Anyone who has read my blog may have picked up that I’m don’t really paint much using watercolours. I paint in oils and acrylic and I’ve been using pastels recently, but satisfaction with watercolours has so far eluded me. I was thinking about this recently and it dates back to school. I was using oils and acrylics when I took my A levels and I only began using watercolours about two or three years ago. Which makes sense as to why I’ve found them a bit challenging.
I am very much drawn to other artists’ work in the medium, I love the quality of the light that is conveyed and the beautiful lightness of touch and impression of spontaneity. So having recently decided that I wanted to improve my work in this area and spurred on by a couple of book purchases (see Doodling) I’ve been spending all my painting time this week either reading or using watercolours, beginning with some doodling earlier in the week, and finishing up with a couple of small paintings.
The process has been very interesting. I’ve resisted a lot of planning in the past. I’m a “lets get in there and start painting” person. This does not work with watercolour. I’ve proved it several times. Two or three minutes in, one unthought through, brush stroke later and the paper is in the bin/ drying for scrap and I’m sitting feeling grumpy. So I’ve planned. I’ve done quick sketches, followed by tonal sketches in pencil. Then tonal sketches in watercolour. Then planned out the palette. And taken my time. Planned which colour to use and when. And had some pretty happy results. A good start and not feeling grumpy.
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.
I’m exhibiting at the Horsforth Walk of Art this year on the 4th and 5th of July. I like these type of open arts events, they attract a lot of people who like to paint, draw and craft themselves. I get to meet people who want to find out about the work and who are often interested in trying the techniques for themselves. So, I thought in the run up I’ll do a weekly post where I will share one of the techniques I use, a tip about how to make use of a material, something I find useful in my painting or possibly a resource that I’ve found interesting or inspiring.
If you want to be sure to receive each weekly post then make sure you sign up either to my blog, and if you have a technique or tip that you’d like to share then post a comment.