Posted by: Jenny | Tuesday, 10 August 2010


‘Splash! Dive into watercolours’ is the title of the course I am attending all this week at the Bahá’í Arts Academy.  It’s an apt name, for not only is the course a very intensive and fast-paced introduction to the art, it also involves a fair bit of water splish-sploshing about.

I had intended to write a day-by-day account of my experiences.  But this has proved to be too ambitious, and the course itself is time-consuming and tiring enough to leave me with little energy to write as well.  But now, on Day 3 and already half way through the course, I’ll begin.

Today we have been learning about ‘glazing’: the technique whereby you apply a layer of paint onto a painted surface that has previously dried.  The action can be repeated as many times as you like.  It allows the artist to build a picture using negative space painting.  This involved letting a shape come to the foreground by painting the spaces around the shape.  It is how watercolourists achieve the impression of white, and pale tints, without using white paint.

So much for my non-technical description of the techniques we learned today.  What was the process we went through, and how did it feel?

Yesterday afternoon (or in my case, evening) we painted a ‘variegated wash’ onto several sheets of paper.  Two small, one larger.  This morning we took two separate small sheets and created simple landscapes by putting on one wash after another, in layers which we dried thoroughly between each application.  It’s hard to imagine – photos might help here.  You get a different but equally pleasing effect if you do this using the same colour paint or different colours.  Using different colours allows you to see how the colour of the glaze interacts with the colour of the layer below.
Next, we took the two small sheets we’d prepared yesterday, and did something similar with them, producing another, slightly more interesting landscape effect.  Then we prepared a variegated wash with jagged edges, and while that was drying we began our first ‘negative space’ exercise, writing our names by painting out the spaces between the letters.  Strange how some people found this really challenging and others were quite comfortable doing it.

When the jagged-edge wash was dry, we used it as the base for a slightly more complex negative space exercise, by drawing a row of tree outlines and painting in the spaces, and then drawing another row of tree outlines in the gaps between the first trees, and painting out the spaces again.  Can’t picture it from my description?  Probably not, unless you’ve done this sort of thing yourself.  It was small and intricate work and I found I loved it.  The most unpredictable thing was the effect of combining the colours.  In this case, I was pleased with my combination of blues, greens and purples.

Now for a larger and potentially more challenging piece, building on the same approach.  We took leaves (yes, real ones) and drew their outlines onto the larger sheet with the variegated wash that we had prepared yesterday.  Then painted out the negative spaces.  Then drew on more leaf shapes and painted out the spaces again.  You could go on and do this several times more.  But I found the process less enjoyable than with the small forest version, and the end result much less pleasing.  I think I need to learn a lot more about juxtaposition of colours, and how colours look when they are combined.  Maybe my painting will look better tomorrow, when it’s dry.  But I doubt this somehow.  OK, the process was interesting and the technique no doubt useful, indeed essential to master.  But this painting is not going to form part of my portfolio!


And that’s how this course has been for me, really.  Some exercises have been fun, and the result both useful and attractive: ‘mixing chickens’ on Day Two, for example (an exercise to get us used to different ways of mixing colours, and the colours you end up with when you do).  Some have been utterly frustrating, such as when, on Day One, I didn’t have the patience to wait for one area to dry before beginning to paint the space next to it, and so the colours ran into each other when I didn’t want them to.  But I learned from the experience – and that’s what it’s all about.

Other processes remain a mystery at this stage: the ‘mandala’ project had me fired up when I started it, and I produced a design which I am very pleased with, but somehow when I started painting it didn’t work any more, and I secretly wonder whether I will ever finish this particular project.

Am I going to be a watercolour painter?  The jury’s out on this one.  Ask me again at the end of the week.


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