Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What I Learned From Watercolor

Benicia's Waterfront, Acrylic on birch panel, 16 x 24"

I don't know if many of you know that for years I did not have a proper studio. Because oil and acrylic demand a certain amount of space, I felt I had to paint in watercolor all of those years. Now, I made this choice joyfully as one of my most admired art instructors happens to be a superb watercolorist and he influenced me. As a result, through high school and for the next 15 years, I saw the world through the demands of the medium. So what did I transfer once I was in my forties and financially able to build my own studio? I asked myself that question and the results were amazingly rich.

I am impervious to the seductions of heavier media. Let me explain. Oil and acrylic are so sensuous, it's like playing with lotion, or butter. It's hard to get on with the program. But watercolor, specially when you are doing figurative work, forces you to draw, to make at least a primitive plan before you begin. You must also take care of all the midtones before you lay your darkest values. So you learn patience and delayed gratification in several ways.

I never stopped observing. Because I was continuously presented with practical problems (now how do I depict those palm fronds?), I got into the habit of observing with these in mind. I may have not had a studio, but I painted with my mind when I was not doing watercolor.

My colors stayed pure. I learned to make the maximum use of the white of the canvas. I learned to stay away from muddy colors and use transparencies. I used the same pigments you would find in acrylics, trying not to overwork the surfaces.
Now I know when to stop. There is a point in watercolor when you've done all you can. Because it is a demanding medium, you learn to tell. You learn this the hard way too, by ruining nice paintings in a manner that is often impossible to disguise or scrape.

I think this is all. Whithout considering myself a real watercolorist, there is much I owe to this medium once considered appropriate only for field scketches and preparatory studies.

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