Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rain Clouds over San Francisco Hill

Rain Clouds over Hill
5" x 7"
Winsor & Newton Watercolour Marker, Ivory Black on
W&N Bockingford 140lb Not surface watercolour paper

I already reviewed the paper on Rob's Art Supply Reviews blog. But I had to post this here as well.

Some paintings don't get planned. This wasn't intended to be a good painting. I was on the Paratransit van going to my twice a month clinic visit and at the top of a very tall hill, saw dark rain clouds stop just short of a cluster of trees on top of a far hill which had no houses or anything on it. That took my breath away.

I scrambled to get a photo but the camera showed only white sky, the clouds I wanted the photo for were invisible. So I decided, heck with that. I'll sketch it. Chose the black W&N Watercolour Marker and sketched rapidly at a stop light, then swished my wet Niji waterbrush around scrubbing out the sky marks as thoroughly as possible, then swiped across the hills once each and jiggled it.

I wasn't even thinking. This painted itself. I knew what to do and just tried to get the effect. In under two minutes I stared at it and even wet, I knew. I even said "Stop now" or something like that. I had the moment's recognition that kept me from ruining it. 

This was the time the paint did the work. 

There are effects in this little monochrome painting that I've tried for years to get. They came naturally. I didn't think about it while I was painting. I told my nurse, who's fond of my art, that this one painted itself. It actually did, in under two minutes. Mind and heart and hand and eye were one, it happened on that nonverbal right side of my brain at the pace watercolor needs to happen for some of that kind of effect to happen. If I'd stopped to plan it I would have ruined it.

So this is something for anyone who struggles with watercolor to keep in mind. Keep striving. Keep learning. Keep wasting paper on paintings you hate and duds, keep turning them into pastel underpaintings or store them to see how much better you are a year later - always a good idea. The day does come when the things you learned move out of the right brain into the left, when the tools are at your hand and it's your fingers that know how to use them.

It was my favorite brush this happened with. The lazy easy one. Whether you lean toward flat brushes and blocky, painterly strokes or round brushes and thick-thin calligraphic strokes, there will come a time you can feel your favorite brush and give it exactly the right pressure and wetness, respond in the moment to what's there and let the watercolor guide the process. 

It is a lot of fun, like getting stoned on painting.

It does come, no matter how frustrating its long learning curve is. Usually when trying to do something else and not thinking about it. Watercolor and zen, go together a bit like paint and brushes, right?

Last tip - using good supplies increases your chance of the happy day. Cheap paint on cheap paper sometimes cockles and puddles, is too absorbent or not absorbent enough, gives you problems that mingle with lack of experience to cause disasters. Students learning watercolor are better off getting a triad of good artist grade paint like the Winsor & Newton Permanent Rose, Lemon Yellow and French Ultramarine, or Daniel Smith's Primary Triad set, than trying to get good effects with lesser paint.

Likewise, good paper 140lb or heavier that's adequately sized can make it easier to get those effects. Bockingford is the medium quality Winsor & Newton paper, their Artists' all rag paper is even better but this stuff performed uch better than most and my Stillman & Birn journals also perform brilliantly. Arches and Fabriano Artistico are great too. They each have character and as you try different papers you'll find their strengths and the way they affect your style. 

I don't soak and stretch my watercolor paper because my disabilities and small living space make that completely impractical. I would have to go down to the bath chamber (not latrine) in the hall, then staple it to a big wooden board or clamp it into a stretcher and bring the dripping thing back to my little room. This would throw my back with the carrying and bending and walking, so I wouldn't feel much like painting afterward. 

I like working with the gelatin sizing still in the paper. Other artists prefer stretched paper as it becomes more absorbent. I don't much care for unwanted soft edges in detail areas and like wet-and-dry effects like this, so my style is affected by my body the way it is in all mediums. Those who prefer stretching say it gets more absorbent, but I like paper to give me good sharp details when I want them and dislike that sense of working on a blotter that some papers give. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Do it your way. If I did ever stretch I'd get one of the clamp stretchers though. They seem a lot easier than tape and staples and all. I don't have the patience to wreck my back doing that and not get to use it that way. Nature didn't design me to do a lot of heavy preliminary work like stretching my own canvases either or grinding my own pigments.

What I learned from that applies to busy people too. Make it easy on yourself and you'll paint more often, thus learn faster. Years of practice with brush tip pens sketching just to record this or that or taking notes in art classes with brush tip sketches helped lead to this day too. 

I'm still that happy to get to this point. Purring loudly.

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