I'll start by saying that I'm not a huge fan of working in watercolor. However, I will also freely admit that if I did it more often I would understand it better and it would probably grow on me as my watercolor work improved. Funny how that works! That said, I'm going to finally share some of my Wyoming paintings.
I'm not going to share the first one. (But keep reading--I do share others!) Aside from the fact that it is still in my mother's possession, it simply is terrible. The subject was supposed to be the beautiful red cliffs across a field of sagebrush and then some farm fields. I learned quite a bit from it, though, as I sat on my rock and wanted to rip it into a thousand tiny pieces. First I learned quite a bit about technical issues, such as the importance of the correct supplies: paper, paints, a chair! (The teacher loaned me a portable metal one, but I jumped up quick when the thunder rumbled overhead as the clouds sped over!) Second, my compassion for my struggling students grew. If you've ever seen the old version of the Grinch and how his heart grew ten sizes that day (that is the right number isn't it?)--well, that would be sort of like me. I sat on my rock having a most lovely internal conversation that ran something like: "I hate this. I can't do this." "Did you say can't? We don't say can't in art class. We ask for help." "I want to rip this painting apart!" "What a bad attitude! We don't get better if we don't try!" I'll let you supply the voices. When the teacher came to offer help I felt so stupid, but I'm happy to report that I didn't cry--lol! I know what I'm doing with the mediums I work in all the time. I just don't work much in watercolor. Third, I also saw how easy it is to repeat the same mistake, even though I could see that what I was doing was wrong. I just didn't know how to fix it, so I kept trying to fix it the same way. Fourth, the importance of values was reinforced. And I didn't give up, but persevered to the bitterest of ends (cliched, I know, but exactly how I felt!). I was so happy when the other artists were ready to go back to the conference center!
The second day of painting was a lot easier for many reasons, one being the gift of decent paper (thank you Jeannie!). What a difference good supplies can make. My subject that day was a waterfall and while I still wouldn't judge it as good, it was greatly improved. The colors are darker, the result of simply using more paint. Yes, I know--how simple was that? I have a tendency to paint lightly and have always been frustrated with how light my paintings are. Well, why didn't I think of just using more paint on my own? Hmm, who knows. I know now and that's the good part. I suppose I also loosened up quite a bit and just accepted my novice status and quit worrying about what the other artists might be thinking. One of the surprising things I discovered was how many of them felt the same way I did--like a new swimmer struggling against a current--not always knowing the best stroke, being afraid of the consequences if things didn't go exactly how I wanted and growing weary in the process. Once I let go a bit, things started to flow much easier. So here's that watercolor.
I was riding with two wonderful artists from Michigan. These ladies actually live in the same town and know each other, so it was a great blessing to be allowed to tag along in their car. They also gave me many invaluable tips. By afternoon they were ready to leave the falls, so we headed out to a beautiful field where they had spied some great fall colors earlier in the week. By then I was starting to feel warmed up, so I joined in and here's the result. Again, not ready for the gallery, but improving in quality, as well as my attitude toward the whole thing.
By the final day of painting I was starting to almost enjoy myself. (!) We all went out to a local ranch and I was so eager to get started that I didn't spend much time watching the teacher, but scouted my location pretty quickly. I opted for an easy little shed with some great autumn foliage coming down in front. In the end I didn't finish it because the wind came up and chilled us to the bone, but there's nothing quite like practice for improving! (Something I tell my art students on a regular basis.) The colors are definitely more alive, not to mention see-able because they are darker. I was actually quite pleased with some of the spots, like the door and the skull. Unfortunately the part I did not finish was the section that pulled the whole composition together: the glowing leaves that came down in front of the shed and contrasted so beautifully with the colors of the wooden siding. I still need to find out how I would work those in technically. But even unfinished I was happier than the first day and beginning to feel like I could conquer watercolor.
I was so optimistic that I came home and bought a basic watercolor set. I also bought a tube set of acrylics (as opposed to the fluid ones I've got a variety of). So, I may be optimistic about watercolor, but now I have another confession. At this point, my heart belongs to my acrylics. There, I've said it. It's out in the open. I painted an apple study one evening and was so much happier with the results. I like my little apple and have left it out for all to see and have even showed it to people outside of my family. Yes, again, it's not gallery quality yet, but it gives me hope for my figurative painting abilities.
For anyone who has stuck with my little tale long enough, I now have a treat for you. If you haven't already found it, be sure to check out the blog of James Gurney, the author and illustrator of the Dinotopia books. Witty, talented and generous with his time and instruction, I would have to say that Gurney's blog is one of my favorites. Plus he likes art history--yay! Please check it out and enjoy. Blessings to you!