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Dispelling Myths about a Good Friend
Have you ever dreaded meeting somebody because other people have said so many inaccurate things about them? Then, when you did, you said to yourself, they weren’t anything like that. I really like Joe Smith. And you become fast friends with him, shaking your head at the misconceptions their statements had painted in your mind.
This article is all about discovering the strengths and fun of watercolor and dispelling watercolor myths. As a teacher of watercolor of 32-plus years, a painter of same who exhibits nationally, I’d like to do you all a favor by clearing the deck of some very misplaced old wives’ tales people consider ‘truths’ about my favorite medium.
MYTH # 1. Watercolor Is Hard.
No, it’s not, watercolor is one of the easiest, most forgiving mediums I know. All you do is put out color, add water, rub the brush around and around and around, and go. I don’t mean you can’t get so complicated with it that you can’t make it hard, but basically, if you compare it to oils and what you have to learn to keep abreast of that medium, it’s a piece of cake. I mean, if children do it happily, that is testimony to its friendliness as a medium. Don’t be shy with it, and barely touch it, but go around in it heartily, and you will find a wide range of effects you can make happen, which is highly recommended.
MYTH # 2. Watercolor Is Too Wet.
This one I understand, because I started out wetting my whole piece of paper, then inserting watercolor strokes into it that faded away faster than I could get the next color in. The effect was nice, but it spread so fast, and I was so timid, you couldn’t see much color. If you begin with dry paper and put a whole dollop of water on it, the water spreads fast, too fast to control, and that is scary. The solution to this myth/problem is to begin with an area no larger than half of a dollar bill, and keep adding color (mixed with water, touching water). Don’t hop all over your page making endless oases with dry patches in between.
MYTH #3. You Can’t Make a Mistake.
Oh? Well just watch me. Soon’s I do, however, I add water and with a paper towel, press down to absorb the now almost indistinguishable color and excess water in the paper. Or I flood with a brush, dry the brush, and suck the color back up with the brush. If you dab it with a paper towel before adding the water, forget it. You have then made a mistake you can’t erase. You can still get around it some other way, however. Rubbing the color into the paper dry bonds it with the paper. As a matter of fact, making mistakes is so easy to cure, and the result attendant with the correction so much better, that I get excited when I do make mistakes, knowing something better is going to result from it. Yes, honestly.
MYTH #4. You Must Plan Every Inch Ahead of Time.
Or, said another way, watercolor is only for the left-brained individual, and I can’t plan a picture from start to finish ahead of time. Nor do you need to. Take it from one of the most right-brained people around, me. Even when I try to plan ahead, I forget major things. Watercolor is the perfect medium for us. You can connect color passages later, extend them, glaze over them, reverse color directions, almost anything except make a black spot white.You don’t even have to plan your light areas all that fastidiously. Maybe one or two, but you can lighten and lift color, let it dry, then paint dark up to it for contrast, and it will look white.
MYTH #5. You Have to Get It Right the First Time.
This is such a false accusation of my beloved friend watercolor that I have to defend it. I have moved eyes up and down, moved noses left and right, doubled the size of a hand, etc., etc. Just train yourself in the art of restoration, breaking of patterns, building up patterns, complementaries which return the color to neutral so you can go the opposite color direction. It works, really, it does. I have over 34 years had a bevvy of students from beginning to advanced to try it out on, and have achieved amazing detours every time. We’ve even turned an ink blob into an ink fish swimming behind another fish and saved a student from a nervous breakdown.
MYTH #6. You Can’t Make Even Color.
My answer to this myth is, why would you want to? Save that effect for vats of ink printing the same picture over a thousand copies. If you brush your color mix back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, you might get close, but you will kill all the color crystals, all the nuance of color, all the spontaneity of effect to produce a dull wall effect. Why bother? If you’re going to do all the work with your hand and brush and not let the lovely water have a say in the matter at all–water, which steps in and lightens your load and keeps you from all that tedious arm movement–go to another medium, and work yourself to death.
MYTH #7. You Can’t Make a Straight Line.
Well, yes, you can. Just drag a liner brush in one direction, fast. There, that wasn’t so hard, now was it? I can’t was twin brother of never could. Why are you so afraid of making a mistake? Go back to Myth 3, and loosen up. And please, don’t make your teacher do it for you, or you’ll never learn how.
MYTH #8. Watercolor Colors Are Not as Strong as Oils.
It is difficult to find colors which, color for color, come out as strong as watercolor pigments. Now there are charts of longevity and light-fastness that would be smart to follow. Alizarin crimson has had a long history of changing in different environs, even turning black–a bad surprise for a customer who bought a painting where red was a prominent part, but when you compare one or two colors like that to the list I now have in oils, your job is a minor blip on the radar. Also you need to buy the best. Don’t get cheap imitations or foreign imports. Don’t get anything but transparent watercolors, no colors mixed with white; white corrupts the pigment strength.
MYTH #9. You Can’t Paint Large Scale.
All you have to do is attend one session of Portrait Society of America and watch watercolorist Mary Whyte do a demonstration, then learn of her monumental watercolor series of workers in the South Carolina region to put that myth to flight. My questions now are, where do you find mats that large, frames that big, and how do you transport and ship such monumental entities?
MYTH #10. You Must Paint It All at Once.
The a la prima myth. No, you mustn’t. You can build watercolors infinitely, model them without lines, just by learning a few techniques. The main thing is not painting over everything and thereby losing all the freshness to the work. It must have areas of white, or near white, of one or two passes along with the built-up areas of dark. Admittedly, not many watercolorists do Old Masters’ type modeling and shading, but it can be done. I do them.
MYTH #11. You Must Be Able to Paint with No Lines Drawn.
Why? To fulfill the transparent watercolor society’s rules, is the only reason I know. If you are doing extremely complex paintings which do leave a network of white, or you are painting furniture or even a face, why would you race in with no line at all? Granted, you don’t want to fill it up like a jigsaw puzzle like one lady’s proposed painting was, but having a worked out drawing fulfills the requirements I have always heard for painting anything–solve all the drawing problems you can in the drawing phase. Deal only with color problems in the painting phase. That information goes beyond my eBook that you have seen or read, EBook, Watercolor Painting Techniques Easy(ier). link
I have just renewed my watercolor excitement to the extent that I am now dying to start a new one. I have one ready over on my watercolor table–or almost ready. The drawing is just as exciting. Now, then, I hope I have re- introduced you to a friendly and fascinating way to paint and express yourself in color…my good friend, watercolor.