Thoughts on Watercolor - Lynn Powers

Posted January 23 2015

- Originally Posted January, 2015 -

Over the past several months I've been well out of my comfort zone trying to bring something more personal to my watercolor portraits. More than once I've longed for the flexibility of oil or acrylic to white out an unsuccessful passage. After all, unlike in acrylic and oil, a stroke in watercolor is irrevocable. Sometimes when I'm fighting through these thoughts, I start to wonder why watercolor isn't generally values as much as an equally good oil or pastel.

Perhaps it's because watercolor is frequently considered a gateway medium. It's where people start, only to move to a more forgiving medium. Or perhaps it's considered impermanent. Watercolors on their own can fade quicker than oils but with UV protective glass and sealers that is no longer the situation. Maybe it's because people consider watercolors on paper physically weaker, which is strange because an oil painting can crack and tear and the surface of a pastel is delicate.

Artists find their medium after years of searching. We find our medium because something about that medium speaks to us. Those of us who love watercolors find something it it that we just can't find in oil. 

But in a world that covets the quick brushstrokes of oil and acrylic, we watercolorists have to be patient with ourselves. An ill conceived stroke can be, potentially, irretrievable, and we watercolorists often benefit from slowing down and thinking more. No one tells an oil portrait painter to hurry it along so why should we feel internal pressure that our paints and resulting process needs to hurry it up. 

Watercolor requires thought and calculation and that can be immobilizing. To overcome those challenge takes fortitude and sometimes abandon but not necessarily speed. Oil painters can take months to complete a work without recrimination and we, watercolorists, should embrace that our watercolor process may take days, weeks, or even months for a single painting. And thinking about the spectacular beauty of washes and glazes that can come from that time well spent makes me want to head back into my own studio and spend time with the beautiful medium that is watercolor.

by Lynn L. Powers