Direct Watercolor: A new book by Marc Taro Holmes

My best painting buddy is Marc Taro Holmes. We often paint (and talk) side by side for hours, sometimes facing in different directions, and during our long conversations we solve all the problems in the world. Or so it seems. But because we are both so focused on our own watercolours and never really watch each other work, it took an hour in a comfy chair at Starbucks with his newest book Direct Watercolor in my hands to really understand how he paints.

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In this new book Marc takes us through the shape-based method of how he paints directly in watercolour, with no ink lines and often (miraculously to me) without so much as a pencil line to guide him. It’s always seems like a mysterious process when I look at his finished paintings (I often go home thinking I should have watched him paint!), so I appreciate the step-by-step images of his approach. As we follow him from Brazil to Portugal, Italy, Cambodia and Ireland, there are detailed descriptions of how each painting was created.

Direct Watercolor_Marc Taro Holmes 42-43

The book starts with a really insightful page about the unpredictable nature of watercolour and why he loves it. If you paint in watercolour, you’ll really appreciate his loose, flowing style and distinctive brushstrokes. There’s a huge amount of simplification and abstraction in his work (which comes from much skill and tremendous drawing ability), but when you see it broken down into steps, the process is demystified. Carefully painted shapes with interesting edges, filled with brilliant colour, one next to another, make up his compositions.

Direct Watercolor_Marc Taro Holmes 84_85

My favourite section is reading about his approach to painting a plein air seascape in Portugal, and how the lessons learned are adapted to a studio painting that has as much spontaneity and flow as one done on location.

Direct Watercolor_Marc Taro Holmes 82_83

With watercolour, something new can be learned every time we pick up a brush (or read about someone else doing it) so it was a pleasure for me to be an armchair traveller through Marc’s painting experiences. Direct Watercolor is available in print or e-book on or

10 Comments on “Direct Watercolor: A new book by Marc Taro Holmes”

  1. Mary Jo MItts says:

    How nice of you to share this information and your recommendation. I have taken your two classes and one of Marc Taro Holmes on Craftsy and enjoyed them all. I love seeing your sketches and would really enjoy attending a workshop in person someday. 🙂


    • Mary Jo, so glad to hear that you enjoyed the classes on Craftsy! If you are ever interested in taking a workshop, please send me your email address and I will add you to my mailing list!


  2. -N- says:

    Marc’s book is really a fresh approach, but without years of practice in line and wash and structure, what he makes look easy is very challenging. The beauty is how casual he is, and that acceptance of what watercolor is and does frees all who try, seasoned painter to newbie.


    • Very well said. Yes, his approach is challenging which is why it has always seemed so mysterious to me. You have to really give up control and let the water take you places instead of you leading it. I find that really hard to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Judy Sopher says:

    This is a wonderful book. I agree that Marc makes it look easy but, of course, it takes years of experience-and talent. I have gone through it several times and it keeps amazing me. Glad I have it and recommend it.


  4. munchmeister says:

    Thanks for passing this on. I’ve always admired Marc’s work and will enjoy this book. As one of your admirers, it is also fascinating to hear of your joint approach to your workshops, working back to back, “saving the world.”


  5. joantav says:

    It is nice to read your reaction to Marc’s book…maybe I will get a copy. It sounds like it is filled with great information.


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