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!!
edited from my original post 070115
It’s really hard to create a painting about a subject I have no interest in, having said that, I can make myself want to paint a particular subject simply by working through a research process and getting to know and appreciate the subject.
Imagine what it would be like for me to be told Country & Western theme ... ?**$#@!!**^??
Guess what? You can get fired up about any subject too!!
While I was still working in the corporate world but dabbling in watercolour painting, I was thrilled that my tutor would supply the subject matter. It meant one less thing for me to worry about, all I had to do was turn up every week and she'd have an amazing array of cool stuff she had pulled together for us. Barbara was a tremendous creative facilitator.
Another upside to this was that I learned to accept what was in front me, whether I liked it or not, this was no time to be fussing and complaining, I had 3 hours of painting time in front me, better get to it quick!
In writing this post I realise too, part of my inspiration for a subject came from our group discussion about the subject and everyone's ideas. Some of my best painting experiences have been painting in a group.
The more research I do about a particular subject the more passionate and determined I become to paint it. I fall in love with the subject ... it could be something as simple (?) as a brick wall or the way the light falls on a glass and the shapes and colours it creates. The intricacies of a subject become fascinating, although I don’t paint a lot of detail (this must have been written a while back!), I go through a process of studying the detail and deciding what I will leave out, what to include and which details describe my message best for that piece of art.
Typically my research might include a small sketch or two on site as well as a bigger more formed sketch I call a plein air painting. When I’m in my studio, if I’m painting from my imagination, I create lots of doodles and lots of composition thumbnails. I’m reluctant to paint scenes from a photo preferring to paint en plein air, not always possible and although I’m wary, I’m very happy with a lot of them.
For me, there is a driving force to create and always has been. Among other creative endeavours, I’ve always drawn and painted. It seems stronger now than ever and I think this may be, in part, because I work as a professional artist creating and painting most days - total immersion is good!
My brain is more switched on to looking for subject matter and planning my next work – everywhere I see a painting waiting to be painted. The more I look for subjects the sooner they appear - the more I paint the more ideas I get.
To be truthful, for me, grey is the most frightening colour – I don’t wear grey, I don’t like looking at it, I don’t have it in my house and I HATE grey cloudy days! So when I was told recently that my “greys” were greatly admired I was quite floored, this started a renewed process of investigation, what greys do I create and how do I use them?
Firstly, good quality watercolours are made from natural minerals (pigments) and due to these natural qualities, react and bounce off each other, quite fun to watch and experiment with. Manufactured blacks and greys are mostly made from a kiln firing process therefore they contain soot - for large washes they can be lifeless and dull and often dry substantially lighter than expected.
Secondly, in watercolour, our staples are our complementaries (red vs green, purple vs yellow etc). For example, to neutralise red, I add a little green, a secondary colour containing blue and yellow. When I add green to red I have 3 primaries which means the greying process is started.
I paint with tube paints and carefully select transparent watercolours, mostly I use Winsor & Newton pigments and then I add opaque or earth pigments for accents.
My favourite palette includes winsor blue (red shade), permanent alizarin crimson and burnt sienna. Sometimes I swap the blue for winsor blue (green) or French ultramarine and alizarin for permanent rose or another transparent “pink” like permanent magenta. I choose this palette because each of these colours have good tinting strength, therefore this palette, with just enough water to mix, will make an exciting and fresh dark and, with diluting, will create fantastic luminous greys. I start by making a violet, for shadow areas a cool violet (ie more blue, less red) and depending on the palette of the day, I may add burnt sienna.
For silvery greys try cobalt blue and permanent alizarin for a gorgeous violet then add just a wee touch of raw sienna or try winsor green and permanent alizarin or rose. Cerulean blue or cobalt blue plus burnt sienna, for darker greys try french ultramarine or indigo with burnt sienna. As you can see the sky’s the limit but of course this all depends on the pigments in your palette and what you can do with them – a matter of experimentation.
To start with, I mix light value greys in my palette but I make sure I can still see little pockets of the ingredient colours; in other words, sloppy, inefficient colour mixing is best, partly because it ensures there is no accidental overmixing and further, it allows the poetry of watercolour to show. After washing in a light value Grey around whites, I mix a stronger grey with the same pigments but in different ratios so that, for example, I wash a warm grey over a cool grey. I then select one of my accent colours and charge it in and then spatter some of the other colours while it’s still damp.
For me watercolour is about poetry, creating beauty and light and life. As Delacroix said 'Colour is the fruit of life' and developing a repertoire of greys will only enhance your colour work.
why do we need to learn to mix greys?
Mixed greys are often fresher, they’re more exciting and luminous, especially if you choose transparent pigments with which to mix your colour.
Bought greys (blacks) tend to be warm shades and can be quite dull, further warm greys advance and may confuse your message.
Greys, in realism, are needed to highlight and let saturate colours attract attention. If a painting consists of all saturate colours, it may be difficult for the viewer to understand your message, further, it could be too much for viewers. Most paintings require some sort of quiet, neutral space, to rest the viewers eye.
Often your palette’s left over paint (aka palette gunge) will have created a beautiful grey all by itself, a little water and a bold, damp brush swish through your palette will give you a great “dirty tea” that will knock back any excess whites or elements that need a little pushing into the background.
A light value greenish grey will complement a bright red or pink beautifully, as will a light value orange-grey bring some magic next to a deep blue.
do I use blacks?
I enjoy painting monotone paintings in black and then I add a pop of opaque colour like cad red or yellow.
A simple, monotone black sketch is a great design tool in preparation for a larger work.
Sometimes I add a tiny bit of black (neutral tint) to push a dark even darker.
New Students are often are fearful of putting the brush to paper. Some people are able to articulate this fear and its foundations, mostly not.
Many students tell me of the harsh and cruel comments they received about their art when they were young. From teachers, parents and friends – some well-meaning, some not, some from overt jealousy.
It’s not easy to stop this “stuff”, other people’s “stuff”. It gets in our head and, let’s face it, sometimes we can’t stop it in it’s tracks even as adults. Children don’t always have the same awareness (sometimes they’re better at it than grown-ups!) that perhaps the comments come from an adult’s sad place. Their bad day still affects us, it still hurts, we don’t understand – that’s ok!
What I want you to know is, you don’t have to be affected by other people’s fears or opinions. Mostly they’re irrelevant. Your own opinion and pleasure is what matters. As you grow, you will develop your art - learn, love and live your art.
The best way to banish fear is to just do it – just paint, no expectations, just enjoy the process and have fun!
"I keep wanting to get photos of those sheds, but always seems to be wrong time of day, wrong tide or wrong weather for stopping. Or... we use the road on the other side of the estuary!"
This is what happens if you paint photo realism or you are too dependent on photos - you're probably sunk because you are waiting for ideas to happen.
Ideas don't just happen - artists, scientists, engineers, poets, musicians MAKE IDEAS HAPPEN.
We don't have time to wait.
The ugly truth? No matter how long you wait, you will never get your perceived "perfect photo"
the weather will be crap, the light will be wrong - whatever! This is really just another form of procrastination.
There's 2 solutions:
when you get your horrible photos home, pick out the ones with the stuff you need and start doodling and sketching on a big sheet of paper.
make lists. Sketching is an idea generator.
ciao cari pittori xx
I discovered this scene on a road-trip to Wellington. For a few minutes it had great light, then it was gone. but not only that I couldn't zoom my camera in enough, I'd been driving all day and hadn't found my accommodation yet. no where to sit and soak up the ambiance so a little walk around the bay and a few quick snaps. Photos were terrible but quite a bit of information once I zoomed in.
I've seen many paintings of this scene and thought - wow, how boring - everything straight and lined up - how dull. What can i do to make this more exciting and engaging? I spent quite a lot of time doodling and playing and getting my head in the game!
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!!