Being Free with Watercolor

Watercolor is a difficult, temperamental medium, as anyone who has had the pleasure (or displeasure) of working with it knows. I’ve only pretty recently started to use watercolor, and transcending the frustration can be hard sometimes. I find that when I’m working representationally I tend to become the most frustrated. I realize that every mark I make will be on the page forever- never to be undone. I feel anxious and inhibited- the opposite of how I feel working with acrylic or oils. I’ve found that I can overcome this anxiety by working freely and abstractly with watercolor. Here are a few of the experiments that I’ve done recently that I think turned out pretty well:

Here, I started with just thin glazes and gradually built up the form in the middle, then I had a little fun adding the thin lines with a squeeze bottle (using watered down acrylic paint.) I made the dotted brown lines by soaking a textured yarn in some pretty highly saturated watercolor, and simply laying it down on the paper until it dried. Using golden fluid acrylics like watercolor also works as a great substitute, and takes away some of the anxiety that people like me have with the combination of permanence and translucency of watercolor.

Here, I scored the paper beforehand with an ExActo blade. I then worked with some light washes, letting them gradually settle into the gashes. I then used the marks that emerged to inform my next decisions. I chose to further emphasize them with the orange marks.

This one didn’t turn out so well. One has to be careful when working with watercolor that, since it’s translucent, every layer builds upon the last, rather than cutting through or covering the previous layers. Unfortunately, the result of not being careful is getting mud. There’s always acrylic to fix the problem, which I think is my next move on this one.

I think that so many art students have anxiety about watercolor mostly because their only real experience working with it was in a studio class, with all the restrictions that that experience usually brings (in mine, we weren’t allowed to use any opaque medium, including gouache.) Unfortunately, many of these students leave that classroom with absolutely no desire to use watercolor again. Revisiting watercolor on my own has been a great decision, and one I think that more students should consider doing as well. Who knows, it might be fun!

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2 thoughts on “Being Free with Watercolor

  1. This is beautiful work. I tried water colours several times (as an art student ;)), half heartedly I admit, however never succeeded. Collegues say it is very easy. Which frustrates me even more. Keep up with the work, especially liked the last one with the “step stones” in the middle.

    1. Thank you! I think that watercolor becomes “easy” with a lot of practice. If you’re conscientious with your marks and comfortable with the medium then you can make a great painting with only a few marks. I think watercolor suits a very specific group of people- people who like to linger over every mark, and people who are mainly planners. I am so not that person,though haha.

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