Capturing the Essence of the World with Watercolors

  • May 24, 2016

Design is the essence of how I see the world. All nature sparkles with jewels of color and, as a plein air painter, I capture sparkling lights with pigment. I am a natural oil painter. I like the opaque quality of oil paints so I can change a composition with many layers of paint.


Mrs. Foster’s Garden V. 6.5” x 6.5,” $30.

Sometimes, though, I experiment with watercolor paint. In oils and watercolor, the same pigments are used. The difference is that water makes the pigments thinner and transparent. So, I am less comfortable with watercolor. I make mistakes. That is why my challenge is to master watercolors.

On my travels, I am learning to use watercolors which are less cumbersome. I can use a small palette box of pigments which opens up to allow room on its inner lid to mix the colors into water which I pour from a small jar. I scrub color into a soft sable brush and apply it on a block of watercolor paper. Both fit into a small purse. I try to do watercolors without an easel, which is heavy to carry.

Rain Forest

Rain Forest (Honolulu). 7” x 10,” $30.

My dilemma is to do under drawing in pencil or pen when I balance the pad of paper on my lap or hold it in mid-air as I view my subject. I use watercolor blocks of Cold Pressed, 140-pound watercolor paper. I also struggle with watercolors to lay in the sunlight and shadows. I am a tonal painter, dealing with values of darks and lights. Bright-colored watercolors are hard to tone down. Watercolorists don’t expect to copy colors in nature; the idea is to make them brighter and richer.

Once I watched a Japanese Sumi-e painter apply thick and thin lines of black ink. Her hand moved fast. One of my teachers often talked about line becoming form and shape. I like my watercolor to run into negative spaces, leaving the positive forms- like trees -as blank white forms. These look like stained-glass windows, a subject with which I have some emotional attachment.

Oranges Falling

Oranges Falling (Villa Landriana). 5”x6,” $60.

Working with line and color was mastered by Matisse. He talked about line as a separate element, so that line and color work together and apart, but add up to a whole painting.
I am always learning new ways to paint with watercolor. When I talk with other artists, I ask, “What you know about watercolors?”

For my trip this year to Cyprus, Beirut, Damascus, and cities in Turkey, my graduate art professor recommended I carry Prismalo and Carfan D’Ache, two brands of super, highly saturated watercolor pencils, in pigments of Terre Verte, Yellow Ochre, two blues with temperature change, two or three reds, and a dark raw umber. I have traveled to Santa Fe and Honolulu with my palette box of 24 watercolors.

On my next trip, to gardens in India, I will continue to explore the beauty of color in watercolor. This time, though, I will take more equipment, including an easel, so I can draw more exact shapes of domes and gardens. I am hoping for more happy surprises in my quest for beauty in form and color.

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