Category Archives: Watercolour

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Watercolour and transparency

the watercolour conscience

For whatever reason, watercolour seems to attract more than its fair share of purist ideas and rules. We are told: ‘always use a fully-loaded brush’; ‘don’t use black’; ‘don’t use white’; ‘don’t use resists’; ‘don’t use opaque colour’; ‘don’t use more than one/two washes’; ‘use only the most transparent pigments’; and so on. While  there may be merit in a lot of this advice, when it’s presented as ‘never’ or ‘always’ statements, it can become something of a straitjacket for the beginner if he takes it too literally. It leads to a sort of watercolour conscience where we experience feelings of guilt if we fail to live up to the purist dogma – feelings which even someone of the stature of Rowland Hilder admitted to experiencing. It was only after studying the watercolours of Turner that Hilder felt comfortable with his ‘impure’ technique and realised that using body colour and Indian ink was not a violation of the medium. The idea that there is a right and a wrong way to paint in watercolour tends to be reinforced by the instructional style of some of its teachers: people like Edgar Whitney and Edward Wesson, both of whom were forceful communicators with strong opinions on how watercolour should be handled. Their facility with the medium could be both inspiring and daunting at the same time to the beginner.

To illustrate the problem, I’d like to look at one quality of watercolour – perhaps its defining quality – which has purist associations: transparency. Continue reading Watercolour and transparency

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The watercolour technique of Liu Yi

It’s not often that I add a new artist to my list of favourites – especially a watercolour artist. But on seeing the work of Chinese artist Liu Yi a few years ago, I felt he had to be included somewhere near the top of that list. His paintings display an exceptional control of the watercolour medium without sacrificing any of its freshness and spontaneity.

Liu Yi was born in Shanghai in 1958. I first came across his watercolour paintings in an article entitled ‘Destiny With Water’ in International Artist magazine (Issue 50, Aug-Sep 2006). The text of that article, in which he describes his watercolour technique, is available on this site. The paintings, a series of watercolours of ballerinas, can be seen on Liu Yi’s own website.

Continue reading The watercolour technique of Liu Yi

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Photoshop for painters: fixing your failures

Being a self-taught artist is something of a two-edged sword. If you make a success of it –  find fame, perhaps, or earn a living from it – then you can wear the label as a badge of honour. If, on the other hand, you do as most of us do and make slow and stuttering progress towards something approaching mediocrity then being self-taught is probably best not mentioned – at least, not to the artistically educated. After all, self-taught at best equates to badly-taught and at worst to not taught at all.

Teaching yourself to paint is probably an ill-advised and certainly an inefficient undertaking. Without a tutor to guide you through a structured learning plan, to assess your work and to explain your failures, progress will inevitably be slow and haphazard. You can look forward to periods of drought and discouragement when ideas fail to materialise and your best efforts produce only disappointment. And if you are trying to teach yourself how to paint in watercolour, it can be even worse. Why?

Continue reading Photoshop for painters: fixing your failures

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The watercolour technique of Sir William Russell Flint

One of the best ways to improve your understanding of the painting process is to follow the example of the great masters and copy. If you are trying to improve your watercolour technique, copying can be particularly profitable: because watercolour is a transparent medium, it is often possible to reconstruct the artist’s painting process from preliminary drawing right through to final washes. Copying the work of a favourite artist can be both instructive and enjoyable as well as an excellent way to assess your strengths and weaknesses technically. And yet, despite its potential benefits, copying isn’t a widespread method of study among amateur artists.

So what are the benefits of copying? Because copying avoids the complication of composing a painting, it allows the copier to evaluate his ability to handle the painting medium itself without the distraction of composition.  Continue reading The watercolour technique of Sir William Russell Flint

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An alternative approach to watercolour technique

watercolour technique: the traditional way

The cornerstone of traditional watercolour technique is learning how to apply washes – the flat wash, the graded wash and the variegated wash. Wash technique stresses the importance of using a fully-loaded brush to create a bead of colour which moves down the paper with each stroke. At the end of the process, surplus water is picked up with a damp or ‘thirsty’ brush. The aim is to produce a wash without any banding or unevenness.

Using washes, the beginner is advised to work in the following ways:

  • from general to specific (top-down);
  • from light to dark;
  • from background to foreground.

A typical ‘how to’ book will include demonstrations of how to paint simple landscapes/seascapes to reinforce the merits of the method. The idea, of course, is to encourage the beginner to believe that with these tools he can make instant ‘art’.

But the feeling of progress doesn’t last – or at least it didn’t for me. Continue reading An alternative approach to watercolour technique

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Watercolour for the beginner: the right choice?

Watercolour for the beginner seems to have a powerful attraction. I used to be a member of a local art group. We held regular exhibitions and although a typical exhibition would include a few pastels and an occasional oil or acrylic, the overwhelming majority of paintings would be watercolours. Mine included.

What is it that draws the amateur painter to watercolour? Continue reading Watercolour for the beginner: the right choice?