Watercolor forces you to search for better paintings.

The reason I enjoy watercolor paintings more than oil painting is the immediacy. With oil paint, if something goes wrong you can almost always scrape up the paint and readjust your painting. There might be some residual marks, but for the most part you can correct/go in another direction at any time. Like a studio album, if you come in flat you can always go back and re-dub yourself in. There is a safety net that allows you resolve the painting to where it becomes a “good painting.” This is not to say that oil painting is easy, far from it. Simply because it is more flexible does not compensate for poor talent/work habits.

With that in mind, I would like to make my case for watercolor. With watercolor there is no going back, only improvisation. If you lay down a bad color or shape you can work with it, but you can never undo it. Ever. You can try, but often this only makes things worse. However what you can do is try to evaluate why that color/mark/whatever is “bad” and try to maneuver it around to being good. This definitely calls in to question “what does a good painting look like?” and “just because a painting looks good, does that make it a good painting?” I like that kind of thinking, I like not really knowing what a good painting looks like, I like finding out.

It seems much better to paint a painting that makes people say “Hey! So that is what a good painting looks like.” rather than “Hey! That painting meets all my expectations of what a good painting should look like.”

I think watercolor forces you to search for better paintings.


One Response to “Watercolor forces you to search for better paintings.”

  1. Kathryn Hulick Says:

    First of all, thanks for your drive-by-critique on my blog. The painting with this post is my favorite of your most recent works. The composition is very interesting, with so much open space in the lower left, but it works, and gives the work a kind of anticipatory feel. What’s going to happen to that rabbit when he sails off the page? The shadows falling around him are a little menacing, too!

    Also, I wanted to reply to your oil painting vs watercolor case, since I am an oil painter who gets frustrated by watercolor — for exactly the reasons you mention! I think it just depends on what you enjoy about painting. My favorite part is glopping color around with my palette knife, splashing some here, some there, then making immediate changes if it doesn’t work. I take more risks with oil, and I love the smell and feel and texture it has. Also, I am a very fast painter and I can’t stand waiting for watercolor to dry before doing another layer.

    Because I feel safe enough to make spontaneous marks, the painting often takes me in a direction I hadn’t expected.

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