Betts goes on to say how important it is to develop “the finest technique possible” but that this is not the ultimate goal, it’s a means to an end, a point of departure.
There’s a tremendous satisfaction in realism — the close looking, the details, the technical challenges — but for me there also needs to be poetry mixed with the paint — colour, mark making, hand of the artist — and it not stop at “like a photo” real.
I think the ultimate goal is a painting that shows the world filtered through a particular person’s eyes and mind, not one that could have been done by a subset of artists. How do we get distinctive? As always, practise, curiosity, and persistence.
One of the joys of having workshop participants who’re really enjoying using watercolours is that it motivates, inspires and pushes me with my own use of watercolour. Reading around it’s been interesting how some artists are adamant that washbacks or cauliflowers represent incompetent technique, while others embrace it as part of mark-making potential or repertoire.
I’m definitely in the latter category, and love wet-into-wet watercolour, pushing pigment with water, happy accident-ing and intentional puddling. While, like any technique or effect, it can be overdone, I love the effect. More importantly, I enjoy doing it.
Yesterday I came across this quote in “Creative Landscape Painting” by Edward Betts (page 145) and it rang so true. The freedom of painting wet-into-wet is a mindset, and that’s why it’s so hard for some people to move from controlled wet-onto-dry watercolour and meticulous pencil drawings into “going with the flow”. You have to change your mindset as well as technique.
There are joys to be found in colour just for colour. Not for creating a finished painting, but for the delights of trying, exploring, feeling, seeing paint colours.
While there’s good reason to use a limited set of colours and getting to know these well, it also becomes a comfort zone. How often do you think outside the (colour) box?
At the weekend as a friend and I were doodling with the colours in my big watercolour set (one I put together from all the tubes of watercolour paint I have) she described them as “very much my colours”. I was taken aback as I thought there are lots of colours in there that aren’t my usual. But then she went on to list the colours she regards as staples that were missing, including Naples yellow, viridian, not to mention the lack of any kind of red (only magentas), and I realised that the colours were indeed subsets of my usuals, that there weren’t so much unexpected colours but more variations on favourites.
So yesterday I sat down with my Daniel Smith watercolour dot chart* and tried with every single colour. Today I’m going to have another look at it and see where I might step further away from the box. Then I’m going to make a shopping list for July when I’m at Patchings Art Festival. Then I’m going to shorten the list.
Or to use the cliche: Not all who wander are lost.
Though it may feel like it at times.
Will you join my patrons who are helping me each month with $2 (or £2 via PayPal)? It works on the 1,000 steps principle, small contributions add together to help me keep the wolf from the door and the studio cats cozy. Thank you all.
Part of the reason it’s hard to answer the “how long did it take to paint” question is because of ‘thinking time’. When I’m thinking about a painting, about what I need to do or might do (or wish I hadn’t done!), but not standing brush in hand and paint on palette in front of it.
It came to mind today when I finished this painting which had been waiting more than five weeks for me to feel brave enough to tackle a few small changes and additions as well as add more glazes to finish the sky. My main hesitation point was my doubts about matching the blue in the stream, but in the end I was right with my first guess, cerulean.
For a bit I used the excuse of getting ready for my workshop at Higham Hall to not finish this painting, then the excuse of a bit of R&R after teaching the workshop, then I got sidetracked by an idea, and then today I suddenly felt up to it.
Being hot meant things dried quickly (acrylics at 21°C is quite different to it at 10°C!) and I had to just get on with it. I think I have finished it, besides varnishing, and choosing a title, and stringing, and photographing properly. But those can wait a bit still.
I was practising “clouds shapes” and mixing “cloud colours” for tomorrow’s art workshop when I took the photo below. Looking at it I registered how I tend to rest my little finger on the page if I’m using this watercolour brush in my right hand. Add that to the reasons, beyond mere dexterity, as to why I get different results with my left hand.
I was thinking about ways for getting white in clouds besides leaving the paper white, and have ended up with a contender in the “most useless how-to photo” competition. Top to bottom there’s masking fluid (blue so you can see where you’ve applied it), white oil pastel, and white gouache. Why did I take a photo? Well, I had to do something while it dried.
It looked at little more, urm, interesting after I’d added some watercolour. Though the gouache hadn’t quite all dried (not helped by being it cold and humid, or that’s my excuse for impatience and I’m sticking to it) so the cloud shadow colours mixed in with it. Looks more like a flying saucer. than a cloud. Back to the drawing, I mean painting, board.
If you’ve any cloud-painting tips — besides being more patient and waiting for paint to truly dry — do let me know!
This one is from Esther, who said: “I learned a lot during this month. First, though I have loved cats since I entered this world, I cannot draw one no matter what! Secondly, regardless of how careful I am, my coloured pencils smudge. I thought I could get around that by lightly brushing the surface. A major mistake, only tried with Insomnia. Thirdly, some ideas work, others don’t. And finally, having very shaky hands can turn elaborate into Imponderable. Oh, and pine cones are surprisingly hard to draw!”
Lots of inspiring things Esther! I think pine cones are surprisingly complex structures, especially open ones — the curved egg-like shape, the repeating but changing pattern, perspective on the pattern, plus colour — and take more time we’re generally willing to grant overselves.
Smudging … the paper might be aggravating it by being very smooth, not having a lot of ‘tooth’ for the colour to hold onto. You might try covering it with another sheet (taped so it doesn’t move). Or if you’re lefthanded working the days backwards, from right to left, from seven to one. I look forward to seeing your May results.
I’ve been working in my copy of my Word Prompts book, with the aim of getting pages filled in for a display copy at Patchings Art Festival in July. I seem to have made a face with my bacon and eggs in a frying pan…
“Abstract drawing has always been for me a particularly exciting adventure. First there is one’s mood; then the surface takes one’s mood in colour and texture; then a line or curve …
“then one is lost in a new world of a thousand possibilities because the next line in association with the first will have a compulsion about it which will carry one forward into completely unknown territory.”
If you’re adding paint to a minimal composition outline rather than a meticulous pencil drawing, you’re creating the possibility of following a compulsion into unknown territory. Even though you’re setting out in a particular direction, with a destination in mind, there are possibilites still to be discovered. Things you can see only through that artwork.
(Photos I took one visit of a Barbara Hepworth sculpture in Tate Britain.)