Unlike some other methods and materials which have separate names, the term ‘watercolour’ can apply to both the paints and the paintings that are produced using them.
Watercolours can be used on a variety of different mediums – the most common is paper. But it can also be used on papyrus, bark, some plastics, vellum, leather, wood and canvas. Bespoke watercolour paper is generally made with cotton (either entirely or partially) – this gives the painting a superior texture because it minimises the distortions produced by the water content.
With the paint being made from pigment suspended in water, some of the oldest examples of watercolour paintings can be found in cave paintings from Palaeolithic times. Many ancient manuscript illustrations from Egypt and the Middle East were created with watercolour paints.
Although watercolour has been around as a format since pre-historic times, it saw the advent of conventional use in the late 15th Century during the Renaissance period. The creationof thepaints were often closely guarded secrets due to the lack of commercial availability and the fact that the artists had to create their own colours and shades – it wasn’t until the 1700’s when they began to be commercially available, especially when William Reeve created soluble watercolour hard cakes, that the format became more obtainable.
Because of its easily accessible nature now, and the relative ease of use – there has been some stigma around watercolours, with detractors dismissing it as amateur. But as artist Willem de Kooning once said, ‘Watercolour is the first and the last thing an artist does.’
There are many different approaches to watercolour painting – it is a format can be applied to everything from abstract to realistic images. Unlike oils for example, where it is necessary to add and build up, watercolour tends to take the opposite approach – placing your lights first and editing your work to subtract unnecessary elements means that it quite often requires a completely different way of thinking.
The amount of paint and dilution of water effects the strength of the colour, and how an artist chooses to handle their brush (and what type they use) can all lead to drastically different end effects.
One of the fundamental techniques people may think of with watercolours is the ‘wash’ – this is where water is applied to the surface of the material (usually paper) and then the watercolours are added afterwards. This is often used to create backgrounds or large coloured areas.
Other techniques rely on either the wetness of the paper and / or the brush – for wet on wet, wet on dry, or even dry on dry approaches. Each one of these creates a completely different finish and are only some of the techniques a watercolourist can use.
Famous watercolourists include William Blake (also known for his poetry), J.M.W Turner (who produced wonderfully atmospheric land and seascapes), Thomas Moran (a U.S born painter who painted natural landscapes such as the Rocky Mountains) and Paul Klee (who experimented with abstraction and cubism). This is just a short list of the many famous painters who have taken up watercolour and applied the technique to their works.
It is a format that whilst easy to learn, is difficult to master – and has a lot to offer artists of every different skill level right from the amateur to the seasoned professional
To be continued in Part 3 with – Behind A Painting – A Touch of Acrylics. Keep checking our blog page for more unique and interesting articles coming soon.
Here at Exmoor Arts, we have some very talented artists who use watercolours as one way of creating their art.
You can also find their watercolour paintings and prints for sale here:
By Lynne Pratt – guest writer