My brush hovered above the delicately hued puddle, granulation pooling along the wet edge. Don’t touch it, my teacher advised. “I can fix this,” I pointed. Don’t touch it. I jabbed a bit of color into a corner: the line dissolved, the color muddied. We both sighed.
From the start, watercolor was either going to transform or destroy me.
As a creative medium, watercolor is a mix of loose/tight, flow and control. The pigments can flow over a page like smoke, defining shapes and textures against the rough background of the paper. Or a dry brush can trace a fine line or fill a microscopic space with jeweled highlight. The variety of results are on display at the Tate Britain through August 21.
The exhibit costs 14 gbp on entry; the catalog (with good text but only samples of the works on display) is 20 gbp. The works are arranged into a half-dozen groupings around themes such as botanical diagrams, imagery, and abstracts. There is a technical interlude half-way through with examples of how the medium has changed, how highlights are introduced, and paintboxes and sketchbooks of famous artists such as (my favorites) Turner and Whistler.
It’s a very complete introduction and I worth spending a couple of hours with reading glasses on so that you can study the brush and pigment work up close. Although the show has been crowded, the galleries were empty on Good Friday afternoon.
A few examples that I particularly enjoyed:
<-- A whimsical little Austen wet on wet, showing how much can be accomplished with just a few strokes of paint.
–-> Faint drawing-strokes highlighting a lantern against a wash clocktower in a medieval street setting. By Cox, almost a pen and wash, but with pencil.
<—Anything by JMW Turner. The accompanying text is wonderful: “He began by pouring we paint onto the paper till it was saturated, he tore, he scratched, he scrubbed at it in a kind of frenzy and the whole thing was chaos – but gradually, and as if by magic, [the watercolour] came into being.”
…and a van Dyck seaport, a Macaque with a wonderfully scratched out mane, and a leaf spray by Ruskin…