Note: Clicking on all images in this post will take you to flickr, which will show larger versions and descriptions of how I painted each piece.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to tear up one of my big pieces of Arches paper into small fragments, postcard-size or slightly bigger, and do lots of little paintings for practice. Thanks to those watercolor books I checked out, I’ve had plenty of ideas for experimentation, so I’ve been using these paintings to learn the basics of pigment and brush. I work without expectation of result, and if I really can’t stand what I’ve made, the paper is strong enough that I can flip it over and use the back side (amazing!). I’ve been having so much fun getting to know my tools this way. If you look at my last painting, the one of the three dancers, you’ll see the difference in vibrancy and color.
For a week or two, before holiday obligations took up more of my time, I was almost daily at the desk just sinking blissfully into my paints and brushes. Even on the train to the airport for Vegas, I found myself wishing for them — I pulled out my 4B pencil and sketchbook and sketched people instead, but the silvery grey of one woman’s hair was so gorgeous on her black jacket, I longed for colors. Not that I could paint on the train anyway, but it surprised me that my simple little experiments have changed even my eye; before, I would never have thought of grey and black as striking enough to justify paint!
I admit I don’t know whether I love the watercolors so much because they’re just a good medium for me (like finding the right dance partner!), or whether it’s that I give myself so much permission to play when using them. It must be both. After all, while I used to like playing with charcoal and oilbars, they never made my heart sing the way these watercolors do. Pleasure and practice spur each other on. I hope this cycle never falls into dutiful drudgery!
The more I paint, the better I get to know what kinds of conditions I need for good painting. I tend to play computer games during my painting sessions, while I’m waiting for the paint to dry, but two Thursdays ago I discovered there are hard limits to my ability to multitask. That afternoon I was doing my usual painting and game-playing, but I was also listening to music, baking cookies, and fighting off Lyapa (who kept stealing my computer chair while I wasn’t on it). This all made me feel completely schizophrenic, but the worst was when I laid down splotches of color on a painting for a wash that I had to do while everything was still wet — and then the oven timer went off. I was doing so many things at once, I had — literally within minutes — totally forgotten about the cookies I’d put into the oven. I made an insane, awkward dash to the kitchen and managed to barely-save both painting and pastry, but boy howdy, I will never do that again. It’s just not worth it!
I’m in love with so many of the little paintings I’ve made this month, but I’m craziest about this card (at left) that I made for my mom. The concept came to me a couple of nights before, when I was doing something totally unrelated: yay for subconscious art-making! I envisioned these squat, round-bodied children wearing vaguely folk-inspired clothes in bright, festive colors. The kids and their outfits fit perfectly with the way I draw and paint, and they make for a super-joyous card that suits both Mommy’s birthday and the holiday season. The only problem is that the kids are too light against the background… I’ve been reading Robert Wade’s Watercolor Workshop Handbook and he says, “[When] the thought comes to mind, ‘I think I need to put a black outline around that shape in order to get it to work,’ you can be certain of one thing… YOU HAVE FAILED IN YOUR PLACEMENT OF THE TONAL VALUES.” Yep. On the other hand, at least this card actually has tonal values, which cannot be said of “Dancing with Dreams” above. I didn’t even notice that until now. Practice is good for me!
Time to do some more painting!