Learning watercolor “on my own” is quite an enjoyable process. I like the freedom — and confidence — that comes from not comparing my art to anyone else’s. It’s nice to recognize my own creative spirit and to begin seeing definite indications of my own style when it comes to watercolor.
This approach allows me to make my own decisions about what I want to do in a painting. I’m not concerned about “making mistakes” or doing something wrong. I’m completely in charge of what happens — well, as much as any artist can ever be in charge of watercolor. And, I’m learning that “not being in charge” is really a large part of what watercolor is all about. It’s that flow, that sense of spontaneity that emerges.
Now that I’ve seen how I can combine watercolor and watercolor pencil, I want to use that technique more. At the same time, I want to try different watercolors, play with different brushes, and day by day get a better feeling for what I need to work on. The best way to do this is by hands-on painting, and I’ve chosen “Winter Landscapes” as my theme.
Here is today’s watercolor, Winter Birches.
Despite the technical mistakes, I like this painting, if only because it was mine, all mine, from start to finish. I planned the composition, cropping it from a larger reference photo. I decided on the colors. And I was the one who figured out how I would approach the painting. That’s where I made a few errors.
I began by taping my watercolor paper to a board. I’m still using inexpensive “pulp-based” watercolor paper, so I do expect a little warping and buckling. I may be learning all “on my own”, but that means I’m still very much a student, and I’m fine using the Cansen Watercolor Paper for my practices.
It means I can relax and not worry about “wasting” paper. Of course I’m aware of the familiar argument, the idea that it’s easier to learn on higher-quality paper. Maybe so. But let me share a little story I heard many, many years ago.
A certain famous composer who also taught piano (I can’t recall who it was and I can’t find any reference online) was known for always insisting his students play every piece as loud as possible.
When questioned, he replied, “He who can play fortissimo can surely play pianissimo.” In other words, if you learn the techniques while playing loudly, you can use those same techniques to play softly.
When I apply that thinking to art, it’s “She who paints on cheap watercolor paper can surely paint on quality paper.” If I can do reasonably well with my inexpensive watercolor materials, imagine how I might do on “the good stuff”.
Once my sheet was taped down, I sprayed it to wet it, then laid in a light wash using a yellow ochre. It was very pale, and I added a bit more pink to the upper area of the wash. The colors, of course, don’t show up very well on the scan.
At that point, I used a light-pink watercolor pencil from my student-grade Derwent Academy set to sketch in the basic elements — the horizon line, the various slopes of the snowy foreground, the cluster of birch trees.
I did this all a bit quickly. It helps me “stay loose” and not get fixated on details.
But here I did two things wrong:
- I should have used a darker color — maybe a brown — to draw the trees.
- I should have painted around the tree trunks.
Once I had my sketch… well, I might as well not have done it at all. I couldn’t see any of my lines. But I moved on, laying in the deeper orange above the horizon, and using two different blues to create the snowy effect for the foreground.
That was when I started drawing in the tree trunks with a black watercolor pencil and realized I definitely should have darkened my lines earlier. What I have, you see, are “transparent” tree trunks! Oops. I wasn’t thinking, was I!
Another little “oops” was dragging my sleeve through the blue while the painting was still wet. But I liked the marks and just went over them again with the black pencil and a very light touch. My trees are not well-drawn. They’re not really even “well-sketched”, but I was all right with that. Mostly I wanted more practice with using watercolor pencils to draw directly on wet paper, and I wanted to create this scene with a complementary blue and orange color scheme.
I added in a bit of “light scribbles” to suggest additional woods at the horizon line, and I left as much white paper as I dared. I did try adding a bit of white pencil to a tree trunk, but it didn’t improve the image, and I decided that since my “artistic vision” for the scene was all about the colors, I was happy with it overall. I even tilted and turned it a bit to help create a more “spontaneous” effect.
In the coming days, I’ll be doing more “Winter Landscapes”. For the next one, I’ll probably sketch the scene a bit more accurately, and I’ll definitely use a darker pencil. I’m still reminding myself again and again to lay down washes that are darker than I think they should be, taking into consideration how much lighter they’ll look when dry.
For this painting, I used a large, flat brush throughout. I have a variety of watercolor brushes, and I want to make use of them all, one at a time. That will be fun.
So far, my new year is starting off great, and I love the idea of celebrating each drawing or painting I create. Today I’m celebrating this snowy little scene — and watching the weather outside our window. Sleet is falling now. Later it might turn to snow. That’s fine. I’m staying inside, staying warm, and enjoying winter from my studio,