3 Common misconceptions about Watercolor

Watercolor is a medium that always seems to fascinate. It’s unlike any other and has a reputation for being a fickle mistress compared to oils and acrylics. Nearly impossible to control, it often encourages fits of madness for those who use it. Let’s talk about some of the most common questions/misconceptions I hear about watercolor. Then I’ll tell you why I choose to use it every day.

 

1) It has a weak/lighthearted appearance

We all know those types of paintings - very soft and greeting card-like. The soft pastel colors of a cottage or a beach with barely any darks. As pretty as these pictures may be, they’ve given watercolor a bad rap. Whereas oils line museum walls all over the world (whether portrait, still life or landscape), a lot of people still see watercolor as a Sunday painter’s medium - something lighthearted and easy. A harsh misconception, indeed. I could direct you toward my paintings, or some of my contemporaries, but instead, let’s take a look at one of my favorites - Andrew Wyeth. Would you call this weak? Look at the way colors bleed into each other. You can feel this painting - the jarring landscape. Abstract, yet so realistic. Ugh - spectacular!

One of my favorite paintings by Andrew Wyeth - a true master of watercolor

One of my favorite paintings by Andrew Wyeth - a true master of watercolor


2) Tiny Brushes

Again, I direct you to photographic evidence below. Who doesn’t love a bold brush stroke? Watercolors have been painted with these big "mop" brushes for centuries. Yet, people often think of those portable little brush and palette sets that you often find in art supply stores. Those things often look like makeup applicators - not good painting materials!

Here’s a look at the table in my studio. I never use smaller than a size 10 brush because it makes me too worried I’ll make a mistake. A bigger brush requires you to be bold and make your mark.


3) Irreversible Mistakes

My favorite misconception. Yes, it’s true that watercolor is more susceptible to mistakes than any other painting medium - but this doesn’t mean you can't fudge your way a bit and make a mistake look great. If you start painting without a plan - an end goal in mind - then yes, you’re likely to end up with mess that’s hard to look at. But, when an artist can visualize the finished painting in his/her mind, and has a reasonable amount of experience with the medium, magical things can happen. This is true with any medium. Of course, it isn’t easy.

Which brings me to my final point….

Why do I choose watercolor?

I’ll let you in on a secret: there was a time when I never wanted to paint with watercolors. I hated them. I couldn’t get a hold on them and I hated the saturated appearance of all those tiny little paintings I’d seen before. Plus they looked like cartoons.

Then I saw an exhibit of John Singer Sargent at the Brooklyn Museum and it changed me for good. Arguably the greatest watercolorist that ever lived, Sargent and his bravura paintings made with gusto and passion showed me what could be done with the medium. It’s unpredictable, never boring, and it can be breathtakingly beautiful. It's what I strive to achieve in my own art, for my audience. It’s the same feeling that drives me to paint more and more, even after I’ve spent all day making mistakes that will never see the light of day : ) 

 

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This is the halfway point of a study I recently painted. You can see how wet the paper is. I need to let this dry before finishing the painting.

This is the halfway point of a study I recently painted. You can see how wet the paper is. I need to let this dry before finishing the painting.