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Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Copyright, Jim Lane
Feline Fascination in White, 1981, Jim Lane
It's been years since I painted one. Back in college, some forty-five years ago, I got pretty good at it, though. A course in watercolor was require. I don't think I'd ever so much as touched them before that. However, despite their "orneriness," I came to enjoy the medium. I had two things going for me. I was already fairly adept at oils, and I've seldom had difficulty drawing. Though oils and watercolors are nothing alike, insofar as technique is concerned, paint is paint and I was not at all intimidated by either type. I came to love the demands, as well as the inherent beauty, of (almost) pure pigment on paper so much that when I picked up on acrylic painting several years later, I found myself painting transparently on canvas much as I had using watercolor. Feline Fascination in White (above) to this day, I can't recall (or tell) if it was a watercolor or an acrylic. Only the date, 1981, suggests it might have been done in transparent acrylics.
Once you're comfortable with the peculiarities of watercolor,
they're far more "fun" than oils or acrylics.
Why did I "give up" on watercolor in favor of acrylics? Simple, watercolors must be displayed in a frame under glass (or Lucite). At the time, I was turning out up to thirty or more paintings a year and selling them mostly at outdoor art shows. Acrylics on stretched canvas are, not only remarkably durable, but need only a lattice frame, usually costing less than a dollar. Framing a single watercolor, even when using standard size frames, could cost up to twenty times that much, with glass and frames subject to scratches and breakage...not to mention the fact they're heavy and fragile. There's nothing worse than handling any object that is subject to both of those liabilities. Add the vagaries of the weather to that mix and it quickly became evident that carting around even a few framed watercolors to art shows was a colossal pain in the posterior.
White Ships, 1908, John Singer Sargent. Even when the signature is
nearly a household word, watercolors seldom bring the same prices
at auction as similar work on canvas.
The other important factor in my eschewing watercolors for oils and acrylics is one bemoaned by watercolor painters since the medium first became popular in Europe during the late 1700s. Buyers simply don't respect that which is painted on paper as opposed to canvas. And adjacent to that, art buyers are seldom willing to pay the same price for such works, even though the time and skills involved on the part of the artist are often quite similar. That's especially the case when they're sold wrapped in Mylar and displayed in a browsing cradle (which I did for a while). They appear cheap (and thus they usually are).
Copyright, Jim Lane
Durer's hare was probably a pet.  Mine wasn't. It was a photograph.
Try your luck at sketching with
Watercolors have, of course been around for centuries, in effect having been the first painting medium used by man (on the walls of caves). On paper, they likely go back to the time the Egyptians or Chinese (take you pick) invented the stuff, not too many centuries after cavemen found watercolor rocks too hard to carry around to art shows. European monks found it quite appropriate for their illustrated manuscripts. However, the Ger-man artist/engraver, Albrecht Dur-er, may have been the first Euro-pean to master watercolor as an illustrative medium, as seen in his 1502, Young Hare (above, left). Not to brag, but I think my own watercolor Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow (above, right), from 1971, stands up reasonably well to his. Watercolor is great for rendering fur.

In terms of shapes, watercolor brushes differ little from those
used with oils or acrylics, though they are more often softer
and more pliable. The best are made from sable tails.
Watercolor pencils--my students
loved them. They seen far more
natural to use than brushes.
For those not familiar with the medium, watercolors consists of four principal ingredients--pig-ments, natural, synthetic, mineral, or organic; a binder, usually gum Arabic (acting as a "glue" to affix the pigment to the paper); ad-ditives such as glycerin or honey to add durability to the mixture; and, of course water, which acts as a solvent to thin the paint. The water evaporates as the paint hardens and dries. Transparent watercolor never contains white pigments. Such paints are sold in tiny tubes, in tiny tubs (best for on-location painting), and more recently in the form of water-soluble pencils (above).

State legislator, 1995, Yong Chen
Landscapes lead the list of watercolor artists' favorite subjects, followed closely by animals and still-lifes. Watercolor portraits are fairly rare in that the discipline needed in attaining and maintaining a good likeness during the painting process is quite difficult to master. Also the near-instantaneous dry-ing times create a similar challenge. Any reasonably smooth flesh tones take some degree of speed in painting. Moreover, it's far more difficult to practice painting portraits in watercolor than rendering plants, flowers, and animals. Try printing this page and us-ing it as the basis of a watercolor exercise, sketching in the various items only if you feel you must. Remember, practice makes perfect...and a lot of wet paper.

The more detailed the item (such as flowers) the more you may want to sketch in the item first.

Obviously, wild animals are seldom painted from life...
especially bears.

A poor photo of a 1971 floral
watercolor not much better. Is it any
wonder I gave up watercolors?


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