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.

The Thrill Was Gone

I've been working from my temporary digs now for nearly two months. The restoration of my studio is nearing completion and I should be returning there around the first of March. Though I am thankful to have a space to work, I feel like I cannot tailor it to truly accommodate my work and thus have approached my painting rather half-heartedly. I recently realized my lackadaisical efforts were not only affecting my output, but the whole process of creating art had become a real drag- I wasn’t excited at all about my work. When this happens, the languor becomes evident in the work and the quality suffers. I knew I needed do something to bring the joy back into my art.

Nearly two weeks ago, I was putting together a proposal for a very ambitious project. I was motivated more than ever to make the best possible impression I could for it, as I felt I had a very good idea and didn’t want to squander an opportunity with a subpar presentation. I took some time to consider the best approach to render it conceptually, in order to strike a good impression on the review committee. In the past, I had done this through watercolors, but my presentation was rather informal and hurried. Though I believed watercolor would still provide the best medium for my delivery, I needed to do something other than a cartoon on passable watercolor-block paper. After some research and my own exploration at the art store, I arrived at the studio with several 300 lb. hard-pressed watercolor sheets- each measuring the standard 30” x 22” size. The superior quality and larger scale of these materials alone sent surges of excitement through my long-dormant veins.

By simply finding a different medium, taking the time to slow up and enjoy the process, I was able to create the best presentation I have ever conceived. I also was able to bring a new perspective and some long-absent excitement back into painting- particularly watercolor. Now, I am working on a new project that requires me to work in watercolor as well, so I am continuing with that medium. I believe when I return to my studio in March, this experience will bode well for my return back into oil painting.