I’ve returned to watercolor in the past year, trying a lot of things, and realizing that some things are just not “me” and others are “me.” This means there are styles of painting I just don’t care for – and ones I do – and what to do?
First, I think it is important to try something. This way you gain a working knowledge. This means repeat the situation a few times to learn the subtleties. The brain works on an unconscious level and incorporates that knowledge. Whether or not you continue down that path, you learn something and it is stored away somewhere in the mystery of the brain.
The painting above is a study I did out of Ted Kautzky’s classical work, Ways with Watercolor, which I bought when I was 16 with babysitting money. Three colors only, and the variety of colors is amazing. Restraint, self-control, forethought, execution, results, experience and knowledge.
And then, think about the experience. Worthwhile? Did you like it? Were you a klutz? Did you hate it? Did you like it? Do you want to move on? My philosophy about work comes into play here: learn what you hate about your job and what you love – then decide if you want to continue. That applies to painting and art in general. I like certain things and find other things not to my liking.
What I don’t like is a sense of constraint. I like painting to be an experience – but to get good at something, you have to work. So, I like free-flowing painterly watercolors. To get there requires practice and experience.
When I was doing a lot of sumi-e, I hated the brushes and the paper – they had their own qualities which, one mistake, could ruin an attempt. Eventually, though, I found some mastery over paper and ink and brush. Part of that came from knowing my materials – which paper I liked, which brushes I liked, which ink and ink stone I liked. Then I could begin mastery. Poor quality brushes shed hairs; too-porous paper spread the ink to quickly.
The same is to be said for watercolor, which I have been drawn to since whenever. However, I have scurried away from it, always annoyed with my style, with my lack of ability, with my lack of control. I still deal with it today, but now that I am on the slippery slope of old age, such things seem like foolish wastes of my time. Just do it! Do it as often as possible! To hell with the results – the experience itself leads to wherever it will lead.
Yes, I do know what I want to be able to produce. I don’t want to rely on lines to contain a bad composition or execution of color. If I do ink and watercolor, there will be a purpose for it – a reach for a particular style. With watercolor, I may need to do (and will do) value studies and use a limited palette of colors to train my eye. This is a form of restraint, but not an onerous one.