Friday, March 7, 2008

Watercolor experiments

I continue to experiment with watercolor, today with a quick, small painting based on a photograph of a Cooper's Hawk that appeared in our Philadelphia backyard about a month ago.

Today's experiment confirmed a couple lessons about watercolor. First, at least when working realistically, it pays to do a drawing first, to give some structure to the very fluid medium of watercolor. And second, watercolor is very dissimilar to oil/acrylic painting. Once the pristine paper has been touched it can't be brought back. In that sense it's more like wood or stone sculpture than like oil painting. It's unforgiving and once the pristine paper is gone it's gone, just as in carving wood. I learned that today when just one or two small strokes killed the painting. I had to use a palette knife to scrape back to some white surface.

So why bother with it if it's so temperamental? I think for the same reason that many artists have: it is challenging; it can achieve beautiful results; it's great at emulating light and atmosphere. I took a course in Oriental Brush Painting about 30 years ago at City College of San Francisco. It took weeks of practice to even begin to set down realistic looking bamboo on paper. But there was something thrilling both in learning how to do so and in the end result. To a certain extent each stroke has to be perfect. Watercolor isn't quite that demanding, but it is similar, and similarly rewarding.

This is my first drawing or painting of a hawk. I only mention that because the power of a hawk makes it much easier to take a rougher, more masculine approach to it. But I chose not to. Many of the hawks around our backyard seem to arrive on windy days and their feathers are always blowing in the wind. This gives them a delicate appearance, though this is often obviated by the claws and perhaps a song bird underneath them. There is also the delicate feather markings. So I attempted that type of approach here. I'm not thrilled with the results but it is a start.....And it seems true to both the bird and the medium.

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