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Reviving an old dream

The watercolor palette and brushes, a gift from a friend

In my late teens and early twenties I was enamored with the idea of becoming an artist and was actively pursuing that dream. But then “life happened”, I got married, and the priorities changed.

Fast forward and forty years later I find myself spending winter in Florida, away from my shop and my tools, and with lots of time on my hands. In this context, the old dream comes to me afresh, especially after a good friend in Ohio gave me some watercolors, a few brushes and watercolor paper.

Oftentimes, while back home in Sibiu, Romania, I thought that I would like to do some plein air painting, the city being replete with beautiful 18th and 19th century buildings with the pervading Saxon influence. And then there are the surrounding villages, with their own architectural flavor and a rich heritage often overlooked by local artists.

So we’re in Florida, it’s mid-February and coming from frosty Ohio, we are amazed at the splendidly rich landscape teeming with wildlife; I am especially drawn to the beautiful birds I encounter – the egrets, herons, pelicans and cormorants, and a dozen or so smaller feathered friends present at every turn. I’m certainly not lacking in subject matter, but as soon as I wanted to get started, I discovered two things: watercolors are different than the oil colors with which I was familiar, and the catchword would be technique. I will address that a little later.

Another challenge: if landscape and buildings are stationary, and easy enough to sketch and paint in plein air, birds are in constant motion and require an alternate approach. Luckily, I have a camera with a half-decent zoom lens that allows me to get fairly close to the birds and take snapshots, immortalizing them in various postures. Later, I go back to the photos and work from them as I would from the real thing, with the benefit of a still image. As a rule, I start out with a light pencil sketch, mostly to outline the figure and map out the areas of color and those that are to remain white. Watercolors being transparent, one uses the white of the paper to achieve the lighter colored shades as well as the all white areas.

Since this blog post is not so much intended as a tutorial, but more as a prompting and a motivator for someone to pick up a brush and do some watercolor painting, I won’t do an in-depth description of the various techniques (also, because I am myself a novice at it). There are plenty of books and tutorials on the subject and then, there is the joy of experimenting and discovery!

There are two basic approaches to watercolor, the “wet-on-wet” and the “dry brush” techniques, and a combination of everything in between. I should also mention liquid masking fluid, a medium that is applied on the paper as a resist, which prevents color from sticking and is later removed. As far as tools, I have two styles of brushes, flats and rounds. The flats are used for painting larger areas, and the rounds, mostly in small sizes, for detailed work. I also use a pointed calligraphy nib for fine lines and a natural sponge for applying water to large areas when attempting wet-on-wet painting. It is also used to “wash” the entire surface of the paper prior to painting, the purpose of it being to wash away the sizing used in the manufacture of the paper, which prevents it from readily taking the pigment.

The following pictures show a little bit of my approach to watercolor painting…

The heron is penciled in. I don't normally use such bold lines, but I did this time so that they show up in the photograph

The large washes are in, ready for the detail work

The finished piece

OK, now go paint!

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Yum yum!

תגובה אחת

08 במרץ 2023

I like the progression from drawing to finished piece. Also imagine that there would be some drying time between steps?

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