather.

If not possible, you might like to invest in an umbrella that attaches to your easel or fit your easel and painting support with some strong Velcro in high winds. I also use my carry bag for rubbish and anything else I might need as a counter weight hanging off my easel, which keeps it stable and from blowing over. I sometimes change my mast for a larger painting when I know that the wind is not going to turn my painting into a kite!

I feel an umbrella is just one more thing to carry….so I usually opt for a large brimmed hat and sunscreen and I do NOT wear sunglasses as they affect the ability to judge proper values and colours. Be mindful that strong coloured clothing can reflect onto your painting and interfere with your ability to judge colour so neutral clothing is a good option.

Be sure you have plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated as well as enough for your painting water ~ I use a container that has 2 wells ~ one for dirty water and one for second rinse to keep your colours clean and fresh.

My Mudgee View, watercolor painting by Georgia Mansur

My Mudgee View by Georgia Mansur

Check that your painting is the right height for you to stand ~ this means your shoulder height should hit about the middle of your painting.

I highly recommend you stand rather than sit to paint. You are much more free in your body and are able to use your whole body rather than just your hand ~ this will make your paintings more lyrical, loose and free. I encourage you to dance with your brushes and immerse yourself fully into the process. Painting outdoors can be joyful and fun, don’t rob yourself of the full experience!

Sitting causes us to get tunnel vision and removes us from the scene, hiding behind our painting and not properly seeing it in context. Standing also gives you the huge benefit of walking away from your painting and getting the right perspective. In fact, I encourage my students to step back 10-20 feet from their painting about every 8 minutes. This ensures that you are working your painting holistically and can see if any one thing is out of balance and you can’t do this very well from a seated position. It also forces you to tighten up too soon and get lost in the details before it is time! Just remember to look where you are backing up….we don’t want to end up in the ocean or worse!

Don’t be intimidated by different subjects than you are used to painting. The key to painting on location is to isolate what you want to paint through your viewfinder and forget about everything else that is not in your view. Don’t allow the over-stimulation of all your senses get in the way of your emotions and genuine response to your scene.

Boogie in the Sun, watercolor painting by Georgia Mansur

Boogie in the Sun by Georgia Mansur

If you can simplify everything into a pattern of shapes and values, no subject is out of your reach. Start with organic shapes and work your way up to man made subjects as you gain confidence. And if you are feeling totally overwhelmed by the great outdoors, bring it back to something simple, like focusing on a flower or something not so intimidating at first. Your successes will give you more confidence to tackle all the subjects you see. Perhaps you just want to even focus on doing some simple 2 or 3 value studies in your sketchbook to warm up, whatever works for you.

I do most of my paintings in three stages.

Stage 1 is Planning (composing, getting my underpainting on whilst saving my whites)
Stage 2 focuses on Values (structure and mood through colour and temperature)
Stage 3 is about Fine Tuning (details, unifying and pulling it all together)

One thing that I think many beginners don’t quite understand is the importance of the consistency of paint to water ratio.
Here is my general rule of thumb.

Stage 1 = First wash is coffee or tea consistency with a fair bit of water
Stage 2 = I use a creamy consistency, less water and more paint (wet onto damp gives soft edges)
Stage 3 = I use paint straight out of the tube for the final accents ~ Vegemite, Nutella or Peanut Butter consistency depending on which country I am teaching! (wet into dry gives crisp edges for man made objects and important details)
In stage 3, I am looking to make sure it is reading the light and points of interest leading the eye effectively and most importantly, making sure my focal point is the star of the show.

Loading your brush properly and controlling the ratio of wetness to dryness takes a bit of practice but you can control the amount of water by using your sponge to offload some of the moisture. Try to make sure you are not starting with a brush already half loaded with water after rinsing it or else you won’t get the consistency you need and will be struggling with a lot of cauliflower blooms on your painting!

Stay tuned as next time I will break down some of the steps so that you can see inside the technical aspects of this incredible medium and demonstrate more of these concepts.

Please click to read Georgia’s Toolbox Tips 1: Toolbox Tips with Georgia Mansur: Watercolor Supplies and Workspace Setup for Successful Painting.

About Georgia
Photo of Georgia MansurGeorgia Mansur is active in the Cultural Community in Australia and Overseas, including:
• AGRA (Australian Guild of Realist Artists)
• ADFAS (Australian Decorative and Fine Arts)
• CAC (California Art Club)
• IPAP (International Plein Air Painters)
• LPAPA (Laguna Plein Air Painters Assoc.)
• NWS (National Watercolor Society)
• CWA (California Watercolor Assoc.),
• AWS American Watercolor Society,
• AIS American Impressionist Society.
Georgia was a featured water media presenter and faculty member at the Plein Air Convention in Monterey, California and is one of the top 100 watermedia artists featured in North Light Book’s ‘SPLASH 15’. She is a respected watercolor artist and popular instructor worldwide. Please visit her website and blog or email directly for info on upcoming workshops and events.
Facbook page: GeorgiaMansurArtist

Why I love DANIEL SMITH Watercolors
“Using Daniel Smith watercolor has opened up exciting new creative possibilities—the Quinacridones and Iridescents offer new options for creating with sparkling effects. The high quality pure pigment loads ensure that I get delicious darks and juicy vibrancy in my work.”
—Georgia Mansur

Georgia Mansur’s DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Palette:

Alizarin Crimson
Lemon Yellow
Cadmium Red Medium Hue
Cadmium Yellow Deep Hue
Carbazole Violet
Cobalt Blue
French Ultramarine
Indanthrone Blue
Neutral Tint
Opera Pink
Phthalo Turquoise
Quinacridone Gold
Quinacridone Magenta
Raw Umber
Transparent Red Oxide

Sand Dunes, watercolor by Georgia Mansur

Sand Dunes by Georgia Mansur