Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Few Thoughts on My Learning Watercolor Painting

I've been reading about watercolor painting and trying to teach myself.

Some of the things that good watercolor painters need to know are the same things that good photographers need to know. My prior autodidact learning about photography already has informed me of those things. It's good that a book starts at the very beginning and assumes a person knows nothing, not even about really looking and observing something. I'm just ahead of that curve.

When learning the in's and out's of photography (at which I am not a master by any means) I got to know the limits and challenges of working with the camera. Not only did I see things while out in the world that I wished I could catch in a photo but I also would note the challenges or why the photography medium would not work, or why my lens was not right, or other things. I am now learning the same thing goes for watercolor painting.

I was reading the books on watercolor painting and I'm having a difficult time with the fact that you must paint from the lightest color and then layer on top, darker colors. My mind works the opposite way. It has been a painful process for me to even see and think that way and I can tell that actually painting that will be hard.

For example yesterday I saw a scene of a wildflowers about a foot tall growing on a median strip in town. I saw a lot of black shadow then many blades of various shades of green going upward then topped by the blossoms in various shades of purple, pink, blue, and some scattered yellow and orange. I have no clue how such a scene would be painted in order to show that dark shadow so that it's not just a bland wash of green with dots of color on top.

I have been trying to evaluate scenes I see in real life with an eye toward if they are good material for watercolor painting or not. A master painter may be able to paint anything but as a beginner I am looking for scenes that have both good composition, certain kinds of light, colors that are in my paint palette and ones that can be done with techniques that I have already learned, not too-complex things that I don't yet know how to do.

I was not finding in watercolor painting books, how to paint certain clouds that I think are lovely that I have been photographing. One book I borrowed from the library was about painting the weather and it had watercolor and oil. I don't care to get into oil painting at this time. I have a hard enough time learning one thing, I'm busy with life already and don't have an excess of free time, I don't want to spend more money on new supplies, and my storage space and working area is limited in this (temporary) rental house.

What I realized though is that certain weather conditions are more suited to using different art mediums. I think it's just a fact that to achieve a certain look you should use oil instead of watercolor. Guess what I'm realizing? The types of things I want to paint will need oil painting!

In dabbling in watercolor I have found that I want to work with the paint more, to mess around in it. The quick strokes and fast decisions are not what my mind wants to do. When I move the paint around too much it ruins the look and it drowns out the ability to let the light shine through the paint which is the thing that makes watercolor beautiful!

My time for pursuing a hobby like painting is limited. I'm living in this tiny place and there is hardly anywhere I can lay a painting flat while it dries. I want to work on something deeply when I have time. I don't want to work to lay down one layer of paint then wait a day for it to dry then do one more layer. When I have one hour I want to work that entire hour and do what I can. I don't have the space or the materials to support me having a dozen paintings in process all at once.

The learning curve on the watercolor painting is challenging for me. I think I may look into taking a class. I think experienced teachers can show me things that are hard to teach through reading a book. While book authors do have wisdom to share they are not moving and demonstrating. The books also can't watch me paint and show me what I'm doing wrong (or right). Now that I have some good paint, good brushes, and good paper on hand I realize that what I need to develop is knowing how to translate what I see in real life onto the paper and knowing the limits of watercolor versus what I thought I wanted the paint to do, and then to know the techniques to create what I want.


Karen said...

This explains your attraction to the clouds lately!
Watercolor is a gorgeous medium!
Enjoy it!

Julia Hones said...

Interesting post. I've never been brave enough to try watercolors seriously. I used to work with chalk pastels and I LOVED it. I think you should try chalk pastel. They are easier to manage.

Charlotte Mason in the City said...

I still haven't tried watercolors, but I can relate to your comments about working from light to dark. I also had a problem with that when I started using color (my preferred medium is colored pencil). While I understood the instruction to work from light to dark, I couldn't SEE it and I couldn't manage it on paper. My mentor's advice was "keep trying" (advice I found annoying), but finally I did get it. Now when I see color, I can how it's built up from other colors underneath. Try staring at a color and see if you can "see underneath" it, and try starting on paper with a very light color and gradually build up. I think this practice might be what you're looking for.
By the way, I also had a BIG PROBLEM seeing light and dark! My mentor would tell me to add shadows but I couldn't see the shadows. It was as if I had shadow blindness, lol. But then one day, AHA! I saw the darkness and shadows. It's amazing what we don't see, but we can develop the skills. Keep trying!