I learned to paint in watercolor as if it were the family business. My grandfather, Will Nelson, is a painter, illustrator, and teacher. My uncle Roland Giampaoli, has had a similar career. I have very fond memories of my grandfather's art studio. I recall thumbing through books of paintings and drawings, the smell of linseed oil and turpentine, and the piles of sketches, books, and art supplies that made it seem such a chaotically creative place. When I was in middle school I started taking watercolor classes from at my uncle Roland's Paint and Draw Art School. I would draw and copy watercolors painted by my uncle or by Gaye Hoopes. This is a way of learning art that isn't practiced much anymore, accept at a few Atelier schools around the country. It was a tradition practiced in the early academies in Paris, Rome, and London. The idea was that a student would absorb compositional, technical, and narrative techniques from exposure to the best work. At its best, the academic tradition produced some great painters such as Gericault, Couture, and Picasso. At its worst, the work was derivative and forgettable. Browse the list of the winner of the Prix de Rome (the top academic accolade from the premier academy) from 1860 to 1890 and you'll encounter nothing remarkable--at a time when art was changing in leaps and bounds. Truly innovative painters, such as Manet or Degas, never achieved the Rome Prize. Goya (although he later became the academy's director) was initially refused admittance into the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando.
But that's not to say there isn't a lot to be learned from studying the past. The serious student, I think, can learn a lot from copying. I'm not sure if I was quite there at the age of 13, but I still remember laying in those washes and trying to get my head around painting a tree is 3-4 brush strokes. My arm and hand still remember the movements and feel of the brush, so I must have picked up something. These experiences are most telling in the way I paint. Others besides myself have noticed that my painting process is more like my uncle Roland's, in that it's pretty loose and energetic. The end result however, is more like my grandfather's.