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Beyond How to do Watercolor

Originally posted on December, 17, 2007

The logical question following how to paint watercolor is what to paint. Bearing both questions in mind at the beginning helps accelerate the learning curve. I’ve given these questions of the budding artist painter more than just a little reflection. Advice has been asked by many other the years. Subsequently, there were many days and hours of talking with them about becoming a painter as well as much painting together. In the end teaching and learning become indistinguishable and I fondly remember these encounters.

Hopefully, if you can bear my rambling, I can offer some thoughts that may help. Recently, on the post Painting the Universe, there was a painting titled “Man and Nature? (See also the older paintings). This was painted 10 years ago at a time I was still very much fixated on watercolor. I had reached several years earlier the understanding I must concentrate on learning the materials (pigments, papers, brushes, etc.) in order to become free from them. We all have to experience in our own terms this inner necessity to learn the materials. The artist, as it is said is a person in love with his tools.

Back to the painting: this painting and others of this period were for me pivotal. I was experiencing some freedom and was fully conscious what was taking place. I’m an intuitive, so a conscious understanding of the process does not come easily. To become lost in the process and to then, literally, to find yourself is what it is all about. Some months ago I wrote about learning to paint watercolor. The advice about materials was broadly given. There have been so many good books and magazines devoted to this that I did not see the point of adding to them. But if I can help encourage you to absorb them and move past this concern… then I’ve done something.

I will answer e-mails from anyone engaged in the work of doing this.

Keep your brushes wet,


Published in french as Dépasser le comment faire pour peindre à l’aquarelle


Global Change

Originally posted on May, 10, 2007

The change from painting in oil to painting in watercolor is a global change. It is difficult to imagine something bigger in those terms.

John Singer Sargent was right. Painting in watercolor is an emergency. Degas was probably thinking of watercolor when he likened a successful painting to the perpetration of a crime. It takes much cunning to do a good watercolor.

Oil, on the other hand, affords the freedom of contemplation. It is such a flexible and forgiving medium that comparatively it is like a breath of fresh air. You can go to a quieter place and plan your next move.

What do these mediums have in common? Besides the obvious fact that we are placing pigments on a flat surface, they take place in time. Time is the common element. Watercolor is the contemporary medium par excellence because it is fast and spontaneous. Oil is contemplative. It unfolds under a much longer period. It is kind of like the difference between a fine wine and “pepsi”.

Hermann Hesse said that the artist and the mystic where attempting to do the same thing: annihilate time, the artist through hyperactivity and the mystic through inactivity. This distinction, I think, is poorly understood today. We do not slow down enough to understand the contemplative side of things. Be that as it may.


Published in french as Changement global


Learning to paint watercolor

Originally posted on Mai, 3, 2007

"Winter Tree", watercolor, 19cm x 25cm,<br /> 100%cotton paper, 2005

The first rule of watercolor is that there are no rules. This may not be helpful but that is the way it is. It is part of what makes watercolour difficult. On the positive side, it is also what makes watercolour so much fun. (There are many people who once they begin painting in watercolour forsake all the other mediums.)

I hesitate to give specific instructions on technique. There are plenty of books written on this. It would be good to study everything you can get your hands on. It is only through much trial and error that you can determine the things you need to master. You need to prepare yourself for the fact that this could take a great deal of time. How long? The answer depends upon how involved you want to get. Keep it simple. Buy good materials and keep it simple. You do not need a large palette. A warm and cold version of the primary colors is sufficient. A green such as viridian, and a cadmium orange could prove useful. It is necessary to study the characteristics of pigments. It is only through doing this that you will begin to understand what fits your needs.

Some, if not most people, will think this advice not direct enough, or practical for the task at hand of learning to paint watercolors. This is dependant on the result you want. If you want to, in the shortest possible period of time, learn to do a “pretty” picture follow one of the formulas from “the paint by the numbers” school. I’m being a bit harsh. Please forgive me. I put it this way because I’m sick to death with mediocrity. If you are going to do something we owe it to ourselves to do it well! It is essential that we enjoy the process of learning. Painting our first painting is not that important.

Let me say that I have much respect for anyone engaged in the creative process.

Bon courage,
Published in french as Apprendre à peindre à l’aquarelle


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