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Falling in Love with Watercolour

By Robyn Canning

I think I have always loved watercolour sketches and paintings. Perhaps that comes from illustrations in Children’s books that I somehow associate with watercolour. When I started to paint, I didn't consider trying acrylic paint, pastel or oil paint. My father used oil in his art and I remember I didn’t like the smell and mess of oil and even now, when I see how beautiful oil paintings are, I’m not tempted to try.

Once I started to learn about watercolour I realised there were lots of complexities in how to get the best results. Initially, I just “splashed’ water and paint onto paper, copying from a photo reference or Pinterest. It was very hit and miss, and sometimes the work looked good, other times it was a murky mess! When I started looking at online tutorials, I realised I needed to understand the difference between the amount of water and pigment made to a painting, and although I don’t pretend to always get that right after hundreds of hours of practice, I at least have that knowledge to work with in my practice.

Some aspects of colour mixing still puzzle me, and I have to admit that I often guess rather than look at a colour chart (I’m too impatient to stop). Often my palette has base colours that I re-mix to get the colours I want, particularly for the first layer of darks and lights. Initially, I painted copious numbers of flowers because, for me, they were the easier option to learn. First I tried to get the exact likeness, and when I felt I needed more tuition about getting the depth in the flower for a good result, I referred to more online tutorials. When playing with watercolour to see what would happen, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that loose florals were something I really enjoyed, and I searched for artists who painted in this style.

This was when I really fell in love with watercolour painting. When the paint and the water danced on the paper while I conducted, just guiding the image formed into something that resembled a flower. For me, this was magical, and my art practice took another big step in discovery. I loved the freedom this gave me, and although I’m a person that sticks by the rules in life, I found that I enjoyed painting more when I didn’t have to follow the accepted rules in watercolour, and this was liberating.

When I watch a tutorial, I generally start by following the teacher, trying to understand their technique. I then like to try the scene using the techniques I learned but applying them in my way to get a result. Perhaps that comes with confidence and brush miles when you feel like you can try something ‘by yourself’. After a workshop or lesson, I’m always eager to have a go and see if what I learned can be translated to the paper.

I started to produce a lot of work, and it occurred to me that if I practised small paintings, I could use them for greeting cards, which would be useful. These pieces wouldn’t sit in a draw but would hopefully bring enjoyment to someone I know. I have done this for the last 2 years and even sold some to friends and family who have been interested. I didn’t think about earning money from my art initially, but as time went by and I improved, and opportunities arose to share my work; it’s nice that I can cover some of the costs of supplies (which I buy far too many of!)

As my experience with watercolour increased, so did my curiosity to try more subjects such as still life, landscapes, seascapes and animals etc. Most of these required more practice in drawing and sketching, and that’s where my enjoyment of those mediums started. I tried to get the pencil sketch right before I applied the watercolour in a realistic scene, and in time this seemed to improve. I was learning that the challenge to see what I could achieve was one of the driving forces behind wanting variety in my art practice!

As Victoria’s weather continues to confuse us, it is quite another challenge, and I wish you a lovely week and hope you manage to balance your activities in between our changeable climate!


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