Saturday, January 14, 2012

Teaching Myself to Paint; or... Watercolor (You're Doing it Wrong)

After five years of art school, I never managed to learn how to paint. That came five years later.

Winter on Horseback, 1994. Watercolor.
When I graduated college, I wanted to be an illustrator... but unfortunately I didn't have a style or a favorite medium. Art school was very helpful, to be sure, but my instructors looked down their noses on imaginative art and most especially the kind of art I was very
fond of: comics.

This was the eighties, and comics were not valued as an innovative art form as they are now. Two decades after a professor told me that comics were a "low art", they're teaching courses in graphic novels at the same college I attended.

 Oh, the irony.

But that's the subject of a different post. I've always seemed to be born too soon or too late...
Or maybe I should have just skipped art school altogether? Nah. I loved life drawing class. There's no better way for an artist to learn to draw than by spending hours drawing from a model. That in itself was (almost) worth the price of college admission.

Anyway-- painting. I never had painting classes. They were not required as part of my Communication Design curriculum.

 Bummer. Should have taken them anyway.

I digress again. I needed to learn to paint. So I went to books, which God knows I have a lot of. Because they were handy, I had my portable plastic tray of watercolor paints. It seemed to be the only medium I had any patience with. Acrylics dried too fast (and you couldn't blend them after they did) and oils dried too slow. Besides, oils were messy and smelled funny.

One of the books I consulted, and pretty much how I felt about
my efforts to learn how to paint.

So my trials and tribulations with watercolors began.

Watercolors are a transparent medium, meant to be applied in carefully thought-out layers of color, lest they get very muddy. Well, that didn't stop me from charging in and laying the paint on so thick it would give a Victorian watercolorist a heart attack. I was trying to use this more delicate paint in the way you would  use the other two discarded media. In other words, I was DOING IT WRONG.

But... I started to like it. Especially when I found that the secret was to always have a good brush with a "sharp" tip. Sort of like a pencil. I had more control that way.

My favorite brush is a Round (left).
I buy student versions of them because I still
have a tendency to beat the hell out of them.

I find these brushes are the most like drawing tools which, for me, are more comfortable.
More evidence that I'm most certainly DOING IT WRONG.  But you know--? It works for me.

MY brushes--considerably more beat up and less expensive than the ones shown above....
When I found a way to paint that I liked, after much trial and error, I started doing "remakes" of older pictures I thought had promise but had really screwed up one way or another. For instance, "The Fisher King" (below) I did three times. THREE times. Before I finally got to the version that I was most happy with (that is now hanging on a wall in my parents' house. I knew I finally succeeded when it met Mom-approval.)

"The Fisher King--Version 3", 1995. Watercolor (with some colored pencils and chalk). Mom-approved.
A theme that I like to work on a lot in fantasy pictures is "The Four Seasons." Each season had a disastrous turn before they reached these versions:

All done in 1994, all watercolor, all about the second try...
Even this one had a predecessor:

Spring Fauns, Version 2. 1995. Watercolor.
But I suppose the moral to all this is:

Keep trying, keep experimenting, don't give up. You can never do THAT wrong.

And I haven't even gotten to the good part yet--


Coming up next Post:
Gouache and Pez Dispensers.

Oh, and one last watercolor, Version One and Only: (yay! finally...)

Baron Munchausen, 1995. Watercolor, baby.

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea watercolors could be so vibrant. Guess it shows how little I know about painting... PEZ, on the hand, I am well versed in.