When I tell folks that I paint in watercolour I get the feeling that they believe that I am painting in an insipid wishy washy medium. After all it wouldn’t be called “watercolour” if it wasn’t colour watered down with water, would it? Watercolour has always been the poor relation to oil paint. Watercolours were always considered to be just drawings. My feeling is that oil, watercolour, elephant dung or any other medium, what does it matter. The important thing is the idea. Once you home in on an idea and become passionate about it you will find the right medium that works both for you and the idea. You will then be able to communicate your idea. The idea is much more important than the medium that you are using.
The story goes that William Turner was painting one evening by the mouth of the Thames. Turner was passionately capturing the sunset as it set over the water. He was using bright strong colours in his expressive style. A fellow out walking comes along and looks in a puzzled way at Turners rendition of the sunset. Trying to match Turners colours to the actual sunset he eventually comments,
“I just don’t see colours like those,” to which Turner replied, “No, but don’t you wish you could.”
Turner and a number of other painters, Paul Cezanne, Georgia O’Keefe, Andrew Wyeth, because of the “non – wishy washy” watercolours that they were producing made critics more accept the medium. It is a medium that can be pushed in so many different directions. It has qualities that are difficult to control (runbacks, it dries lighter than it shows wet etc.) These are qualities that we know about and that we can use creatively. We don’t want them to be happy accidents. We want them to happen when we want and need to use them.
It is up to the artist as to whether the watercolour is used in a loose expressionistic way or in a more controlled analytical way. I prefer the latter to the former, but this has nothing to do with the actual medium. It has to do with my personality. We are what we are and paint in the way that our personality, our own expression dictates. It is nonsense to think that all watercolours should be “free and loose.” Some should and some should not. It all depends upon the personality of the painter. I often think that watercolour newbie’s are pushed into this method of painting, and brainwashed into thinking that it is the only way to produce a “proper” watercolour, because it is easier for their teachers.
Watercolour is like any other medium, it is capable of being pushed in many creative and expressive directions, but in the end, like any tool, it is only as good as the person that is using it.