Rediscovering watercolors

I never really liked to paint. Oh sure, as a kid I did the standard tempera and watercolors during playtime, as other kids would. But while my drawing ability was going somewhere, my painting wasn’t. In high-school art classes I pushed myself to “get into” oils and acrylics. I was going to be “an artist”, and artists must paint. I even spent some of my hard-earned cash from my part time job to take a weeklong intensive painting course between junior and senior years, just for the practice.

Then I didn’t end up going to art school, so no need to paint. I still drew, and got into drawing comics. But making comics is cheap. As stated earlier, I could spend less than twenty-five dollars (or less) and be set. Not so for painting, where a tube can cost as much as that. I was happy with pen and ink for decades.

But over the past few years there’s been a gnawing desire for color. Sure, I can (and do) add color to my pen and ink work via Photoshop. But I was wanting something more, something direct. Something analog. I started adding color via brush pens during Inktober 2019, and that was something. They were also water-soluble pens, so I could do watercolor-like effects. But it still wasn’t watercolors, and it turns out that’s what I wanted.

During my grade school days, I disliked watercolors. For one, it seemed like the only adults who seriously used watercolors only ever painted stereotypical beach scenes with seagulls and boats by the water. This wasn’t what I wanted. And watercolors are, well, watery. I didn’t want translucent, splotchy colors, I wanted bold and thick colors. That’s not going to happen with watercolors.

Over the years I my opinion on watercolors changed, as urban sketchers love using them. And these colors were often used to augment line drawings. When I was “properly” learning watercolors in high school, pen lines were verboten, because it wasn’t “pure”. Well, I’m okay with impurities. Splotchy colors on line drawings look cool.

I had purchased a small travel set of Winsor-Newton “Cotman” watercolors in early 2019 but had yet to even crack it open. I got into the idea of “Urban Sketching” in early 2020, so I thought for sure I’d do it then. But I got sidetracked by my rediscovery of film photography. I vowed to paint something in the new year. So on a dry and not-that-cold Sunday in January, I rode over to Rose City Park and painted my first thing in who knows how long: A bathroom.

Well, it’s a nice bathroom, or more formally, a comfort station. It looks more like a rural cottage than water closet. This was the aesthetic of early twenty century parks, and I am thankful for that.

Anyway, painting was fun! The colors weren’t exactly accurate, but so what. I’m not striving for photo accuracy, but feel. (I have a camera for “photo accuracy.”) I painted a few more things since then. And I’m looking forward to more.

The kit in action at Stub Stewart State Park, 7 Feb 2022. Olympus XA2/Kodak ColorPlus 200

I’m not going to be painting big pieces anytime soon, I’m more into watercolor augmented drawings in sketchbooks. I already had a nice Hand Book Paper Co. watercolor sketchbook in A5 size (5.8″ x 8.3″) but wanted something even smaller for pocketability. So I picked up a Hahnemühle’s Toned Watercolor Book in A6 size (4.1″ x 5.8″). 1 I also got a set of blank 4″ x 6″ watercolor postcards, the idea being I can use them on bike tours and travels. I painted three postcards during my Stub Stewart cabin camping trip.

The Cotman watercolor set is small enough to be thrown into a handlebar bag when I go on tour. It comes with a small brush, but I wanted at least one decent one, so I got a Silver Black Velvet Voyage Travel Brush – Round 8. It’s a two part brush which “folds down” to a small size. Add a water brush–a synthetic brush with its own water reservoir–plus a small (1 oz) Nalgene jar for water and a towel, and I have everything I need for on-the-go painting.

And I think that will be it for now. I’ll replace colors when needed, maybe try out a different kit. But I don’t think I’m going to get a bunch of different brushes. When I thought about watercolors again a couple years ago I got out a few books about watercolor painting from the library. They all made it seem like I’d need several different brushes. Maybe if I was doing bigger, “pure” pieces. But at the scale I’ll be working, one number 8 brush seems fine.

Getting back into watercolors has been fun. Despite the “quick” nature of this type of painting, I haven’t painted as much as I like. It was nice to have a couple hours during my recent cabin camping trip to Stub Stewart to just paint, and I’m hoping for more opportunities like that. Until then, I’ll try to squeeze it in when I can.

Rose City Park "Comfort Station", 16 Jan 2022
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1 I also purchased another Hahnemühle watercolor sketchbook in A6 size, but in portrait format. The idea is that I’d switch to this as my overall sketchbook for bike tours and times when I want to keep the kit really light.

3 thoughts on “Rediscovering watercolors

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  1. I love my watercolor postcard so much! Especially so since I saw the pictures of your watercolor postcards first, and it felt super special to get one ❤ Also, your watercolors are awesome and I hope you do more:)

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