Questions from young artists, Part 6 of 10

en plein air watercolor by Dawn Yoshimura

Question 16: What is watercolor?

Watercolor paints are paint pigments mixed with gum arabic as a binder and some additives to enhance its flow and water. You mix the paint with water to spread it on a support, usually paper.

This is a very good question, because many watercolorists actually mix other water soluble paints with watercolor, such as gouache paint, casein paint, acrylic paint or inks. These are all water soluble and thus mix well with watercolors. I paint in casein, which is water based paint with milk protein as the binder instead of gum arabic. It has a soft more opaque look and is an ancient art material found in Greek and Roman ruins.

Question 17: What techniques do you use for watercolor?

There are many techniques but mostly you can think of it as either using brushwork or markmaking to build textures and layers of color. You can paint with your brush in strokes, use stamps, stencils, adding materials to push or pull the water and pigments into wonderful textures. Salt, alcohol, gum arabic, plastic netting, plastic wrap cotton string, sponges, fingers, painting shapers, anything really that can create textures by pressing or removing water and paint is a technique. Overlapping transparent, semi-transparent and opaque layers also add to the toolbox of techniques used in watercolor.

Question 18: How many years did it take to master watercolor?

I think to master watercolor, you need to become an advanced student of watercolor, as I described in the previous blog. But if you think about Malcom Gladwellʻs classic Outliers where he talks about needing 10,000 hours for mastery that former President Obama liked to quote, it will take at least a few years of constant study and practice. It is has more to do with your will and desire than your talent and ambition. It has more to do with how well you are equipped with a support system to guide you, encourage and correct you at the right stages. Most people donʻt have this, so it takes longer than 10,000 hours or 3,5 years. But, I have students who have started from zero and after a few years, they surpass many other watercolorists I see who have been painting for years. So as author Julia Cameron writes in The Artistʻs Way, you take care of the quantity and God will take care of the quality.