Sunday, August 10, 2014

Watercolour: a humbling experience

I love watercolour, but watercolour doesn't love me (yet). This week I took a 12-hour Introduction to Watercolour class at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. I figured if I was going to humiliate myself, it was better to do it where I didn't know anyone.

Many fibre artists have done some surface design with paint. We know how bubble wrap can be used with paint to stamp on an interesting texture, how to make a soft mottle with a sea sponge, how to sprinkle salt on wet paint to get a twinkling texture.

We know the basics of colour theory: monochromatic, analogous and complementary colour schemes. If we dye cloth we know about mixing complementary colours to make neutrals.

We know some fundamentals of design: odd numbers are more dynamic than even numbers, consider your negative space, use a range of value and plan out your values. Use high value contrast to create a focal point. If we've done figurative work, we know about atmospheric colour: create depth by using faded colours in the background, more saturated in the foreground.

But trying to pull this all together on a sheet of cold press paper while it is slowly warping under your hand is a different story. Wet areas dry too soon and the line hardens. They dry too slowly and then bleed into a neighbouring patch. You are attending to an area that needs work and all the while the water and pigment are puddling where they shouldn't be, in an unsupervised corner. (Not unlike teaching kindergarten!)

Jocelyne Lambert, the instructor, did a fine job of teaching a disparate group. I had the mixed blessing of sitting next to Julie, who couldn't put her brush to the paper without creating a thing of beauty. Julie claimed to be new to watercolour. Her medium, she said, was ink. By Day 3 she admitted that the label on her "inks" identified the product as "liquid watercolour". Uh huh.

Here are some things I want to learn more about: working loosely, using the white of the paper for highlights, and helping the medium make beautiful passages, transitions from one colour to another.

Meanwhile, I have a whole new respect for those who have tamed this medium to produce welcome accidents. Some day I may be one of them.


Dianne Robinson said...

I love the jug - it looks like Japanese pottery. Pears are pretty good too! Is this going to be a new direction?

Heather Dubreuil said...

I could do a bit of dabbling, using some of the instructional books I've bought over the years. I love/hate the unpredictability of the medium, but it can be quite magical, when done well.

Maggi said...

I really like the trees. You have an amazing glow shining from behind.

Heather Dubreuil said...

This was pretty formulaic, a little trick by the teacher to wind up the class on a positive note for everybody.

Jessica said...

I've always loved the femininity of watercolour, I think you did a great job.

Heather Dubreuil said...

Thank you, Jessica! I am currently taking a second watercolour class, this time locally, for eight consecutive weeks. Will post when I get my sea legs!