Out of the Comfort Zone, Straight to the PageSunday, April 08, 2012
Last week I discovered, via Flickr, the spontaneous, energy-filled watercolors of New York City artist Anne Watkins. When I saw that she was starting a weekly plein air class, I jumped at the chance to join. After all, I've long been a fan of artists like her and Lucy Willis who are of the Who-Needs-Pencil-Drawings-When-You-Can-Go-Straight-To-Paint school. My own past attempts at it have been, shall we say, not ready for prime time.
As the sun slowly set in the Flatiron district, the building-tops glowed with an ethereal light. After a quick demo by Anne, it was time for us to take the plunge. I think I got more comfortable as the evening wore on -- do you agree?
As I painted, I realized I was doing three things outside my comfort zone -- all at once!
(1) Working with flat brushes. Anne encouraged us to use 3/4-inch and other flats to their advantage, allowing their shape and edges to define areas of light and dark in the urban environment.
(2) Sketching on Arches paper. I'd used it only for more studied plein air work and studio watercolor paintings. It sucks paint up quickly, so I found that it's very important to use lots of saturated color and keep lights light and darks dark.
(3) Omitting the initial ink or pencil drawing. Boy, was this hard! In my usual work, I obviously rely a great deal on defining edges with line instead of shapes. Whether or not I work in the direct-to-watercolor style going forward, it's certainly extremely valuable to do this exercise, as it's a reinforcement of how much painting is about value contrasts and the juxtaposition of shapes.
Can't wait to try this again!