Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wade in the Water(color)!

Class participants Pammy (from left) Rachel, Shirelene,
Suenette and Michelle stand behind their completed iris paintings

Well, I am still recovering from the whirlwind workshop held this weekend as part of the Grant County Summer Arts Program. I taught a beginner watercolor workshop to five energetic and talented ladies (and one very talented 9-year-old boy as well) and we packed a bunch of information and projects into a day and half.

I can't say enough about the willingness of the group to work hard and stick with me because I probably tried to do too much given the limited time period.

A congratulatory group hug with some of the ladies.
When I teach a beginner-level class, I go through the basics of materials, as well as discuss some of the essential "tools" of the trade -- flat washes, graded washes, wet-into-wet, dry brush,  masking, textural effects, etc.

I believe that success in painting is more a result of determination and effort rather than a reward for "talent," and I want students to have some basic skills when they walk out of my class. My hope is that they will be interested enough in the painting experience that they want to work on developing those skills and adding to their repertoire of "tools."

As part of that step-by-step progression, the group worked its way through some introductory exercises to become familiar with the feel of the brushes and the paint.

I had several projects prepared for the class, which allowed them to sample a couple of different watercolor papers (a "student-grade" paper from Canson, as well as 140# cold press Arches).  I predraw the basic outlines of the projects on the papers ahead of time. I do this for two reason: first, as a simple time-saving element, and second, because I am teaching a painting class, not a drawing class.

For nearly every participant, this is the first time they have attempted watercolor (aside from playing with the cheap children's kits), so they have enough to worry about in just getting the pigment off their brushes and onto the paper. I don't want to place undue stress on them by making them draw. Instead, I want them to concentrate on how the paper and pigment react.

Once we had the warm-ups finished, we turned to a rural landscape depicted with a single pigment. It's essentially a value study, and the goal is to apply the warm-up skills to a painting, to see how a graded wash adds realism to a cast shadow, how charging pigment into a wet area can create soft foliage, and how a painting can come to life through patient problem solving.

We followed that painting with a couple of color exercises - one a star-spangled decorative item that illustrated the magic that water and pigment can make when left to their own devices, and the other a simple yet dramatic sunset over a mountain range. And that was only the first day!!!

The second session started in the afternoon, with a small floral as the capstone project for the workshop. I did a small amount of demonstrating with this subject, mostly to give everyone ideas on how to approach the initial washes, and to impress upon the group that soft glazes are often key to building realism -- and confidence. I tend to "sneak up" on most paintings, using multiple washes and glazes. After watching me, the group proceeded to work on their own irises, and I went around to each as they painted.

That final session ran long (we were supposed to conclude at 4 p.m. but it was well after 5 when we did finish), but ultimately everyone came out with a really nice iris painting. And, more importantly, the group all seemed happy with what they had learned, were pleased with at least some, if not all their results, and were amenable to further explorations in the medium. And that's what I truly hope for -- that they might consider picking up a brush again in the future.

I want to thank the organizers for the Summer Arts Program in Grant County for inviting me to participate in their program and I also want to thank the Grant County Press ( and the Grant County Arts Council for helping to publicize the class.

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