January 2016 Watercolor Studies

I have important goals written on sticky notes surrounding my monitor, to serve as a long-term reminder of where I want to go when I start feeling downtrodden or depressed.   One of those goals is that I want to be known as a watercolorist in addition to being known as a watercolor comic artist, two titles that are more distinct than they appear at first glance. 

As a watercolor comic artist, I often need to mix my colors using set techniques- I utilize well palettes to mix up large batches of the same color that can be applied consistently throughout pages.  This technique, while very useful for a watercolor comic artist, is seen as a weakness for watercolorists, who aim to capture a realistic subject, even through interpretation.  For both types of watercolor artist, it's important to capture what FEELS right, but the application is very different.  Colors are mixed differently- not in individual wells, but on a large enamel butchers tray, and spontaneous interaction is encouraged.  My watercolor comics are painted fairly precisely, almost in a color by numbers fashion, but my watercolor studies are very spontaneous, and I'm always looking for interesting new techniques to add a spark of life.  My goal isn't to copy exactly what I see, but to capture a feeling, an emotion, or to practice a technique.

  I enjoy playing with a variety of papers as a watercolorist- handmade Shinzen, Winsor and Newton's mould made cold press, Fabriano's mould made Artistico.  For these studies, I enjoy using very rough papers.  On the other hand, my watercolor comic pages are very uniform- I always use Canson's cold press 140lb Montval in 10"x15" pads- it's economical, predictable, and runs through my printer.  I cannot achieve the same effects, cannot capture washes, cannot encourage beautiful bleeds, but my goals are very different as a watercolor comic artist.

On a few occasions, I've been snubbed by watercolorists for my work as a watercolor comic artist.  As their techniques are very rigidly guided, and what is 'good' is not nearly as subjective as comic art, I can see where they're coming from.  For them, watercolor is fairly specific- certain techniques are more highly regarded than others.  As a watercolorist, I have a lot to learn, and many areas where I need to improve, and I'm eager for new insight. 

Although my skills as a watercolor comic artist are detrimental to my neophyte skills as a watercolorist, I feel that improving as a watercolorist will help me improve my overall painting ability, so I think it's a goal worth pursuing.  I feel frustrated when people off-handily judge my comic work based on the style I use, without giving it a chance, and I find that these studies, which tend to be of flowers or nature, allow me to enjoy painting without concerning myself with the opinions of others.  I am eager for new opportunities to demonstrate my wide range of skills, and am eager to further hone them.

In the upcoming year, I think I'd like to take formal watercolor classes, mostly as a reassurance to my self taught background.  There's much I've missed in my attempts to hit the ground running.  I feel like more formal training would introduce new subject matter, new ideas, and new opportunities to display my work with a fresh context.

Below are a few of the watercolor studies I've completed in the past couple months.  Most of these were completed in a small Strathmore Visual Watercolor Journal, which I don't recommend for heavy washes, blooms, or lots of layers (all of which I'm fond of).   It's fine for light washes, or lighthanded application of water.

Of course, I'm stubborn, and since I planned on reviewing the Strathmore Visual Watercolor Journal, I tried to push it to it's limits regularly.  The end result is that many of these studies are fairly muddy and overworked, and my papers started to warp to the point where scanning was really a challenge.  I may go back and attempt better quality scans of some of my favorites at a later date.

Foliage is a challenge for me, so I ended up painting several variations of the bouquet garni to level up my foliage skills.

Including very simple studies of the component ingredients.

Gestural study of lavender- my goal was to keep things as light and impressionistic as possible.

Fabriano studies

Large, detailed flowers are also a weakness of mine, so this is an area I'm going to have to focus on.  I'd also recently started exploring the use of masking liquid to mask certain areas.

Shinzen handmade watercolor paper has a lovely rough texture, and forces me to work larger (these are on 10"x10" handmade pieces), but you can't use masking liquid on Shinzen as it ruins the surface.

Floral studies on Winsor and Newton's watercolor paper

Peppers painted with Cotman half pans.  Cotman is very unsatisfying to paint with after having used Winsor and Newton professional grade half pans for years.  Cotman is considered student grade.


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