Book and Video Lessons for the Student: A Retrospective

I have picked up watercolor on a serious level, along with drawing and sketching.  I have neglected that side of myself for a long time, but have attempted to reconnect with that part of myself off and on.  Truthfully, it has been more off than on, but when I do delve into painting, it is such a pleasure.  Over the years, I have purchased video classes or viewed videos from a variety of people.  Today, I sat down and went through some of my notebooks and watercolor pads, and decided to scan what I have done to see if there is anything of value.

One person I have admired and enjoyed for a long time is Charles Reid.  I love his loose, wet, messiness in watercolor.  It works.  I have watched his videos and read his books, attempting to catch what he does – learning from the teacher by doing.  I have had some success, but I still tend to overwork and create muddy colors.

Another artist I have learned from is Birgit O’Connor.  Her approach is very different than Reid’s – not splashy, but controlled, thought out, and very disciplined.  The results are completely different, but valuable in that self-discipline and forethought are necessary to achieve results.  Reid’s discipline is from years of knowledge, such as how to paint negative spaces and create contrast.  O’Connor uses masking in varying forms, such as with contact paper and frisket to help preserve white space and create texture.

From both Reid and O’Connor, I have learned a lot . . . but without daily practice, it all is forgotten.  Besides needing to remember how to paint, how to manage color, I have also forgotten how to sketch.  Craftsy classes have proven to be helpful, with ones from Shari Blaukopf, Mark Taro Holmes, David Brody, and Kateri Ewing.  These classes range from urban sketching to an extensive, classical drawing class.  Each of these has proved, and is proving, to be very valuable.  Videos are some of the best learning tools when it comes to finding time to do and to learn.  Books with encyclopedic samples on how to do things are also great, such as Claudia Nice’s books on ink, pen, and watercolor, as seen below.

On YouTube, I have subscribed to multiple channels.  These range from using dip pens to lessons from extremely talented watercolorists and sketchers.  Of late, I have been working on negative painting – painting around things, rather than directly painting things.  This is in the hopes of learning to manage white space better.

It’s easy to use lines to compensate for a lack of contrast to define light areas in negative space.  The flowers are rather disastrous, but a lesson on YouTube (sorry, I don’t recall the video the trees are from, but it was fantastic!) was very helpful.  The key to that video was to paint from the foreground back, unlike in traditional watercolor, you paint from the sky down for the most part.

In addition to videos, books are an excellent resource.  I have a lot of books.  The ugly truth is that art books are damned attractive, but how many of them have I actually sat down with and gone through, step by step?  Not many.  In fact, none at all . . . until I came across a book by Jenna Rainey:  Everyday Watercolor:  Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days.  Rainey’s painting style is not what I see myself doing, but what I do like is the “daily” approach and the short, structured lessons.  Thus far, I am up to Day 11, and have been really enjoying myself.  I’ve let go that nasty inner critic that expects perfection out of the gate, and have been loosening up, and doing some things that I like.

More than anything, I am happy to see I am not lacking ability – only self-discipline to work on painting and drawing when I have time.  Looking at what I have done is inspiring me to continue, despite frustrations and time.  Nothing like a retrospective to see what and where I have been, what I am doing now, and looking forward to what I might yet do.

 

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!