An Afternoon’s Painting Practice

I am an unabashed Charles Reid fan when it comes to instruction books and videos and style in watercolor.  I love his loose style and the way his colors flow in and out of each other without getting muddy.  Honestly, I am really a novice when it comes to watercolor painting – and mud is my usual result.  Somewhere in the past 6 months a part of me just quit worrying about what I produce, and this gave me the freedom from self-criticism (and condemnation) about what results I get.  I don’t care anymore, and this freedom is opening up doors which have been slammed shut by my unrealistic and unrelenting worrying.  It’s a great feeling!

Having a bunch of watercolors and supplies on hand, I dug out some water brushes and my traveling palette.  Out on the patio, with earphones on to listen to a spy novel, a bunch of paper towels and some water, I pulled out Reid’s book.  My watercolor pads came along with me, as did my coffee, water bottle, drawing pencils and who knows what else.  The verbal distractions of the audiobook keep me from getting too emotional about my practice pages.  I propped up Flower Painting in Watercolor and got to work, reading captions and color suggestions, drew some rough sketches from Reid’s exercises, and got to work.

I think one of the hardest things to do is to leave white paper.  I just want to paint it all up.  And I also want to just keep going on – and this creates mud – without pause for paper to dry and paint to settle.  Rush, rush!

Well, I did succeed somewhat.  The crocuses above are one of Reid’s studies, and I was pretty pleased with it.  In reality, it doesn’t look half as good as the photo, but then it is on a piece of messy paper with scribbles on it and test swatches of color.

This was a quick study, more white space being left open.  I went back after I finished this study to use my pencil to add some shape to the white flowers.  I like lines – and it is a problem I find with my own sense of a “successful” painting – I need lines to define things.  Sometimes lines work – sometimes they don’t – but I do love the Renaissance ink studies I’ve seen, and lines have always held my eye.  Lines are expressive – but so are shapes of color.

Here, simply color shapes to imply a flower or a leaf.  My experience in sumi-e brush painting makes my understanding of controlling a brush – even an inexpensive water brush with nylon bristles – much easier.

One thing Reid pulls out is shapes without definition – just implication of form.  This is great practice for my line addiction!

Another issue I find is contrast and value.  It’s hard for me to really get these right in a painting.  Reid mentions he makes his dark not super dark – not black – but installs a medium dark early on to establish value.  I struggle with this but with more practice I think I will get better at this.

And here is the last one . . . not the best, but one which does have some good areas of contrast, and black lines from an India-ink pigmented pen.  Sketchy, painterly, and totally fun to do!

Quality paper is a must-have.  I have some tablets that I bought which I absolutely hate because of the texture and sizing in the paper.  However, I used them up and ordered more of the Canson’s Montval paper, in a spiral booklet form, 9×12 with 20 pages.  It’s a good working size – and it’s good paper, with a nice texture and sizing which doesn’t blotch up and look horrible.  It’s also very reasonably priced.  The Schmincke paint box may have Schmincke paints in them – or not.  My paint supplies include Schmincke, Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, Holbein, and M. Graham professional-grade watercolors.

I’m glad I sat down to paint – it’s such a wonderful feeling and one which gives me satisfaction.  Did I produce anything worthy of framing?  Not at all.  But working with my hands, seeing some success, is something which cannot be described – only experienced.  You know what I mean!  It’s like love!

Why Draw?

I am not quite sure what hit me the other day, but I wandered off to the local library to look at kids’ books.

Where I live, we are fortunate to have a well-run, financially sound (so it seems) library system.  There are about 130 K people here, and only two libraries to serve the population, but both libraries are well-designed, light, airy, and busy.  Busy meaning there are kids and teenagers and adults, as well as scheduled activities, such as lectures and movies.

The children’s section of the library is separate from the adult.  There are sections for young adult, for research, for youngish readers (8-12?), and for non-readers and beginners.  The shelves are the right height for kids, and topped with books and displays to catch the eye.

Okay, so what does this have to do with drawing?  A lot!  Good illustrations add so much to a story, for both children and adults.  Textbooks without illustrations are unattractive.  Color adds more.  And children’s books need pictures – just like Alice said, “What is the use of a book if there are no pictures?”

Yeah, there is a lot of use for pictureless books – but they are even more useful with illustrations.

So, here I am, wandering through the children’s section, looking at this book and that.  Most books had written words with pictures to illustrate them.  And then I came across Clown by Quentin Blake.  Blake is the illustrator for many of Roald Dahl’s books (you know, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).  Clown is a story without words, only pictures.  I had a few good laughs as I “read” the book, and totally enjoyed the illustrations.

Blake is the master of light mood, caught with pen and watercolor.  A loose style that, nonetheless, is filled with details.  When the clown wriggles out of the garbage can, you have to look to see it happening – but you do!  When I looked again and again, so many things showed up.

Then I looked at more of his books.  Cockatoos had me laughing out loud.  Illustrations and story worked so well together – I loved to see all the cockatoos hiding, and I loved the last line in the story.

I blither about art, and drawing, and writing, a lot.  The mental arguments are strange and annoying.  I put up barriers and fill time with meaningless twaddle when I could be out doing something.  I have fought with myself over and over again about my “style” in the painted, colored, drawn world.  It was never technically accurate or realistic enough.  I am confident about my writing style – academically, I can crank out papers at an appalling rate – but with drawing, I drag my feet, tormenting myself with my perceived failures and inabilities.

The light bulb went on with Clown.  I love that loose, fun style.  Is it “art”?  Probably not – but why should that matter?  If it brings pleasure and communicates, I guess that is definition enough.

Yesterday, I took out my own pen and ink and began to doodle.  I didn’t care what I drew.  My imagine was allowed to play without rules.

Thrills.  Intoxication.

How I love paper and pencil and ink!