I was in Sheffield this week and found a second hand book shop on Sharrow Vale Road. I bought three lovely art book bargains, one on drawing for beginners that I thought might have some useful exercises for my upcoming workshops, one on painting outside as, although I sketch outside, I tend to work mainly in my studio, and one on watercolours.
There are some very talented watercolourists out there whose work I love, spontaneous, unusual and fresh work. I think because I came late to watercolours it has been, so far, the medium I find the most challenging. The work so often ends up muddy, or overworked. I aim for spontaneity and brightness and am often dissatisfied with the results.
So, when my bargain book, Fresh Watercolours by Ray Campbell Smith suggested doodling as a way to play with the effects of watercolour I decided to experiment.
The learning has been very interesting and I have discovered quite a few things:
I have been adapting (doing as told without evaluating or thinking about my own ideas) to an artist whose workshop I attended quite a while ago who said that round brushes are “the best to use.” In my other work I mostly use flats, I like the definite marks that result and they are flexible enough to make quite a range of different marks too. So a change of brush to test this out for while.
Because I work mainly with oils and acrylics I tend to work quite quickly and I think I have a habit of getting lost in the work and not standing back often enough to evaluate what I am doing. This does not work well with watercolour when something I am working on can go from fresh to muddy in a couple of brush strokes. I need to slow down and pause.
Planning in advance. I do sketch out my ideas before painting and test out colours using thumbnails. However I have to own that for most of my acrylic and oils I mostly have a broad idea of where I am heading at best and the rest evolves as I am painting. I think this can be a problem with watercolour as an unplanned colour or brush mark cannot be changed. So, I need to spend more time planning and working through ideas. I do find this quite a challenge as often want to get in there and get painting and it sometimes feels like I might lose the spontaneity by too much planning in advance. Although maybe that is the challenge – to find a balance between planning and spontaneity.
Finally less is definitely more. Simpler palettes, simple compositions seem to work most effectively with watercolour. A doorway rather than a complex street scene, a tree rather than a whole wood etc etc.
To all those dedicated watercolourists out there, what do you think? What have been your greatest challenges? I’d love to hear from you.