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  • James Gummerson

Watercolour Painting Demo Discussion

15 minute painting class demo

20 min watercolour painting demo.

As many of you may know I teach Watercolour at a local college here in Hamilton. In my class last night I performed a painting demo for the students. I wanted to show what can be done in a 20 min time limit not including the drawing time. Afterwards there were discussions about what is possible with the medium.

"I think understanding that making something look "real" is about taking a step back and seeing the whole."

When I teach students in the beginning I try to convey a sense of spontaneity, freedom, and bold choice of colours and strokes. I don't want them to get caught up with the details. Getting caught up in the details will stop you from seeing the big picture, and seeing the bigger picture means you will understand the lighting, environment, and how it effects each object. Understanding all the objects working together help to convey the moment and the environment.

Watercolour is one of the more difficult mediums. Difficult because a lot of what you do with watercolour is visualize and translate. Your not typically using white paint, so you have to visualize what the white of the paper in conjunction with your colour will do on the paper. And much of we what we do in watercolour is negative painting (painting the negative space to bring forward the positive space). It requires planning, as well as a fearless, bold approach to get it right. But it can very liberating and refreshing to splash paint on the paper. Walking the fine line between, control and spontaneity.

In this demo I wanted to be more instinctual and bold. I didn't really allow colours to dry before adding new ones. I let colours bleed into each other. I find this helps bring the objects together and create a sense of harmony in the painting. I want the objects to sit together in the environment. I want the light source to be consistent. This is were beginners make the mistake. They focus on each object separately. They don't work the painting as a whole and so what you get is a sort of "cut outs" pasted on kind of look. Your eye becomes confused looking at this and will soon look away. Each object will look like its in a different lighting environment and thats what we don't want.

What makes things more difficult with watercolour is that sometimes based on drying times your forced to focus on one object. In these situations you still have to think about the whole painting. If we are working from lightest to darkest in layers then we can move from one object or area to another keeping in mind the lighting of all the areas. This is why tonal value studies are so important (these should not be about trying to discover style but rather the study of values alone). They help to always being thinking about the relationships of each area of the painting. This kind of study is akin to anatomy study. If you understand the underpinnings of light sources and how they effect all the areas of the painting, than a more informed painting is achieved.

With all this in mind how do we approach a painting in watercolour? As we approach (for some of us, our first painting) we have been learning, how our tools work, understanding composition through thumbnails is essential, monochromatic paintings help us see the value relationships, and stepping back and judging and comparing each value and colour against another will help us approach the painting with a better understanding.

So now we have the technical and academic understanding but what about style, mood, feeling, the abstract concepts? As you recall I talked about being "fearless and bold". These all come from experience and experimentation. But you have to allow yourself to make a mistake. The beauty of watercolour is that it can be done very quickly. You don't have to spend hours achieving a beautiful result. This also means the if you "Mess Up", you start over. Try to treat each piece in the beginning like a study. This relieves some of the pressure of trying to create a masterpiece. If you approach each one like a new learning experience, you will be more inclined to take risks, challenge yourself as well as being open to new ways of doing things. Sometimes a student may hold tightly to old ways of doing things. They may have had some successes in the past with a particular style. But in order to grow and learn and get better, a student must open themselves up to new possibilities. Only when we are open, will style, mood and feeling grow deeper in our paintings.

Happy Painting!

James Gummerson

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