Thoughts On Watercolor Painting
An Ongoing Tutorial
Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do. (Edgar Degas)
As an advanced student, you have probably figured out what to order when you open up an art supply catalog. Are you using more than 12 colors? I suggest, that you try to think that number down. There is a charm working with a limited palette.
Getting the exact right color has never been very important to me. Perhaps it's because of Frank Webb. he once told me: "As long as the values are right the colors don't matter". Skip Lawrence said "Frank's wrong". I think Frank was right. I still adore Skip.
You have probably settled on a pair of watercolor papers. One for sketching and the other for serious painting. My sketching choice is Monval. It's not very tough, but oh so erasable.
Do you size your paper to fit standard frames? A 16 x 20 frame takes a 16 x 20 mat, which has an 11 x 14 hole in it. (All in inches; sorry rest of the world, our bad). That works out to a perfect fit for a quarter sheet paper. Okay, almost a perfect fit. 8x10 mats have a 5x7 opening (1/16 sheet). These are off the shelf sizes in any frame store. It's a great idea two size the painting to fit a standard mat in a standard frame. That saves a ton of dough unless you are like this man. "I paint because I love to cut mats". (Arthur Alexander)
I hope you have figured out a size to paint. Size has a tremendous influence on style. Consider big, (full sheet), or even really big. (you can buy rolls of cold pressed, 44 in wide). That's the kind of wide I dream about.
Speaking of size. I think of a big painting as if it were a small one painted big. It just takes bigger brushes on bigger paper. You get a lot of "POW" appeal from much larger formats. Small passages turn into large washes. Nothing says watercolor like large washes of sedimentary pigments. In graphic art, little if anything is as beautiful as big juicy sedimentary washes.
Big has another advantage. It's the only way I've ever found to get five figures for a painting.
The golden mean.
The Greeks had it nailed down to great precision. They were able to divide any geometric shape using straightedge and compass into two parts. The ratio of those two parts produced the absolutely most beautiful relationship possible (According to them). I'm perfectly content using approximately one-third two-thirds. One-third two-thirds of what?
Line - shape - value - color - texture.
Those are the 5 (and the only 5) elements of composition. We want dominance of each of those five. We want one shape to dominate the rest. We want one line type (straight or curved), 1 value (light, dark or mid value), one color and one texture to dominate. Nothing wishy-washy about our compositions. Is that all there is to composition? No, but it's a great start. It's a subject that's covered in the tutorial, "The Three Bears".
"Value does the work; color gets the glory." (Richard McKinley)
Oh my, color sure is where to find the glory. It takes three big video lessons to tell the color story. Really four lessons if you count the "shadows in the landscape" lesson.
The best book on composition I ever read said that there are no good books on composition, itself included. It's an enormous subject which probably never ends. We will keep plodding.
"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep." (Aeschylus)