Appreciating Watercolor

Watercolor has a life of its own. When you apply paint to watercolor paper, it moves. You then add more paint or more water, and again the watercolor responds with a swirl. Painting with watercolor is a dance; it's a relationship between the paint and the artist.

When you paint watercolor on paper, you can make anything in the world happen. Figure 1-1 is one of the latest paintings I've made. To be fair, I probably should show you one of the first paintings I ever made, but I'll spare you the meager beginnings. It was probably a finger painting on the wall. But trust me, however bad you think you are starting out, I was probably worse. But I wanted to paint so badly that I kept at it. I have done watercolor as long as I can remember. I still struggle to make a great painting. But it's an enjoyable struggle.

Transparent watercolor is what I want to share with you. In my opinion, it's watercolor at its best. Thin, transparent layers of paint are applied to white cotton rag paper. The see-through layers allow light to penetrate the paint, bounce off the white of the paper, and reflect back through the paint to the viewer. The result is a watercolor painting that glows and sparkles.

Opaque watercolor is called gouache, pronounced gwahsh. Chinese white is added to watercolor to make the opaque (not see-through) gouache paint. Acrylic paint is also an opaque, water-soluble medium. All of these can be used together. The big difference is that watercolor and gouache can be rehy-drated and moved after they dry. Acrylic is like plastic and doesn't rehydrate. When it's dry, it stays in place on the palette or painting, and it can be painted over in layers. I'll save these mediums for another book.

What aspects attract an artist to watercolor painting? What myths make an artist fear watercolor? There are many old wives' tales and misinformation about the medium, but watercolor is

¡^ Permanent: Watercolor is a permanent medium. But because it's a work on paper, it may seem less substantial than a work on canvas. But good quality watercolor paper is made from 100 percent cotton rag content, which has been found intact in Egyptian tombs thousands of years old.

Watercolor also had a reputation for not being lightfast. And, though it's true that the old masters' watercolors are often stored in museum drawers between black sheets of archival paper so they're not exposed to light, the good news is that today's technology and chemistry ensures that paint pigments are more lightfast than ever. Today's watercolors will last a very long time.

watercolor paintings.

Figure 1-1:

One of my recent watercolor paintings.

Figure 1-1:

One of my recent

il Portable: Watercolor is a portable medium. Paper, paint, a brush, and some water are all you need to get to work. They fit easily into a bag, and you can take them wherever you want to paint. So whether you travel around the world or just to class, you can take your supplies with you.

I Correctable: Watercolor is a changeable medium. An artistic myth is that once watercolor is put down on paper it can't be removed or erased. Well, that just isn't true. You can manipulate the medium completely. You can erase. You can make additions and corrections in layers of paint on top of other paint. Chapter 3 talks about erasing.

I Immediate: Watercolor dries quickly — in a matter of minutes. Oil paint can take up to six months to dry completely. We live in a culture that appreciates immediacy. Watercolor fulfills that need.

I Fluid: Some folks are scared of watercolor because it's difficult to control. Watercolor moves. It ebbs and flows like water does. That very aspect is its charm. It reacts to you. It paints itself if you discover how to give it some room to work.

I Varied: Watercolor is technique intensive. There are lots of techniques. That's part of watercolor's charm too. (Chapters 3 and 4 explore techniques.)

Watercolor is full of surprises. It's a great experimental medium. Although I spend a lot of time painting realistic scenes, it can be great fun for abstract and experimental painting as well.

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