I got a new watercolor sketchbook the other day, a Pentalic spiral bound with 140# paper. I took it out to the patio and painted one of my Christmas cacti to see how the paint and paper responded. It’s pretty nice paper, and it was pleasant to sit outdoors for a bit before the rains hit tonight. This is also a study in direct watercolor – brush, paint, paper, without lines.
The other day, I came into possession of a copy of Marc Taro Holmes’ newest book, Direct Watercolor. In spirit, I am much of the same philosophy – little prep, direct painting, thinking ahead, seizing the moment, using colors directly, relying on imagination and happenstance and experience to create a painting. All this requires is just doing it! The “doing it” is the training – you do it, you think, you do again. Like anything, practicing it enhances your skills and brings the mind-muscle memory together in ways that, if you were to consciously thing about, you could never achieve.
Marc mentioned some things I found particularly useful. One is to create a silhouette of what you are working on – create the outer edges and then move inward. Decide if edges are going to meet so that colors can bleed into one another. Keep your edges dry if you don’t want things to bleed from one thing into another. Let the painting dry, but don’t go over it extensively. Other points he made is to work light to dark, large to small, but if you are working on something, do it directly – don’t dance all over the paper.
The silhouette appealed to me immensely, as well as the brushwork. Here are some examples of brushwork and silhouette working together. Once the edges of whatever I was painting were done, I then came in with varied colors to shade or define. The colors really please me in many of these little sketches – the blending, the bleeding, the hard edge against the paper’s white.
Flowers make sense for the silhouette and then move in to blend colors. Above, wet-on-dry. Also, working directly while everything is still wet – as in the tulip on the far right.
Below, some examples of trees to create the illusion of a building (left) and another silhouette then molded to create a shape with shadow (top right). Marc also mentions brushwork to show direction – and the importance to suggest. The grassy strokes on the top left. Finally, a bigger silhouette – here, Morro Rock – created and worked on first (bottom right) before moving into other areas, specifically the dunes and plants in the foreground.
Quick sketches with valuable lessons. While Marc’s book is not a “how to” book, it is a valuable resource for specific techniques. The fact he is such a talented painter makes it look easy, but the truth is, he went from precise lines, to lines and colors, to direct watercolor with a great deal of effort and an entire change of mindset.