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Watercolors for Budding Artists
Book Review by Dorothy Coker

In browsing the shelves at our local library, I continue to search for books that will add to my knowledge of painting. Though primarily an oil painter, I like to dabble in other media to develop additional skills and techniques that will improve my art. As I also enjoy painting in pastel and watercolor, I found myself drawn to the colorful and appealing book about water based painting methods, The Encyclopedia of Watercolor Techniques by Hazel Harrison.

In 187 pages, more than 35 techniques and methods for watercolor based painting including watercolor, gouache and acrylic forms are presented along with easy to follow instructions and photographs showing examples of each method. From laying down washes and working wet-in-wet to spattering, creating texture through various techniques, and scraping with a knife to create highlights, the reader is shown various methods that can extend an artist’s range.

The book is divided into two sections. Part One on Techniques introduces you to numerous methods and verbage associated with painting. The vocabulary pertinent to the watercolor medium is a delightful and intriguing list of expressive words used to describe specific techniques and many of these terms are also used in other styles of painting. Once you become familiar with the terms, you are on your way to an understanding of the skills involved in learning how to paint. The terminology in itself is the first step in knowing what the technique involves when it addresses the use of backruns, blending, blots, body color, broken color, brush drawing, brush marks, building up layers of paint, color changes, hard and soft edges, creating highlights, lifting out paint, line and wash, masking, mixed media, scraping back, scumbling, spattering, sponge painting, squaring up, stippling, stretching paper, creating textures, toned grounds, under-painting, washes, wash-off, wax resist, wet-in-wet techniques, and wet-on-dry techniques. And we’ve yet to talk about color, tone, values, and composition to name more general issues related to all types of painting.

Each presentation of a technique makes you want to sit down, grab your paints and a brush and get right to work. The book is packed with information and colorful photographs to help your understanding and pave the way to quick success. But learning these techniques requires a willingness to sit down and attempt each technique, then to continue practicing them in your own paintings so that you can learn to exploit the natural action of watercolor to accomplish what you are trying to represent in your art. The first technique of learning how to cope with backruns to make them work for you teaches you how to appreciate that watercolor is a medium with surprises that can both frustrate and delight. The magic of the medium is found in the unexpected pleasures that crop up through washes where colors flow together and blots of color that add delight and texture. Sometimes that portion of the painting left ‘undone’ conveys more with few lines and the lightest touch of tone than many works showing extended labors. Often included in the depicting of a technique is hidden, unexpected suggestion such as using a piece of card on it’s edge to drag the color to produce a feathery mark or to make a suggestion of fence posts. You are taught how to make corrections, minimize a problem area, how to wash off color of the paper then use the stained paper as a backdrop for another painting. Suggestions are made to the best methods to lave reserved areas for highlights.

The second part of the book addresses various themes in paintings including the animal world, buildings, the figure, flowers, landscapes, skies, still life, and water. It talks about how to harness the techniques and the experiences you learn about the medium to develop your own vision and ideas. It addresses difficulties associated with certain subjects and shows you additional techniques and approaches specific to the subjects discussed in painting birds, showing the movement of animals, formats used to enhance a subject, how crispness contrasts with softer areas to define an object, the use of color to create a mood or to express an attitude, the use of perspective and proportion, how textures and pattern can be used to enhance the depiction of buildings and stone walls, development of character of a person or building through the details and lighting, the use of lines in sketches to show movement and mood, creating a sense of atmosphere and the importance of composition and how limited palettes can enhance a painting. Many examples of portraits, the figure, and groups of figures are shown to illustrate specific points.

I’d highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning how to appreciate art, understanding the complexities of creating good art, or wanting to develop skills of their own. Though the book is specific to water based painting, many of the topics discussed are also appropriate to other media as well. The techniques and ideas expressed here are wonderfully done and widely used by artists.

About the Author:
Dorothy Coker is an artist in Rockbridge Baths, VA.