July 20, 2020 5 min read
Phoenix artist, Julie Gilbert Pollard, paints in oil and watercolor in a fluid, painterly manner. Her painting style, while representational, is colored with her own personal concept of reality. She has published several books and videos (see the three we carry here) and teaches nationally. Pollard is a signature member of National Oil & Acrylic Painters’ Society, Arizona Watercolor Association, San Diego Watercolor Society and Plein Air Painters of Arizona. Her work is included in many private and corporate collections.
What’s the biggest struggle you see your students facing with watercolor? What advice do you give them?
First, understand that chances are you will never master watercolor. I know I won’t! Think of your relationship with watercolor as developing a partnership with it, because watercolor has a mind of its own!
Think of the difference between driving a car and a boat. Both require all our attention and skill – BUT water continues to move as long as it is still in a fluid state. Since it doesn’t “stay put” we need to learn and practice various methods, strategies and techniques that help us to cope.
Studying painting is kind of like learning a new language. This language encompasses vision, taste, subject and color choices, color theory, drawing/shape-making skills, analytical problem-solving skills, knowledge of the principles and elements of design, eye to brain to hand to brush coordination – and more and not necessarily in that order. All of these sensitivities and skills work in concert. There are so many elements involved in painting, it can seem daunting. Instead - think of it as an adventure!
Could you walk us through your process?
There are several processes I employ, so I will talk about the basic and most traditional “light to dark” process. For this process I begin with the lightest values and move on to darker values until I get to the final stage of adding the darkest values.
This is generally the safest way – because, when dark values are used too soon, we then have to be very careful when painting over them as the paint will likely dissolve and smudge, often making that dreaded “mud”.
What do you need to have figured out before you begin painting? What does that thinking look like? (Thumbnails, color studies, etc)
To this end there are several preliminary studies I have employed regularly over the years. My current favorite is the 4-step sketch. Below is what I explain and stress when I teach this:
What I really want you to understand is our objective for doing these simple 4-step exercises – which is to simplify several critical aspects of the proposed painting in order to make the “real” painting easier to accomplish.
Additionally, I would love for you to experience the sense of freedom that comes from not caring about the outcome, but to simply enjoy the process - and then to allow some of that freedom to carry forward into the actual “painting”.
I’m referring to Simplification in terms of:
Drawing & Composition - largest, most important shapes only
Process - traditional “light to dark”, at its most basic
Values - learning to see and separate the reference photo into 3 basic values
In the “real painting” as we begin to use “fancier” techniques, more detail, creative color, etc., we will probably find it easy to get “bogged down” and even confused as to how to accomplish our goal as we attempt to capture our mental image of a beautiful painting. When that confusion strikes it is so helpful to have a “simple plan” as backup.
Our goal with these studies is NOT to produce a “painting”, but a study that is a reasonable interpretation - and most important, the essence of the subject!
Why is planning important? What does it give you in the painting process that you wouldn’t have without it?
Planning through the use of preliminary studies is time-honored, brought to us by THE MASTERS. While it’s true that there are painters who seemingly don’t need to do studies, all the rest of us do.
Planning is not a guarantee of success - but having studied ahead of the actual painting gives us insight and practice and helps de-confuse the issues we’re faced with in a particular painting.
The experts tell us to paint what we know. The more we know and understand about a subject, the easier it is to paint it. I usually need all the help I can get! But I also find the studies fun to do.
For your reference: What do you take more or less directly and what do you translate? Why?
I always attempt to capture the essence of whatever scene I’ve chosen to paint. What I perceive as the essence of a scene is then combined with my “vision,” designed into a composition using the principles and elements of design. Sometimes my skill is up to that task but more often than not, it isn’t, and the painting falls short of what I had hoped to capture. Our skills must catch up with our vision. I will be working on those skills for my foreseeable painting future!
What does a painting need to have to make a strong painting on a compositional level?
I always fall back on the principles and elements of design.
Composition can be pretty overwhelming. Where does someone start with composition? How do they get better?
Learn the principles and elements of design and practice, practice, practice!
How important is drawing? What does being able to draw give you as an artist?
You must think of yourself as a “shape maker and designer.” This often means drawing with a pencil but it also means creating shapes with brushstrokes and color and value. In my mind, “drawing” with a pencil is only the start and shape-making is the very act of painting, regardless of your medium or style. Even a painter who is an “abstract painter” must make shapes and learn to arrange those shapes into a composition. If we paint representationally, we need to learn to make shapes that represent a person, tree, rock, etc.
When you’re finished with a painting, how do you assess it? What questions do you ask yourself?
This may be the hardest question of all to answer. I try to be objective and judge the piece using the principles and elements of design. However, to be honest, my assessment of a finished painting is done on a more intuitive gut level.
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