In the past year I have been getting involved more and more with what I call Experimental Watercolour. That is a bit of an intimidating title that really means approaching watercolour in a little bit of a different way.
Specifically I identify 2 main differences with traditional watercolour. One is to be more intentional and playful with the water. Tilting the board all around to let the water/paint flow and letting it create exciting and very organic blends and special effects. Also spraying the paper before and during the painting process to get shapes to explode outwards and create exciting edges.
Another difference is trying to find ways to apply the paint to the paper other than using the brush in a traditional manner. This can involve throwing or splattering the paint on to the paper, dropping colours in wet in wet as well as using unusual tools such as twigs, homemade stamps and a palette knife. You can also apply and lift off paint with Kleenex or paper towel. I’m finding the possibilities endless and I’m just scratching the surface.
Experimental To Realistic
My goal with experimental watercolour is to create realistic paintings that make the viewer wonder ‘how was that done’. Sometimes I may do the entire painting in an experimental approach, other times I will do just some sections experimentally. But I’m finding that I’m learning so many things that I can apply to any painting and any style.
Here are some examples:
This painting based very loosely on a tree in Glenmore Park was an opportunity to make really dark shapes like the trunk and then hit them with the spray bottle. The paint rushes into the spray and creates some very interesting and organic edges.
Why Experimental Watercolour
This approach is particularly useful for complex subjects such as this little pond in Waterton Lakes Park. Doing all these trees realistically would be a huge task and it’s not a very attractive background. In the experimental approach I ask myself how could I get the feel of this place without directly painting every tree.
I really like this version because it expresses my idea of the photo but it has a completely personal take on it.
Creating Realistic Paintings
As I mentioned the goal is always to create a realistic painting but to do it differently. Last year when I taught in Nelson, BC I got to do a day of plein air painting (on location). It was a beautiful sunny day and this building which was a court house really stood out.
Here is the plein air painting I did.
Nelson Court House Plein Air
A very nice painting. What intrigued after I finished it was think about a different way to paint the ivy that would be more experimental.
What I came up with was basically throwing the paint at the paper and then spritzing it to get the paint to run while preserving bits of the white paper.
I’m very happy with this. There is a great feel to the building and it seems to glow. Interestingly I had this painting for sale at Art In The Garden 2017. It didn’t sell but someone called me 3 weeks later and said that he just had to have it. It is now sold.
Nelson Court House Experimental
Using A Twig
Another experimental technique that is a lot of fun and extremely effective is to use a twig to paint tree branches. The twig sort of twitches and jumps and ends up creating a line that looks exactly like a branch.
Here is an example:
Using A Twig
And here is a detail from a recent painting where I used this technique.
Detail from Majestic Shore – using twigs to create branches
As I thing and practice this approach more and more I’m coming to believe that it’s not actually the techniques that are important it’s the mindset of thinking ‘how else could I do this’.
Anyway, it you are interested I will be teaching an Experimental Watercolour workshop at the Leighton Centre, Oct 14 -15, 2017. It’s going to be fun and as always you’ll come away with a treasure chest of new ideas.
To register contact The Leighton Centre or