...A hippity-hop down memory lane.
Both watercolours were produced last year, but it is so nice to review my progress and the difference in watercolour application. I believe, reviewing one's work is an essential part of improvement. Although one does not see blemishes, while in the process of creation; one can vividly see things to improve on, after leaving a painting to rest for a few weeks or even months. #sketa
Watercolour is such a tricky medium and unless you keep your hand in the pot with a good deal of regularity, it is easy to get stale. Keeping the right consistency and ration of paint to water is always an art in itself. This applies to whether you are a pure wash, wet on wet painter; a wet on dry or even dry on dry artist. All of it, requires such dedication to the art form. Renewing fluidity across the page is through trial and error, and hundreds of hours of just placing the brush on the page, which at times can be so daunting if you are a perfectionist and hate making mistakes. A blob can look like a disaster and put you off the watercolour paper for ages. However, trying to just bite the bullet and forget about creating a picture is often the best thing you can do. I like to tackle days like these as just a learning task, where I am trying to overcome problems on the paper or with the tools and paints I am using. I literally write - 'test' or 'task' at the top of the page with a clarifying phrase that tells me what I am trying to achieve with my painting for the day. i.e. 'master proportions' or 'control light'.
In this manner, I have set myself an achievable goal, that means if I make a mistake, it's okay and that it doesn't matter and then I don't get so upset if it all goes wrong. I also find it easier to zone into the painting because it has become more of a task of mastering problems than rendering a wonderful masterpiece. Then, if all goes well and I have learnt to control what I set out to do, I end up with a bonus - maybe a good-looking painting. I take notes and record how I achieved the results I have so that I can practice it all over again and improve on what I have done. Sometimes, I don't get back to the drawing board for a week or so and I have forgotten everything I have learnt, the weekend before. I do my best to be at the drawing board with a great deal of regularity, but realistically speaking, this is not always possible.
Anyhow, this week's trials and errors have been with the creation of twin paintings. Neither are yet finished, as you can see both have blank and line work still on the paper. Each has the same characters, but I wanted to bring them nearer the fence line as if they have stopped for a quick conversation with the little red robin who has been following them through the snow fields. My task was to use the paper as the snow and to minimise the use of both watercolour and ink for the setting. A hard task. If I put too much on the paper, it's going to look like your standard grasslands and if I use too little, the paintings are going to look unfinished. Hence, the reason I have paused work on both because I am scared I am going to over do them - yes, I know they are learning curves and I am trying not to let my perfectionist nature kick in. This stuff is so much easier said than done - trust me.
So many of you have asked over the last wee while as to what my studio now looks like; what sort of things I use and how I organise my bits and pieces. I can't say that it is set up exactly the way I would like - sort of a work in progress, I'm always finding new ways of placing things. None-the-less, I have put together a quick whizz through and hope it helps out your curiosity.
I might - at a later date, put together a series of these videos to show you my usual habits and workings. I think it is always nice to see how other artists organise things and what their days might look. I still have to share my days with teaching and business paper work, which at times seems never ending. Eventually, that will lessen and I will be able to put my heart and soul into my watercolour and writing. Well, that's the plan, anyhow.
So many afternoons, I can't wait to pick up my paint brush and just paint. However, given the busy-ness of the world and that teaching often consumes my hours - especially around this time of the year - this is not always possible. Sometimes, I just have to be satisfied with 20 minutes or so on the weekends. No, it is not enough, but if that is all there is - I'll take it.
It is unfortunate, but if one does not get regular access to practice - like the old saying goes - 'if you don't use it, you lose it.' I think this saying is very valid, when it comes to water colour. Continual practice is necessary, as is remembering which paper or brush worked the best under the conditions. Remembering which treatment you used, whether it was wet on wet, wet on dry, dry on dry, to ink before or after you paint or for that matter did you ink while the paint was wet. I think if one has regular practice, you don't have to think about all that because like driving a car it becomes second nature - part of your usual working.
I am forever sacrificing my painting time, while I am trying to earn a living. However, because I so enjoy doing what I do, I just keep plodding on, despite the fact I often take two steps back and one step forward.
This Christmas, I have challenged myself not to tackle doing any animals at all and have returned my hand to more traditional, botanical art-forms. Actually, it was in response to someone asking me, if I ever did botanical works.
Long ago, when I first started out painting - like many artists, one is destined to tackle plant forms only because one often finds the painting - less strenuous when one is trying to master a new medium.
For me, it is an opportunity to revisit 'control of the medium' - in this case, watercolour. If you have read my last post, you will realise I also wanted to tackle new techniques that I have not had an opportunity to do so. Christmas time not only provides time to relax, but allows one time to extend one's abilities. So in this piece, I have tested salting my baubles, to get a shimmery effect. It's not quite as I had experimented, but you will have to agree, the natural flow of pigment pooling to one area on the bauble, works well in this watercolour piece.
Over the last week, I have endeavoured to crank up my efforts of watercolour and focus on a 'Christmasy' theme. And although not a huge collection of works surfaced, I have learnt that it is not the amount of work one puts out, but indeed the quality of work that evolves.
I have learnt a great deal, stretching myself toward other areas of watercolour technique that I would not have explored had I not chosen to pursue a different theme of enquiry. Playing around with all sorts of paper again, using what was intended for a variety of uses (of which watercolour painting was not suggested), enabled me to test my ability to produce works, even though the conditions were not perfect. This meant, I was compelled to resolve whatever issue that arose.
Some of those issues were: soggy paper, pilling, weak colours, inability to layer paint and glaze, transparency of the final product, mounting issues and the list goes on. However, valuable lessons can be learned and discovery of which types of surfaces one prefers to paint on, can also be discovered. And believe it or not, I have now come to the conclusion - after all these years, I don't really like painting on the standard 300 gsm watercolour paper, presently available .
My reasons for this, I love having the freedom of creating a free, easy and very fluid style of sketch up with graphite or ink.
I hate my tools catching on the grain of the paper because of the coarse-textured surface. Ah, I know what you are thinking. How about trying smooth surfaces like hot press Arches, Fabriano or Waterford? Well there you have it - smooth surfaces are available to work on, but both the pencil and ink nib do not easily glide easily across the surface; there is still a great deal of tension involved. They're nothing like sketch paper.
So, I compromised. I sacrificed the ability to apply huge layers of watercolour, for the ability to bring back life to my drawings. I went back to the basic 80~100 gsm copy paper. Yes, copy paper. I grew up using much the same thing. Having three other siblings in our family, meant we weren't always blessed with spare cash to buy up all sorts of paper, whenever I needed it. So, I got used to testing out a picture on copy paper or whatever paper Dad had lying around in the paper recycle basket. Using this sort of paper, I really needed to lay-down watercolour quickly, because if I didn't the paper would get all soggy and the surface would be a mess.
Anyhow, this week I got so frustrated I actually went though my entire drawer of art paper, just to see if I had any old paper - so I could 'find my hand, again'. If you're an artist you will understand what I mean. You'll also be asking, who keeps paper for that length of time. Me. Over my years, I have learnt to savour each sheet of paper, because it was always hard to come by, when I was a kid. Plus, I'm a bit of a tree-huger and I could never waste a tree's precious gifts, knowing they take so long to grow.
Back to my point, surprisingly I found in the back of my drawer, a sketchpad of 'Bockingford' paper. Can I remember from where it came or when - Nope. Yet, this lovely paper has delighted me all week and I am now on a major search for this exact paper. I expect it won't be as yellow as mine and will have improved over the years, but I hope not. I'm keen to see what I can find.
I'm also keen to know, what watercolour paper you use? Any pet hates?
I spent a weekend recently framing up a few of my favourite paintings that I have created over the past few years - yes, partially because I can’t bear to part with them and also because they have been hugely important in my road to progress and self discovery.
Milestones rarely surface to treasure - they are often fleeting moments in history that are for all purposes intangible thereafter. When one is lucky enough to savor ones progress, take the opportunity.
It will help one to remember the struggles; how far and from where one has come; it can be a marker to regather ones energies, to relay the stepping stones to something even greater.