So what did I learn from the Direct Watercolor challenge? A lot. About direct watercolor painting, of course. But also about how I paint and see, and how I like to work.
The month-long challenge was actually much longer than a month for me. After I agreed to do the challenge with Marc , I knew it would be, well, challenging: Direct Watercolor is not my default way to work. And doing a piece a day in a technique I am comfortable in is very different from working outside my comfort zone. So I did a series of posts (mainly written for myself) to remind me of things I could do to stay on track with the challenge. Here are those 5 posts:
Some strategies just helped make life easy (“Pick a Forgiving Subject”) and some made me push myself to redo something that I didn’t think worked. (“Don’t Stop at One”) . Challenges need that sort of flexibility: push yourself when you have the bandwidth to do it, stick with the basics on a more challenging schedule.
I did use the easy way out a lot towards the end- a month is a long time to keep up a challenge. Interestingly, when I had time, I found I wasn’t drawn sticking with still lifes and non-urban landscapes; I wanted to see if I could use this way of working when working on location and working on urban sketches with people in them. Those are the subjects and pieces I learnt the most from.
See these two pieces from In-‘N-Out Burgers. I thought the no-line one just wouldn’t work. But I think it does. Pushing myself to keep seeing in shape instead of switching to line was hard: at about halfway through, I so wanted to pick up my pen and draw in those few strokes that clarify the tilt of a head and the reach of a hand to grab a food tray… why didn’t I do it in watercolor? Because I was in the middle of my piece, going from big shapes to middle sized shapes, not yet to the smallest details…When I’m switching between line and color, I can jump back and forth and capture a gesture in line when it happens and return to color: the line stays put with color over it. Not so in direct watercolor, I felt I couldn’t jump in and seize the moment. Can it be done? I’m sure it can, I just haven’t figured it out yet.
No-line seems to work great for me for capturing a general mood in great swaths of color. I’m going to try and remember to use this approach more when color and shape is what strikes me first about a scene.
So here’s what I found very frustrating about working in no-line: It takes about twice as long as I usually would take on a piece. That’s not an issue sometimes, but a lot of what I do is reportage sketching and being quick is what gives me access to the subjects that interest me.
This first capture of artichoke flowers took much longer than the second one where I started with big shape and then switched to loose line with a watersoluble pencil.
While I’m pretty happy with this sketch below, it’s just not practical to spend this much time on painting one person: the chance of them getting up and walking away is really high if I have to work in this style.
In my usual style of working I would have drawn him first in pen and then perhaps worked the background in just big shapes. The effect is different, but the chance of capturing my main subject is much higher.
But, I can now see working in a ‘hybrid’ style of big shapes first, some line later and then coming back to color to finish off the piece…
Also I just wanted to say: I totally missed my pen all month.
On the positive side, seeing in big shapes has been very very useful to me. That second artichoke piece in pencil and watercolor is a result of doing so much shape-seeing: I’m going to explore making shape and line play against each other much more now. It’s a style I have been trying to work more with (instead of just line-first) for a while now, and my demo in Porto is actually based on that concept (My main workshop is about drawing people at work) :
In conclusion #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 helped me:
• Stick with an almost-daily practice, even in a busy time
• Forced me to put away my strong medium, line, and see/think in shape
• Opened up possibilities of working more with shape for a wider range of ways to work
• Made me play with, study and understand watercolor better
• Made it clear to me how much I love drawing (I do really love working in line!)
• Brought me back to more regular blogging.
And that’s a lot to learn in a month!