Lessons In Watercolor

I think most artists familiar with the mediums of watercolor and oil paints would argue the two couldn’t possibly be more different from one another. On many levels, it certainly would be easy to agree with this point of view. Chemically speaking, they contrast by their drying properties: watercolor dries quickly through evaporation of its water-soluble binders; oil takes at least 24 hours (with the help of drying agents) to, at least, be dry enough to the touch; they take up to eight months to “dry” entirely through the process of oxidation.

Watercolor is opaque, essentially a stain that works in a very fluid, spontaneous manner on paper. In acquiring skills as a watercolorist, a painter must learn to adapt to the unpredictable nature of the medium, as precision can be very challenging; controlled chaos of sorts. Oil, on the contrary, is viscous with various degrees of opacity and transparency. The final results of an oil painting are usually more calculable for artists. Even the brushes with which to apply the paints are distinct; watercolor brushes are shorter, generally with softer bristles whereas oil brushes have longer shafts often with firm bristles.

Though the differences between the two are obvious, I believe for an artist interested in learning about color, watercolor is a great place to begin. In spite of their differences, I find their color properties are very similar, particularly when it comes to glazing. The faster drying time of watercolor makes it ideal for quick studies to iron out form, composition and color scheme. In the past, I employed the medium for color sketches of an oil painting, but I am now beginning to see greater possibilities as a medium of its own merit. Furthermore, the lessons learned from it can easily translate to oil. I am excited to return to oil painting next week with this newfound knowledge, when I move back into my permanent studio I also believe the break (albeit a forced one) has done much to restore my appreciation for oil paints and I look forward to returning with a new perspective and great enthusiasm.