Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Taking Risks with Sketching Nature in Watercolour in Wales

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous.”   
~ Aristotle

On my recent trip to Wales I found myself in the Elan Valley gazing at a beautiful sight that I wanted to capture in watercolour in my travel journal.  

The goal with this sketch was to achieve freedom, looseness and expression using watercolour, water brushes and ordinary antiqued notebook paper.  I do not use my cheap water brushes very often so I was not expecting too much from this painting session. 

Fifteen minutes later I surprised myself.  The pigment and water flowed freely in the right places.  The page was flooded to achieve this level of fluidity and movement and the paper coped really well considering the huge puddles of water.  The strong wind helped to push the pigment along further.  The whole session was quite exhilarating and I was quite thrilled with the effects and the painting session.  The thrill was knowing how risky the process was under these conditions.  Risk taking is definitely part of the excitement with watercolour. 

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On this holiday I was studying groups of trees and the interesting shapes they create in numbers.  This trip I stuffed my travel  journal with all sorts of different papers to explore how they behaved. 

Interestingly I watched a programme about Auguste Rodin, the sculptor, the other week and his watercolour sketching habits.  Once on a trip he ran out of paper and went to the nearest butcher to ask for the wrapping paper they used.  If he could use thin paper and still produce expressively wonderful sketches, then who am I to quibble with him about what paper he should have used because I read it once in a watercolour teaching book.  Of course when I am guiding my learners I advise them to use nothing lighter than 300 gsm (140 lb) watercolour paper. When we eventually know what we are doing with watercolour, we can then use what we like to fit the purpose. 

Each different paper type brings with it different characteristics and risks.  The sketch above is a practice piece I did back at the holiday cottage on 80 gsm inkjet printer paper.  I was quite surprised what I achieved with it. 

This is the second study of the same trees on ordinary antiqued notebook paper.  Both papers have different absorption levels so create different effects.  Both painted with my Escoda 8 sable brush and the same Windsor and Newton artist quality pigments.  Both are fine as sketches in my travel journal.   

Who knows, maybe these were the types of explorations that Rodin was comparing when he did his sketches on unconventional papers too.  Part of the excitement of watercolour, or any medium for that matter, is watching how they behave on different surfaces.