Out of the Comfort Zone, Straight to the Page

Sunday, 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?

Looking north from 23rd/Broadway, New York, NY

Looking north again from 23rd/Broadway, New York, NY

Looking toward Madison Square Park, New York, NY

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!

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  1. Adrienne asked me for your web link tonight (we missed you, but understand that you cannot be on both sides of the planet at once) and so I came here to find a treasure! Thanks so much, Suma. You broke this down so clearly. You help me to see the points we are zooming in on, Thank you! You jumped in the deep end! Hurray!

  2. Summa, I agree, your colors even begin to relax into one another, these look great.

  3. Beautiful!
    I'm pretty jealous you had a class with Anne!
    Your results are magnificent :-)