Introductory Remarks about Watercolor Painting


Watercolor painting has played a significant role in the history of art, especially in the so-called “oriental” world.  Ancient cave and rock painting was executed with a water-based paint, the results often resembling those of artists today who work in acrylics.  Egyptian scribes applied watercolor to rolls of papyrus.  The Chinese used rice paper.  Penmanship began to emerge and dominate watercolor media during the Renaissance.

Watercolor gradually became known as the medium of the “masters” with ideas to paint. In the early 19th century, British schools virtually suffocated the medium by overemphasizing a strict methodology of documentation in lieu of artistic expression.  It remained for Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) almost single-handedly to rescue watercolor through his outpouring of vital and spontaneous work.

Toward the end of the 19th century, French Impressionism introduced sparkling color-and-light experiences.  Soon after that, German Expressionists and the awakening schools in America began to restore the status of watercolor painting by way of their dynamic energy and dramatic innovation.

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There are many different techniques that could be discussed with respect to watercolor painting.  I won’t get into acrylics or opaque watercolor painting. Instead, I’ll be writing about traditional transparent watercolor painting, focusing on things I’ve found helpful, techniques I’ve adopted and use to produce my work.  I could present them as rules, but I won’t because they are simply my ideas to paint by.  Everything else I’ve written will apply to the careers of all watercolor artists and, for that matter, perhaps other artists as well.

The important thing for every watercolor artist to realize is this: at some point in your career you will eventually develop your own unique style of painting.  It may emerge very early, but more likely it will be some time before it becomes refined.  This will take longer if you struggle trying to copy the work of other artists.  True, working with another artist (or artists) you admire will tend to influence your choice of various tools and techniques and even ways to develop compositions.  But in the final analysis, your own way of painting, even the subject matter you select, becomes something unique … and this is what defines your individual style.

I have always been open to trying out new pigments, brushes, and paper.  And I’ll even take on different subject matter from time to time.  But any artist worth their salt will begin to produce work that is distinctly different, readily identifiable as their own work for any number of reasons.

My hope and purpose in writing this book is not to tell you what to do, how or what ideas to paint, but simply to describe and explain how I go about doing my work.  I’ll tell you what things led me to develop my own style and method of painting. This will help you build confidence in your style!

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After studying how other artists work, the wise thing for anyone to do is commit themselves to certain activities over a reasonable period of time.  Let me recommend some tips for painting that I have found helpful:

a)  Join a local artist association and become involved in their activities. Watercolor artists should join watercolor artist associations. Pick a group that will expose you to the work of other people like yourself who are trying to accomplish the same things. It’s nice to have companions with similar interests and objectives.

b)  Study and read about the work of various watercolor artists. Visit their exhibits for ideas to paint.

c)  Paint with people you meet through the artist associations you join. Many workshops, group painting sessions, both formal and informal take place throughout the year with these groups. You’ll begin to fill your calendar with a variety of painting activities.  This will not only provide you opportunities to produce artwork, but you’ll learn tips for painting by what others are doing to develop their skills and refine their work.

d)  Refining your own skills will come from attending watercolor painting courses. Though this will tie you down to scheduled activities, it will also introduce you to new and different techniques. It certainly did for me. Through these activities I met other artists who introduced me to other teachers and various opportunities to exhibit my work.

e)  Eventually you’ll understand that you must exhibit your work. This will take place initially in a watercolor painting class. But you’ll soon find other opportunities with your local watercolor artist association. As you exhibit your work, there is potential for some recognition… but also disappointment.  The most difficult thing every artist must learn is to accept the results that come from entering a juried exhibition.  Formal recognition comes through acceptance into juried exhibits, from receiving awards, but also from developing a wide client base and a list of patrons and art collectors. Don’t expect to get into every exhibit you enter. Likewise, you can’t expect to receive awards at every exhibit you enter.  Those that do get awards are the exception to the rule.  These artists most likely will achieve some real measure of success.  One thing this teaches you is that when you get an award from a juror, make note of his/her name, and seek out other exhibits they are jurying. Your chances for success will be much higher!

Douglas Stenhouse also wrote a book about watercolor painting.

“I decided to write about how I paint, not only to share my observations with others, but also, frankly, to do some self- examination. I wish I had done this earlier in my life! But then, how was I to know I’d benefit from doing so, certainly at a time when I had no aspirations of becoming a professional artist.” 

To learn more about Doug’s Watercolor Painting Book, click here. To purchase a signed copy, use the link below.

Douglas Simms Stenhouse, watercolor artist, transparent water color art, watercolor painter, painting with water colors