Trying, Keeping, Discarding

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.



I was rummaging through the files on my desk, and came across a collection of sumi-e ink, ink and color, and watercolor or acrylic paintings I did a long time ago.  Some of these are “aceo” size, which measure 2×3.5 inches, and others are other papers.  I used to sell these on Ebay, too.  Maybe I need to go through and scan some more – it’s like tea and madeleines – memories and reminders.

A Bit of Dishonesty

I’ve been editing photos for a while now.  One of my favorite tools is spot removal, from spots on a dirty digital lens to lint in film.

The other day I was comparing my second edition of the Moonlit Sycamore with the first edition of the same.  I liked the first one better, but did not like all the little twiggy lines I put in to represent a tangled undergrowth at the base of the tree.

Then the thought hit:  edit it out!

So I did.

For your viewing pleasure, here is the before, and then the after.  The third image is the second real painting of the same subject.  What do you think?

Negative Painting & Glazing

This morning I decided to do a few things I haven’t been too fond of in the past.  One is negative painting.  The other is using glazes.  That’s what I did here.  The first layer was a warm yellowish wash, very thin.  From there, about 3 or 4 consecutive layers of blues and violets around the main trunks, and then over the ones to the sides, making them bluish.  I then used a rigger brush (for the first time) to create branches.

Overall, the picture works, but the areas I can say shouldn’t have happened are the branches in front of the central trunk.  The other thing I need to do is to create better contrast on the branches, in particular it seems on the right.  I would like to see more blue in there, in narrow strips using a flat brush.  I may do that later.

The idea behind this painting a sycamore tree in moonlight, with the above exercises to accomplish it.  I thought ahead more than I usually do, considering colors and such, as well as the approach to creating what I desired as an end product.

What is a “Personal Style”?

In painting, it is really possible to look at a picture and say, “Oh, that is by so-and-so.”  If you are familiar with a painter, you become familiar with his / her style.  You can tell by the light, by the brushwork, by the colors, by the subject.  It’s like your face in the mirror – you know it instinctively.  This knowledge of what someone’s style “looks like” makes me question myself:  What is my style?

The fact is, I don’t have a style, unless I were to call it messy and scribbly.  This occurs when I don’t think about a composition or what I want to do, but just do.  I cannot say this produces much which I like.  Once I am involved in working on a piece, I do seem to be able to deal with compositional elements, and can say when to finish, and say, oops!  shouldn’t have done that!

So, when does one’s own style emerge?  Is it a conscious choice?  Is it something which develops slowly?

This question came to me last night when I was putzing around, following another Peter Sheeler video and practicing his exercises.  There is an ethical question here:  is it acceptable to do this?  I think it is, as he is posting his videos online for people to learn from – and I have been learning, most certainly!  The lack of ethics would be to pass them off as my own.

The lesson from last night was using wet-in-wet to paint trees.  Mine are not as successful, mostly because my paper is not the same as he uses.  The lesson was good, though, as the focus was on the trees and the bloom of the colors on a wet surface.  The rest of the lesson was good as I watched him put in shadows which, left to my own imagination, would not have shown up.  The lesson there is to think about where the sun is coming from, imagine it, see it in the mind’s eye, and then paint it.  That’s a valuable lesson.

Thus:  Peter Sheeler’s video on wet-in-wet.

And my own painting.


I found it interesting to see myself adding the spatters and the shingles on the roof, which weren’t in Peter’s original drawing.  Is this the beginning of my own style?