Thursday, August 1, 2013

Watercolors for Everyone--Writers, Too!

Tomorrow morning I start a new watercolor class, which I thought was the perfect excuse to write about: Watercolors!

The idea to post about painting has been with me for awhile, thanks to watercolor artist, Rita Squier, one of the winners from my blog giveaway last November. I had asked followers for some suggestions on what I should blog about, and Rita asked what it was I enjoyed about watercolors. Great question! And it was one I wanted to give some thought to, not just write any old thing from off the top of my head. 

It may seem that I waited rather long, however, to answer Rita, but I have a good excuse: at the time of Rita's question, I had taken a small break from watercolor painting. November in Albuquerque was SO cold that watercolors seemed too thin, too bright and summery for the way I was feeling. Instead, I found myself turning to oil pastels for creative inspiration, especially the more muted tones of gray, olive green, and brown. Just the thought of watercolor back then made me want to shiver and put on an extra sweater.

But now it's summer again, and I'm back to sandals, T-shirts, and open windows. Once again I'm craving the brilliant light and sparkle only watercolor can produce on a pristine sheet of white paper. (Oh, that scary white paper . . . no, not really!)

My interest in watercolors started about twelve years ago, but it took a while for me to get up the nerve to try them myself. For years I had heard so many people say that watercolor was a difficult, even impossible, medium to work with (something I still hear) that I was afraid to make a serious start. Especially when most of the instruction books and magazines I read concentrated on super-realism; beautiful to look at, but the time, the talent needed to achieve such results! Whew. How could I ever reach that pinnacle of perfectionism? My own meager attempts seemed like messy blobs of . . . well, mess. Then one day I had an epiphany: the watercolor paintings I loved best were messy. And they were beautiful. There was room for everyone.

Once I started using watercolors on a regular basis, I learned that yes, they could be frustrating, no two ways about it--those nay-sayers had a point. But more often than not the paints were pure magic: the transparency they can give to light and shadow alike; the meditative dreaminess of the wet colors and soft edges flowing across a damp surface; the mystery of "what will it be?" allowing for a constant sense of new direction; the bright intense color which can match my mood whether it be somber and reflective, or happy and playful. I can't think of any other medium that can provide all that at the same time.

One of my favorite things about watercolor, though, has to be its similarity to ink.  In the same way I prefer to use a gel or fountain pen when I freewrite, each time I start a new watercolor I can simply let the images "flow." A single drop of color can spread into an entire design, leading to yet another choice of color, and another new doorway into my imagination. Happy accidents abound, and sometimes I can almost say the painting painted itself. When that happens I can barely remember even holding the paintbrush.

Another wonderful aspect of watercolors is that they come in a variety of forms now--not just little pans or tubes of paint. Watercolor pencils, pens, and crayons are perfect for writers! Whether I use them for  journaling or perhaps to add some loose sketches to my manuscript notes, they're as easy to use as any other pen or pencil, like the time I went into my backyard looking for haiku subjects:

In this next example I wanted to illustrate a poem about my cats and I used a brush and traditional tube colors instead of the pencils. I experimented with using just three colors:

Here I simply took a break from editing to capture another of my cats as he dozed on the couch in my office. I had to work fast before he woke up!

Painting people is almost as fun as painting cats (almost). This next picture was done with a single watercolor crayon. (I also think this model would be a great character to write about):

Now it's your turn . . .

Tip of the Day: Visit Rita's blog as well as her Etsy store.  And while you're at it, why not buy yourself a watercolor pad or journal, as well as a little set of Prang Watercolors? (Amazing value and excellent quality for beginners and professionals alike.) Just be sure to throw away the accompanying brush that comes with the set however, or keep it for spreading glue in your art journal. In its place I recommend buying 2 synthetic brushes: a flat and a round, size 8 or 10 is just about right for anything. If you've never tried watercolors at all, a good place to start is by watching beginner's how-to videos online and following along with the step-by-step lessons. Paint your world beautiful!