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Technique of watercolor painting is intended for a wide variety of painters from absolute beginners to more advanced painters. Although the texts are specifically for watercolorists many of the matters discussed are of interest also to both painters in oil and other mediums.
This series of articles is about Technique.
Technique is the way a task is performed. It includes dexterity of hand and brain to successfully work tools and materials to reach the objective desired in the finished work. Brain is controlled by Mind the creative aspect of intelligence.
An Artist is a painter who has developed a high level of technique. An Artist therefore is a good painter by definition. A good painter is one who has good technique. A painter who has a poor technique is a painter but not an Artist. An Artist is one whose work is Art. Art is not a differentiation between trades such as between plumbing and masonry. An Artist is a Master painter and a master of technique.
Which would you rather trust - an airline pilot who has poor control and understanding of the way a plane flies or one who has studied and been shown by trained trusted and experienced pilots who know how to do the job properly.
Many painters dismiss technique believing striving for this undermines their creativity. Creativity cannot be undermined. Creativity is more powerful than any lack of it. The search for higher levels of technique is an essential process needed before contact with full artistic expression can be attained.
Watercolor painting is a delightful medium to work. It helps the individual to open the eyes and see the subtlety and power of the natural and our so-called manmade world. It is suitable for all ages and classes of persons. At its best its ablest proponents can stand comparison next to the greats in any other medium. This does not mean the best painters in oils are the best in watercolors and vice versa. The skill required for watercolor painting stands on its own and can panic the most able of oil painters.
When a watercolor painter applies a wash to the ground [paper] the water energizes the pigment into having a life of its own. To an extent when the pigment moves it also often seems in addition to have a will of its own. An oil painter dabs some pigment on a canvas ground and the pigment just stays there dumb as if it has no intelligence. The oil painter has to impart energy into the work for success while the watercolorist to some degree allows energy to emerge from some mysterious place within the painting.
Watercolors are suitable for most subjects. They are also suitable for most persons at any age. Yet the medium does have its own set of unique restrictions.
For example to be able to control a wash the painter normally has to be within arms length of it to maintain this control. The oil painter can step back twenty feet to judge its effect and this will not make the slightest difference to the position of the paint. This is not so with watercolor for two reasons. One the painting must be vertical to judge it from a distance and by the time this is viewed from almost any distance most of the painting will be on the floor.
The other drawback is the maximum size of the ground. Painters in oils seem to have no practical limitation as far as area of canvass is concerned. Graffiti is testament to this. I know of no watercolorist graffiti culture. Rolls of watercolor paper can be bought but I think only for suppliers to cut their own sizes for retailing or reselling painters' blocks.
One subject loved by watercolorists is the landscape. There are many aspects to this. The four elements of antiquity are Earth Air Water and Fire. There is nothing about oil here therefore oil is evidently in some other sub-category. The actual natural landscape contains three of these elements and can be proved to be so every day of the week by simply looking out of the window. The watercolorist uses water and without it watercolor painting would not exist. This gives the watercolor painter a unique bond with the natural landscape and the water it contains in land sea and air in all its forms such as ice water vapor and steam.
Watercolorists are also preeminent in the painting of natural history subjects. This is because the medium is more easily capable of precise work. Early watercolorists perhaps concentrated on flowers and foliage. This suited a drier use of the pigments and made the medium suitable also for those who were not so creative but were patient and content to paint as an extension to their interest in freehand drawing.
Many painters from these beginnings became creative painters. They included middle and upper class women well educated in writing singing and needlecraft. It was their social class who were largely involved in the expanding sciences. Graphic images were needed to spread scientific ideas to the wider public for its support. This entailed printing from engraved plates copied from drawings and paintings to satisfy the wider demand for illustrated books of all kinds both before and after the invention of photography.
Only the very best watercolorists are able to paint portraits. This is a nightmare area for most watercolorists. There seems to be two types of watercolorist portrait painter. One who paints very dry and produces precise images whose subjects are easily recognizable.
The other is the free impressionistic portrait that looks as if it has been completed in a couple of minutes. Often these are bleary looking subjects apparently in the advanced stages of decomposition. A painter is either a natural for portrait painting or best to leave it alone. I leave it alone!
Architectural painting is also a natural subject for watercolorists. The subjects lend themselves to spontaneous technique if the painter understands the significance of architectural details. Also the long slow painstaking rendering of measured work is very satisfying. Architectural perspectives are well know for their dramatic effect and use for promoting designs in competitions.
Modern impressionistic painting is a natural watercolor outlet for the watercolorist. In spite of what many think this type of painting is very structured. Like a sentence a painting is an idea but conveyed in paint. An idea that has no structure is not an idea. Most impressionistic paintings are simply moods a sense of being. A sense of being is simply the brain wafting around using energy to no purpose. A mood is without consciousness.
Art is the expression of heightened consciousness.
Some painters think or feel all they need to do is to relax in an artistic pose and the result will be a work of Art. This may in rare cases be so but in the majority what will be expressed will be only a distortion caused by illusion. It is in fact self-delusion expressing an illusion.
In a gallery show a viewer may ask you if you have anything in purple because of some wallpaper problem they have in one of the bedrooms at home. This poses a problem because the temptation is to go off in a hurry and paint one. Sympathize with but ignore.
Then again when you have completed a painting you think is the best you have ever done a stranger perhaps might tell you he sees a white stallion in your painting rearing up into the clouds and wants to know what your precise thoughts of this horse actually were at the time. The truth is you have no idea what he is talking about. It is surprising how simple it is to construct some sort of metaphysics to explain this horse.
On one occasion I was sitting in my studio gazing idly at the wall when from a very acute angle one of my paintings of trees in a wood came into sharp focus. What I saw instead of trees occupying most of the area within the mount was a magnificent beautiful nude sixteen-year-old girl with pure pink-white skin sitting laid back in the arms of a most revolting looking equally nude but hairy leering devil. So be careful.
Pictures seem to be a record of all our thoughts at their time of painting. Perhaps these images are not what we believe to be hidden away deep in the unconscious part of us but they may well lurk there. Let us always be careful what we think because what we think as well as what we have thought in the past is part of what our paintings and we ourselves are today.
Technique takes time to develop. The search for a true technique will lead us along many blind alleys and a lot of watercolor has to flow under the bridge before we even get near to where we think we wish to be.
This is why the emphasis here is on Technique and part of this technique is drawing - the basis of all painting. Painting is drawing with paint.
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