Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Taking Risks with Sketching Nature in Watercolour in Wales

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous.”   
~ Aristotle

On my recent trip to Wales I found myself in the Elan Valley gazing at a beautiful sight that I wanted to capture in watercolour in my travel journal.  

The goal with this sketch was to achieve freedom, looseness and expression using watercolour, water brushes and ordinary antiqued notebook paper.  I do not use my cheap water brushes very often so I was not expecting too much from this painting session. 

Fifteen minutes later I surprised myself.  The pigment and water flowed freely in the right places.  The page was flooded to achieve this level of fluidity and movement and the paper coped really well considering the huge puddles of water.  The strong wind helped to push the pigment along further.  The whole session was quite exhilarating and I was quite thrilled with the effects and the painting session.  The thrill was knowing how risky the process was under these conditions.  Risk taking is definitely part of the excitement with watercolour. 

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On this holiday I was studying groups of trees and the interesting shapes they create in numbers.  This trip I stuffed my travel  journal with all sorts of different papers to explore how they behaved. 

Interestingly I watched a programme about Auguste Rodin, the sculptor, the other week and his watercolour sketching habits.  Once on a trip he ran out of paper and went to the nearest butcher to ask for the wrapping paper they used.  If he could use thin paper and still produce expressively wonderful sketches, then who am I to quibble with him about what paper he should have used because I read it once in a watercolour teaching book.  Of course when I am guiding my learners I advise them to use nothing lighter than 300 gsm (140 lb) watercolour paper. When we eventually know what we are doing with watercolour, we can then use what we like to fit the purpose. 

Each different paper type brings with it different characteristics and risks.  The sketch above is a practice piece I did back at the holiday cottage on 80 gsm inkjet printer paper.  I was quite surprised what I achieved with it. 

This is the second study of the same trees on ordinary antiqued notebook paper.  Both papers have different absorption levels so create different effects.  Both painted with my Escoda 8 sable brush and the same Windsor and Newton artist quality pigments.  Both are fine as sketches in my travel journal.   

Who knows, maybe these were the types of explorations that Rodin was comparing when he did his sketches on unconventional papers too.  Part of the excitement of watercolour, or any medium for that matter, is watching how they behave on different surfaces.  

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Sharing the Joys and Knowledge of Expressive Watercolour

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”  ~ Margaret Fuller

Perhaps the biggest joy for me recently has been sharing my watercolour knowledge with someone who thought she would never be able to draw or paint.  For 41 years my friend has been telling me she cannot draw or paint.  For 41 years I have been gently telling her she could if she wanted to.  Last week with a bit more encouragement I convinced her to just relax and have some fun with my watercolours with no pressure. She was finally open and ready to the idea of her being able to draw and paint with a little bit of guidance.

I was really chuffed that she made a fabulous start and most importantly that she really enjoyed the experience.  I was delighted that we ended our first session at the local art shop to buy her a set of her own watercolours, brushes and paper.  Already we have had another full day session studying technique and lots of colour theory.  She has been practising on her own too and is really excited about continuing to play with colour.  All that was missing for her was a little bit of knowledge in how to start this wondrous journey of self-discovery and playing with colour.  

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As her guider, I am very conscious of not wanting to dampen down her natural creative instincts.  Even at such an early stage with artistic development, individuality is present and needs to be nurtured and not suppressed.  For this reason, I am taking the approach to work with her strengths and weakness as they occur.  I allow her to make independent decisions about subject, composition, colour and lots more from the start. In effect she is in the driving seat of how our sessions develop.  I am there just to guide with technique and theory.   

Of course these are one-to-one sessions which can easily be tailored to suit her needs and abilities.  My aim from the start is to develop independence with watercolour as quickly as possible and not to develop a copy of me as a painter.   For this reason I have chosen not to use learning tools like step by steps.  We will be working from life as much as possible so she will develop the confidence to be herself as a creative from very early on.    

For me it is quite an exciting challenge to see how far we get and also to see which direction we are going to go in.  Nothing is mapped out and we are just going with the flow.  How many times have I said that before on this blog?  “Just going with the flow.”  As a painter she is going to be very different to me because her skills and tastes are totally different to mine. I want to encourage that difference and not smother it from existence with my own ideas and abilities with watercolour.  It will be interesting for me to see how she views the world in artistic terms and how she will eventually express those on paper with her own watercolours.

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No doubt I will show my version of some of what we do together in future if I think it is interesting enough.  For now I am going to wish everyone looking in a lovely summer.  I have a few projects planned for myself that are not art dedicated so I will be taking a break from blogging for a little while.