Tag Archives: watercolour

Opacity – Transparency

One of the greatest strength of the watercolor medium is it’s transparency. It is also it’s greatest weakness, I think. Some things look great painted in a transparent manner, floral arrangements or the surface of water comes to mind. However, I find certain things hard to paint staying all transparent. Foggy backdrops, small sheep or cows in a landscape or a bright flower field in a dark meadow.

This post is purely about the practical side of painting. I don’t want to get into the whole ‘transparency = watercolor’ school of thought. It’s tiresome and a bit like discussing certain tastes in music: it cannot be done.

The longer I work in the medium, and keep in mind that I came from oils and gouache, the more I paint watercolor like I used to paint with oil and gouache.
Sure, I still try to preserve my whites but I noticed that I do a lot more layering also. Transparency first, opacity later. In certain places.

Am I concerned that I’m no longer a pure transparent watercolor painter? I shouldn’t be, when my path takes me away from it, right? Any rules in art should be questioned. That doesn’t mean I am painting gouache paintings now, transparency certainly has it’s place. As with many things in life, I believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

I also have to confess that I am a huge Andrew Wyeth fan and experimenting with some of his techniques. A student of mine sent me a description of his use of egg tempera that was made available during an exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. Fascinating stuff!

As an artist I believe we should always grow and never be static. Many artists out there are ‘stuck’, because they became known for something or a certain way of painting. It’s hard to change that because there are people following your art and you might loose them if you change too much. Personally, I am not concerned. I am not creating art to have ‘followers’. I am painting because that’s what I do. Even if I never sold anything, I’d still paint. Gotta keep the priorities straight!

Negative Painting

like a fish outta water, web  like a fish outta water, detail

When working out scenes with dramatic light, it is important to remember where the lightest light is and not paint over it. Watercolor painting depends on the whiteness of the paper for the ultimate highlight! Once we mistakenly paint over it, we cannot bring it back.
You could argue: well, I can always lift! True, but it’s still not the same as the untouched paper.

Speaking of lifting: In my opinion, lifting always feels a bit like ‘fixing things’ – unless you lift while it’s wet – why not paint it right in the first place without having to come back later and lift paint here and there?? But I digress..

In the above painting, the huge foreground puddle as well as the background body of water is nothing but the untouched paper. It feels very light, because everything else is darker. The interaction of values does it. It is an illusion, that’s all. That’s our job as artists: create an illusion. In the reference picture the water was not bright at all, more like the color of the sky. A pretty dull scene. By exaggerating the values of the scene, we create more interest and the result is a luminous, lively watercolor. (15″h by 29″w)