Last Wednesday and Thursday, I was supposed to be teaching a plein-air watercolor workshop at a regional art center. That plan didn’t quite gel; I took the now unscheduled time to work unfettered as a gift from the universe and I painted outside in the wondrous fall air! I even had some extended time to paint some in the studio. It was a nearly perfect compensation!
While working on one smallish piece, I assumed that I was creating a watercolor sketch. Soon, I began to question if that was what I was doing. You see, I am not always sure when a watercolor sketch really becomes a small painting. I have been drawing, working with sketches, making paintings, and sometimes a lot of other types of art as well, for many years now. But I am still not sure where, or even if, there is a line somewhere between those watercolor sketches and watercolor paintings. ???
Let me back up and set the stage. Earlier in the week I had been helping some adult students with techniques and processes used to work with watercolor on wet paper … what many call wet-on-wet or wet-into-wet watercolor. If you have looked at my work, you know that in my pure watercolors, I mostly utilize what is known as the wet on dry techniques. But as I do every so often, I responded to all the wonderfully rich and soft colors that Autumn has served up this year by making room for some wet surface painting.
Beginning as I usually do, with a brief pencil line drawing … I was soon adding some delicate layers of color … mainly to the slanting ground of the hillside, the bushes along the “ridge-line” of the hill, and the foliage and trunks of the most forward cluster of trees. These forward trees’ trunks, branches, and leaves cover almost two-thirds of the top tier of the watercolor.
As this completed my initial mapping of the image, I quickly moved on to adding some rich golden yellow color into background on the upper left side.
Before the thick golden yellow dried, I moved in with two very dark green, one a bit blue and more neutral … the other a bit darker but a “purer” green. As I watched this new rich green-yellow mix began to set up and dry, I turned my attention back to looking at and working all around the image, finally concentrating on the far right side of the image … especially the deep background visible under the canopy of main “central” trees as an area of shadowed blue and violet-blue.
At this point I wasn’t yet sure if: #1) I wanted to make the dark bright trees at the center as bold as the ones to the left … or #2) if I wanted to paint a deep blue violet into the now bright wet blue on the right side of the composition. NOT making a nearly instantaneous rational or intuitive decision was my first hint that I might now be painting rather than sketching.
Instead of tackling that decision … choosing one of those two major options … I once again began to “play” some more all over the image, making small tweaks to the composition. I also spent some time working on the small bushes that appear out from under the central trees, descending along the hillside in front of/below the still extremely wet dark yellow-green mass that I had painted just a few moments before.
I scrubbed out most of the dull rose hue I had started with in the main clump of bushes. Next, I made a darker mauve-burgundy blend that I pushed into the other reddish plants along the edge of the swelling line of the hill. Finally, I scraped and scuffed the paper of the main bush before applying a purer, warmer red … as well as a few touches of the burgundy.
Well, as so often happens … life and many other tasks intervened in the process of finishing this piece. Dinner finally called. The next day, my students, doing necessary work out in the yard, a few household tasks, visiting with family … even another painting or two begged for my attention!
A couple of days passed before I returned to work on this little image. Luckily for me, I had made a photo or two of the location … as well as having a clear memory of my slightly agonized struggle to clearly see and process the image on location. I carved out an hour or so to reconnect with all that and spent a bit of time looking at what had started as a simple sketch. It was time to finally commit and finish it!
About 20 minutes of painting spread out across an hour and a half or so of evaluating … as well as drying time between new color layers and it was done!
As I said at the beginning, I am not sure when a watercolor sketch crosses some type of delineation and becomes a small painting. In this case, I am sure of two things …
… 1) This was excruciating and deliciously fun …
… 2) I would rather know which one YOU think it is, a sketch or a small watercolor?
Please let me know!
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