Today I begin teaching a course in achieving the illusion of light and depth in watercolour, at the Station Arts Centre in Tillsonburg. I’ve taught a workshop in this before, but am looking forward to teaching six 2-hour-long classes because I think the lessons I’m teaching will have so much more time to be absorbed, and the students will be able to put into practice each part of what they are learning, as they learn it.
Why is this an especially important part of watercolour painting technique? Because the nature of this medium requires us to plan. Transparent watercolours allow us to see all layers of paint that were laid down, through the layers laid over top. If we need light in a painting, that light needs to be captured and saved from the very beginning. Do we want a foggy distance and a sharp, bright foreground? That also has to be planned from the beginning. Do we want it to look like a sunny, colourful day, or a rainy, grey one? Colour saturation requires colour integrity or purity – which cannot be achieved if painting over that colour’s complement. Do we want one thing that is light, in front of another which is slightly darker? Again, it requires planning from the beginning.
The only case in which we as watercolour artists have the leisure to not plan our light and dark areas from the beginning, is when we use surfaces such as gesso-coated paper, Yupo, or any other surface that allows scrubbing the paint back to the white surface. Even then, we must be fully aware of which paints contain staining pigments, or we may find the inability to remove a hard edge, or to lay down a saturated yellow when we need to.
Apart from the specific requirements of watercolour, I will be also using a little of my science education to help explain some of the behaviour of light and our perception of it and our surroundings in general. I hope the students will all come away from this with fresh eyes on the world and an inspiration to tackle subjects they found too challenging before!