Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Comparative Success Rate in Prints and Watercolors

Seaside Sparrow and Marsh Wren at Jake's Landing. Watercolor and Brush Pen Painting by Ken Januski.

An odd title for a blog on art right? It sounds more like some sort of scientific study. But I was knocked over the head by my high failure rate with watercolors when I looked through all of my old ones in preparation for a small sidewalk show at Morris Arboretum on June 19, 2016. I plan to mainly show my linocuts and woodcuts but thought I should show some watercolors too, especially since so many have been based on birds and/or dragonflies seen at Morris.

Unlike many artists I don't rip up unsuccessful paintings and prints part way through in utter disgust. But it's easy to understand the impulse. Sometimes things just go horribly wrong on the way from intent to finished art work. As I looked through my storage box of watercolors though I realized that about 90% still looked bad. There were at least 125 of them and that doesn't include the 100s of additional watercolor sketches, works that were more quickly done with less focus on the finished product. I was tempted to ask why I continue with watercolor.

At the same time I'd been going through all of my linocuts and woodcuts. Though there were a few that were very disappointing, often where my ambition far outstripped my abilities the vast majority were successful. At least to me it looks like I know what I'm doing with prints whereas that's often not the case with watercolor, especially when I try to do a more expressive and spontaneous watercolor.

But that is in fact the rub. Watercolor when done well is one of the most expressive media, especially when it comes to light and the sense of fluidity and spontaneity. Trying to get some of that keeps drawing me back in spite of my numerous disappointments.

That said I'm always looking for a personal way to use watercolor, just as I do with printmaking. The recent works on this page are two examples. Above is a sumi brush pen and watercolor painting of a Seaside Sparrow and Marsh Wren both seen at Jakes Landing near Cape May, NJ over the last two Mays. Below is another painting using the same media. It shows four very active American Oystercatchers seen at 'The Meadows' in Cape May last week.

American Oystercatchers at 'The Meadows'. Watercolor and Brush Pen Painting by Ken Januski.

Both of these paintings are very loosely done, and due to a large extent to all the lines from the brush pen, look somewhat cartoonish. For many viewers I'm sure that this detracts from their appeal. Where is the detail, where is the subtlety? Well the fact is I just don't enjoy that type of work, certainly in my own work, though I can enjoy it in others. I'm not sure exactly what I'm doing here but I think some of it comes from a desire to show the liveliness of both the birds and their environment, to show a sense of animation, just as you see in many cartoons. Additionally this method and these media seem to lend themselves to studies for prints. So I think eventually some of this type of work will end up as a linocut or woodcut. And my guess is that, at least to me, they will seem successful.

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