Learning a new set of skills can be daunting, scary and hard. A big problem for adults coming back to art after many years is high expectations – too high expectations. If you haven’t done any drawing since you were 7, you are likely to be picking up where you left off.
Unless you’ve been able to continue your drawing, development is unlikely – you know what it’s like if you haven’t played piano for years (I can’t play my flute anymore, it’s very old and needs maintenance [as do I!] but obviously I haven’t practiced for a long time and my embouchure not up to scratch). Maybe you haven’t played golf for a few years only to return and find your swing is off.
Your drawing, painting and creative muscles needs constant attention – regular and frequent SMALL STEPS and exercise. Remember the steps it took for you to learn how to write your name – the dotted letter diagrams we followed? Learning to draw and paint is a similar process, incremental baby steps are required.
Many people tell me they can’t draw, I am a firm believer that we are all born creative, however, some of us get the chance (or make the chance) to pursue creative endeavours or maybe your creativity is pursued in a different way. I’m referring to my super creative engineering husband, among many, one of his skills is creating solutions for his clients.
More than talent, desire and perseverance are keys to learning and developing a skill in drawing. Few people do not have the ability to learn to draw, if you can sew or knit, play golf, write a letter, you can learn to draw.
More important skills are patience and observation along with key tools - time and focus.
Time to relax and enjoy the process of creating without the pressure of having to make something. As soon as the artist decides to create a masterpiece – today is the day – it’s all over. Too much pressure makes us focus on all the wrong emotions and decisions, performance anxiety (I’ve only got today to do this), we’re too focussed on the result instead of enjoying the moment and focussing on what the paint is doing on the paper.
Whether you want to be a professional artist or you just enjoy the process of creating, it’s important to exercise your creative muscle regularly and frequently – just like a body builder or marathon runner the more you practice the more you can flex your muscles.
Poetry in watercolour is made in the freedom of the here and now.
ciao bei pittori!!
Do you always plan out everything ie... colours for everything and where bikes, cones etc might go?
Yes I do plan everything out BUT as I'm a little haphazard (read Arty-Farty - aka rip sh*t and bust!) I'm also happy to let go and see where the "unplan" takes me. So sometimes my painting is not like my sketch (sometimes my sketches are not like the scene!!).
You know that I pretty much always map out my design in a thumbnail sketch first. This sketch is about studying the pattern of the light and the dark and working out a composition. It's not about detail. I'm working out how I can use them to move the viewers eye around the painting. this sketch also helps me to learn about the scene/subject, it helps me to discover areas that could become a problem, or elements that I can take advantage of eg interlocking and overlapping shapes.
I make a "shopping list" of elements in the scene that I may or may not want to add into my painting and choose the ones that I like or help me to tell my story.
Once I've drawn my map onto my watercolour paper, I sometimes find there are areas that could be utilised or need a little filling up, these ideas come from my shopping list.
with regard to palette selection, I'm often smitten with a particular palette for a year or two and then replace a pigment or two. I usually use the same foundation palette for my realism work, based on transparent primary pigments, just the three plus burnt sienna, the same three I recommend to beginners. These colours will mix into every colour you could possibly need - just as well if you're in lockdown and no art supply store!!
Watercolour is often viewed as if it occupies its own little vacuum.
I remember a well-known artist friend collecting his paintings after a show:
“I’m here to collect my paintings”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m here to collect my paintings”
“Oh you mean your watercolours”
As if watercolours are not paintings and are separate, not even a category – not art, nor paintings – urk!
However, oddly enough, painted with a brush (in most cases!).
It’s a common weird nonsensical bit of claptrap. Mamma mia!!
Sometimes it feels like watercolour painters are set up for this. A popular art show I used to enter had a “professional” category for Oils/Acrylics. Does this make me not a professional? For a while I entered the professional category just to state my case and annoy them, really it’s just ignorance (mine or theirs??). I was particularly miffed to discover that my well-known watercolour artist Uncle started that show in 1954 (or thereabouts)!! Instead of being hailed the Queen (lol), my bags packed and cast into the snow!!
My point is, no matter your medium (pastel, music, poetry, blogging, sculpture, watercolour or oils) art is art and all need the same kind of thought and emotive language – darkness brings the light, grey accentuates chromatic colour, dominance emphasises an accent, indications are mysterious.
All art forms follow a set of guidelines (rules to be broken). Visual art is no different, we follow design principles created to help novice (and not-so novice) artists use pictorial or visual language to tell a story via visual impact.
In particular, today, I’m talking about colour charging. My 2 ideas for you today are:
The watercolour painter has to be patient (I’ll just leave now!) and focussed and wait for the water-to-paint-to-brush-to-paper ratio to be just right. Mostly novice watercolour painters are taught to “let it dry” which is the biggest mistake ever. I say this because this damp time is the fun-zone of watercolour and you are missing out my friend! Boo!!
Partly the issue lies in our process and planning and partly our lack of brush miles and then sometimes our courage flies out the window. But this FUN-ZONE is where the magic happens, what you and I have to do is be present and pay attention to what we’re doing and what’s happening on the paper. This level of focus is where you’ll learn the poetry of watercolour – choose your focal point and play with it.
How fun would it be to paint a lemon with a dab of orange, a bigger dab of a cooler yellow and a master stoke of cool pink for a shadow?
ciao belli pitturi!!
My workshops on how to generate design ideas came about because a student said they were not ever able to get a “good” photograph of the scene.
I worked very hard on the design of “pauatahanui” and the ensuing series because it’s a popular scene to paint.
So how could I make mine different?
I got all excited and had to see these boat sheds for myself (aka ROAD TRIP!!).
It took 6 months to create a design concept I was happy with.
So the subject of this workshop became how to design a painting and not be reliant on good photos because good photos are rare and don't miraculously turn up when required! Somewhat akin to how to paint from a bad photo.
Another thought, it doesn't take courage to paint what you see - it does take courage to paint what you think and feel.
I often turn away from my reference, it was pointed out to me some years ago that I rarely “look” at my subject. Through my study and observation I begin a path of understanding. I take reference photos, I create thumbnail studies which lead me to my design idea - I want my work to be unique, I want the essence of the subject, I want it to be from me.
So, how to be less reliant on photos?
it's all about getting an idea.
one thing I must say to you is that, generating ideas is not easy, like everything it takes consistent and frequent effort.
My typical practice revolves around drawing/designing (en plein air or in my studio) a thumbnail and doodling some of the shapes I think I will want. What do I like or not like? Leave out, add in, bring something relevant in from another scene. This is where I get to know my subject and the relationships of the other elements to each other. I have sketched/painted many boat yard scenes so I feel confident about bringing ideas in from previous study.
And that's what this is about - study and observation. Even though I have no intention of creating a photographic realism painting, I need to understand shapes, light and dark, perspective, values etc to create a work based on simplified shapes.
what could i do that was different/better? Firstly, I have the power of watercolour's fluidity; secondly, a unique composition. So the idea became the jumble and chaos of boatsheds and the ensuing detritus.
I know many creatives and many of them never finish a work. The same work is done and re-done and done again because it’s never right. There’s always something out of place, a comma, an invisible brush mark, a chord that seems not right – not perfect = imperfect! We do it again and hope it will be better next time.
And so now, this work gets put aside in the hope (read dread) the next one will be better.
What people don’t realise is, there’s no such thing as mistakes. What happens is, we get a different result from what we expect, we don’t know what to do with it.
This is often the result with watercolour, we have a vision and an eye on our goal – but something happens or we return from a cup of tea to find our painting looks different from just 10 minutes ago.
We’ve become so results driven we’re forgotten to enjoy the process, play to our medium’s strengths and just have fun playing with the paint. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t attempt specific subjects, what I’m saying is have fun along the way. Explore your paint and ask yourself “What would happen if …?” or tell yourself “I’m just going to have a play with this and see what happens!” - my favourite way to start new work! It banishes fears and performance anxiety and sets up an easier happy attitude!!
happy painting dear friends!!
One of the reasons I love watercolour painting is the speed at which I can achieve a painting. If and when I'm clever, I can have a painting today! It took me a long time to get to this point - I've been painting watercolour close to 30 years - it's not an overnight process!!
A huge obstacle for watercolour newbies is allowing the watercolour to have it's way. There's a saying "before I paint, I'm in control, once I put that brush down the watercolour takes over". The secret is, until you get a really good feel for water balance in your brushes, paint and paper, you need to let go and stop trying to control the uncontrollable. Watercolour, as it should be painted, will be difficult for you.
Embrace "mistakes" and "accidents", runs and bleeds and allow the painting to speak to you and tell you what it wants.
Have another read of my webpage "About Me" and note the last sentence - "I love watching paint dry!"
Stop fiddling and controlling and start watching what the paint does and note that where the water goes the paint will follow. You'll start to notice the really cool effects and passages - watercolours will paint themselves if we let them and they'll certainly do it much better than we can!
When we're painting watercolour it's time to stop and smell the roses!
The scary secret is, you might not get the results you wanted or expected and you certainly might not know what to do next - that's the shock of it!! Use your artist's sense of composition, value structure and design to decide next steps - does it need more darks or lights? are the shapes correct? is it balanced and unified, etc etc.
Make a cuppa and watch the paint dry!!
ciao i miei belli amici!!
PaintBox Tips, secrets, random thoughts,
There is no ONE WAY to paint a watercolour - Amanda Brett
Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working - Pablo Picasso
There are no mistakes in watercolour, just some extra surprises!!