Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Agony of Watercolor

I'm frustrated.  I've been taking watercolor classes for a year and a half, and while I love the medium, I really feel that I'm not appreciably better than I was on Day 1.  I know it's not the teacher, because she's highly regarded and has a number of students who have been with her for years . . . it's me.

I think I have two basic problems.  First, watercolor is a devilishly difficult medium, and even after all this time, I don't feel I've "gotten it" yet.  I'm waiting for a miracle to happen, that magical moment when I can say, "Look Mom, I'm doing it!"  But so far, all I can say is "Mom, send a little of your talent down here, will ya?"  

Painted with a primary color triad

For the past couple of weeks, we've been doing "triad" paintings, where you do a painting with only three colors.  And then you vary the three colors and make one or more additional ones.  These are quite small.  The first one is a complementary triad using the primary colors.  I think the petals are stubby and misshapen; I need to smooth the background a bit and add more texture.

Here's the other one, using three contiguous colors (gold, burnt orange, and rose madder).  The background is most definitely not finished -- I need to blend the colors and then add some washes.



The other problem is what my teacher tells me almost every time:  Don't be so timid!  Be Bold!  I realize this is a problem because I get hung up on getting in every detail of whatever it is I'm painting, and I work it and rework it too much.  If I actually had any affinity for this, I think I would do botanical illustration; then I could indulge my desire to be very detailed.

Does anyone who is actually good at watercolor have any tips for me?  I'm trying this book in the hope that it will help me loosen up:

 You can find it on Amazon

In this book he shows you step by step how you create a "realistic abstract" -- a picture that you can see something in, but that is not finely detailed:

Painting by Kees van Aalst

I'd like to be able to do this kind of thing -- I think going through the process could be kind of freeing.  So I'll give it a go, though maybe not until after Open Studios.

What do you think?  (I'm not fishing for compliments -- to me, those pictures look as if they were done by a 2nd grader.)  Do you do watercolor?  Do you find it challenging?  
 

8 comments:

Gail Dixon (Louisiana Belle) said...

I have no tips since my medium is photography. But I will say that I love the colos of the first painting and really love the way the 2nd one turned out, colors and all! You are being too hard on yourself. I know with photography it's easier to "let go" and make mistakes because you can just take another picture. Besides, mistakes are how I learn what NOT to do! I have faith that you will get there. Give yourself time and don't judge yourself too harshly. These are really good!

Danielle said...

I believe they reflect what you are feeling...although they are quite beautiful your teacher is correct....you are holding back...coloring within the lines. I am guilty of that myself...even in life....that is why I started my art journal...it is really helping me to just let go and be chaotic with paint. I love watercolor and am getting comfortable with using it in my journal. I suggest closing your eyes and painting a monochrome flower and then fill it in with color....freehand..it is helping me...you should see the huge totally not proportioned flowers I drew yesterday...but I love them...they are so not perfect.

Elise Ann Wormuth said...

Thank you, Gail and Danielle -- I've been doing watercolor journaling for a couple of years, and I enjoy doing that very much. The first teachers I did a class with emphasized that "there are no mistakes" in a journal, and I think I took that to heart. But in the painting class . . . I don't know. I keep plugging away at it, though. I just don't know what "letting go" would look like, for me!

Deb Crecelius said...

I have only a passing knowledge of watercolor (a class).
This I know...it's DIFFICULT.
I love the style in the book you have.
Maybe try this for a challenge...
only give yourself 15 minutes to do a painting.
Try a few that way and see what happens.
No second-guessing, no hovering over an area...just do it and move on.
I wish you the best in this endeavour!

MarmePurl said...


I am not surprised that you and abstractish watercolor are not bonding too well. Reading your blog ...the way you manupulate 26 letters so precisly ...and your photos! Now there's precise perfection.
Watercolor by it's nature does not lend it self to that kind of distinctness. Abstract even less so.
Do you know of the Botanical artist Laura Call Gastinger?

Margaret said...

Let the watercolor have its own mind, if that makes any sense. I haven't touched a painting in a long time and I am just getting back in to it this week. These almost look like acrylic or oil paintings in that you have covered the entire canvas. Bold can be done with watercolor and I think it is fun to do so. But, leave some white space ... think of the white as the highlight and work with a bit more water... let it FLOW and have a mind of its own. That is the hardest part for me, too. I think you have fun composition and keep at it. IT WILL CLICK one day. I'm going to start following you more often as I am going to need feedback as well! I have an art blog, not just a photography and poetry blog.

You have actually inspired me... I am on my way up to the art room now :)

Jenny said...

I love watercolor but I can't quite grasp the randomness of it!

I was actually asked to leave a watercolor class because I wasn't 'doing it right'.

Good luck to you! Yours looks really good already!

Elise Ann Wormuth said...

I'm sorry, but I laughed out loud at your comment, Jenny -- you had to leave?? The teacher wouldn't *teach* you? lol The problem for me is that there are so many different techniques, and trying out a different one each week isn't letting me find my own style or allowing me to practice one thing over and over. I guess it's my job to do that.