Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Learning Watercolor Painting through studying the British Masters

Nearly everybody has painted with watercolors at some point in their life. For the majority of people their experience had been as a pre schooler, equipped with a pan of Crayola watercolors and some sort of paper.

Here I am in 1984 at age 2-3 with some watercolors!

My prior experience with watercolor painting

When I was 13 in August 1994 my Mom had signed up my sister and I in a week long watercolor class instructed by Kathy Moore at Weston Manor in Hopewell, Virginia. I learned a lot about watercolor painting from Kathy ranging from techniques, materials, stretching paper, and still life and landscape painting. I had a great time and I would take classes with her at Weston Manor in the Summers of 1995 and 1996. Kathy had given me a solid foundation in watercolors and I used these skills in high school art class.

The majority of my watercolor work was done during high school when I was painting Civil War soldiers. I was inspired and influence by Don Troiani's gouache painting and I sought to emulate his technique. One day I discovered how I could Chinese White to create opaque passages in my paintings to create flesh tones, highlights on clothing, and glistening highlights on rifles, bayonets, and the accouterments of my soldiers. My peers viewed my work and could not believe I was using watercolors. 

In the Summer before I entered college I began painting with gouache depicting soldiers from World War I through Vietnam. I enjoyed it's opacity and the ability to take my paints anywhere along with a block of hot pressed watercolor paper. Later in college my gouache paintings became less meticulous and I used it mostly for quick studies and sketches. Tube egg tempera replaced my gouache and I used that for several years before starting to make my own paint.

A renewed interest in watercolor painting

Last year I decided to pick up watercolor painting again and I discussed that in a blog post. In recent months I started to study watercolor painting intensely and I had done a handful of outdoor studies in Virginia and here around Seattle. I also began to focus on 18th and 19th Century British Watercolor painting to hone my skills. 

I bought a watercolor pad of 400 Strathmore Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper to document my studies. One of my exercises was to study tree painting techniques by various artists. In particular I looked at work by John Varley, Paul Sandby, and J.M.W. Turner. 

Studies in Moleskine watercolor journal from last April

Here is the sheet of tree studies. I will make a blog post in the future breaking down several tree studies step by step.

In addition to my independent studies I purchased The Tate Watercolor Manual and How to Paint Like Turner, both published by the Tate. I wanted to get these books to have several books on watercolors in my library, brush up on basic watercolor techniques, and I was interested in the perspective on watercolor painting from the Tate. I found both books very useful and the exercises have been helpful. I recommend these books for beginners and those at intermediate level.

Creating a composition from color beginnings

While reading both books, several exercises mentioned Turner's use of color beginnings. I made several pages of color beginnings and composition studies in my studio pad of Two Rivers handmade paper which I bought from Rosemary brushes. One recurring composition was trees in a pastoral landscape. These quick studies were inspired by my trip to Virginia last April.

Studies, testing Two Rivers Flecks Paper

Composition/ color beginnings- I used the upper three studies to create the bottom one. You can see how in the second and third studies I began to enlarge the tree to right so that it extended past the upper part of the composition.

Two color beginnings playing around with light coming from behind the large tree.

Finally I used my composition from the exercises above and I created the painting below. I retained elements from one of the studies but I brought the tree further into the foreground. The lower horizon is something new I'm working with in this painting.  Here are some detail photos.

Pastoral Landscape, watercolor on Arches Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper, 9" x 12", 2017

Here are some detail photos.

Currently I'm working on another watercolor which I plan to finish this week. In addition a future post will cover 18th-19th British Watercolor tree painting studies.