Sunday, September 25, 2011

Re-connecting with Watercolor

It had been three months since I painted with my watercolor palette, until yesterday when I taught the first of a two- part weekend workshop at Montserrat College of Art. I had spent the summer focused on my encaustic "Water Life" series and after attending an intensive 5-day watercolor workshop (as a student) in June, I felt the need to take a break. Teaching is probably the most creative muse I have discovered to date, and demonstrating techniques with the ability to share the process is one of the most exciting things I get to do! Yesterday brought me back to my watercolor roots.

I have a group of 7 students, most of them are new to watercolor. My favorite first lesson is creating a resist with tape, an easy way to mask out areas of the paper, allowing students to focus on learning how to layer their watercolor washes without worrying about loosing the crispness of white. Below you can see our room set up with everyone busy working. 

We spent the morning working on water washes, learning how to create depth by layering paint, and after a lunch break we shared in a group critique. I was able to start a second demonstration, a landscape painting, focusing on more specific painting techniques. My initial paint washes were simple but my composition and colors were set. 

Today at home I was able to continue working on this painting; as I painted I listed key elements I want to outline and share next weekend when we complete the workshop. I am not sure if I will add anything else to this, it feels finished right now but I need fresh eyes to be sure.

"Bonsai Glow", 30" x 22"

Watercolor concepts
1. Know your subject - look at it, study the shapes, know the place.
2. Work wet!
3. Control the paint by using the spray bottle; respond to where the paint leaves a mark rather than forcing the paint, don’t fight “happy accidents”.
4. Build up layers, use a hairdryer between each layer, finish with glazes if necessary.
5. Lift paint with a clean, wet brush.
6. Work dryer as the painting progresses, spattering and small linear details should be saved until the painting is almost complete.
Final note
7. There is always a point when you need to stop using a photo reference, when you need to stop looking and trust your instincts, freeing yourself to experience the free flow of the watercolor medium.


  1. Absolutely stunning piece, Robin! Watercolor is my favorite medium, both to see and to do myself. Alas, I am too tight with it and have never been able to achieve a painting like this. I used to work wet in wet. Now I more often work wet on dry, with a few wet in wet for the larger areas.

  2. AutumnLeaves alread used the word I had in mind--stunning. I wish I could be in that class. I've been playing with watercolors--standing by the bathroom sink; playing with wet-in-wet. It's fun watching them run and mix (and the floor looks cool, too). I need to clear a space in my workshop for watercolors; they shouldn't be in my upstairs' bedroom and bath--too much playing before I go to sleep.

  3. Oh yeah, I know that had to be fun! It's great seeing all your students hard at work.

    I love painting with watercolors, but it's been sooooooo long that I probably need to join you in one of your workshops to get back into the groove.

    I love that glowing sky you created. My eyes are still seeing spots...


  4. Sherry, a spray bottle always helps me work wet, maybe experiment with one.

    Hallie, wouldn't it be fun if a group of bloggers all met to share teaching techniques in different mediums? too bad you aren't closer.

    Don, I have to admit I did enhance the color in the finished image because the vibrance did not translate without the enhancement. I actually think the colors are more exciting and not quite as extreme in the actual work.

  5. Looks like fun and reminds me of my classes at the John Campbell Folk School. I really like the results you achieved.

  6. It was so much fun, especially because I had taken such a long break from watercolor, thanks, Eva.