Can I Paint Watercolors

Outdoor Watercolors - Can I Doo It

Let me first deal with the critical question many readers are surely asking. "Can I sketch and paint if I have no talent?" That is a very good and a very difficult question. And I truly doubt if there are any "experts" to answer it. But I do have some strong opinions on the subject, and here they are:
As long as I can remember I seemed to be able to draw. But I am still not sure whether my pleasure at drawing kept me drawing until I developed some skills---or whether some latent ability gave me pleasure so that I continued to draw and develop that latent ability. I am not sure if anyone has a definitive answer to that question.
But I do know this: A great deal can and must be learned about drawing and painting. Neither Winslow Homer or John Singer Sargent, two of my favorites, were born with brushes in their hands! Whatever native ability they possessed was honed and developed through years of instruction and practice.
I always liked to draw, but never really developed that ability until I came across some classic books on the subject by Ernest Watson, Ted Kautzky, and others. I learned from them and went on to practice because I enjoyed it.
I knew nothing of watercolor until a friend introduced me to his efforts and something in my brain concluded, "I want to do that!" The classic book Ways With Watercolor by Ted Kautzky was a breakthrough for me, opening up all kinds of doors. Indeed, sketching and painting can be learned by people who have never done it before. It happens every day. It happened to me. Perhaps it boils down to this: Does it truly bring you pleasure?
There is no substitute for passion and practice! The passion keeps you painting---time after time---despite failures along the way. It keeps you from being discouraged, and there is plenty of potential for discouragement in watercolor painting. Practice teaches you to learn from your mistakes and build on your successes. There are techniques to be learned, especially in watercolor, which can only be learned by doing. No one is born knowing how to lay down a "graduated wash" or what it means to paint "wet-in-wet."
`But I can't draw a straight line," someone will object. Good! Straight lines in art are generally a bore. Everyone with any degree of physical control can draw a line, straight or otherwise. Everyone can draw a circle, be it round, oblong, or pear-shaped. Anyone with decent vision can see lights and darks, or what the artist calls "values." Lines, circles, and values are pretty much the basis for all drawing.
Even perspective---that bugaboo of so many aspiring artists---can be learned. Good books teach it mathematically. But simple techniques make it practical for the occasional painter---and these techniques can be learned by seeing and doing.
Much of what we say we cannot do is in the mind. As children virtually every one of us made drawings. We also learned to compare them with the more sophisticated efforts of our elders, and then concluded, "I could never do that!" Many people have developed a mental block in early life regarding their own art ability. That block has to be torn down. In short, you can do far better than you think---if you go about it with vigor and persistence, and if you are not put off by your first humble efforts. Start simply and build your skills gradually. This can be hard in our society which presses us for instant results. But how gratifying it is when we develop--by our own efforts---simple skills that can give us such pleasure!
Conclusion? If you want to give all of this a try, be ready to surrender some negative attitudes toward your own abilities---and have a go at it! Start simply with basic drawing, and use a good book to get you started. I will give you some hints, but don't stop there. Learn a bit about composition, perspective, values, and light. You will start to see things around you as if for the first time, and that is exciting! Start putting these images down on paper, at first with the simplest subjects. What fun you will have when your impressions begin to take form on paper.
Gradually move to color. Try two colors at first---a blue and a brown (a "cool" and a "warm" color). When the two begin to feel right, add a third color. Don't go for a Frederick Church or an Albert Bierstadt on your first effort---or even on your twentieth. Be realistic and a little patient. But above all, have fun with it. Laugh at your laughable efforts---learn from them---and keep sketching and painting. You will improve!
Talent? Perhaps there is such a thing, but it has been terribly overrated. Yes, I will concede that Michelangelo had something special when he carved the "Pieta" at the age of twenty-six. But even this was not his first effort. By the same token, not a few painters with precious little natural ability have developed, learned, and practiced until they have become our icons, and their efforts have sold for obscene amounts of money in auctions and galleries.
I do hope that a few people who have aspired to drawing and painting, but have never had the impulse to give it a try, will read this book and say, "Why not? Let's have a go at it!"
I certainly cannot promise anyone complete emotional, spiritual, and physical fulfillment every time you put brush to paper outdoors. Nothing in life is like that---as any golfer will tell you. But as a way of connecting intimately with a time and place---a way of losing yourself completely in your own creative act---a way of putting your problems to rest for a time and finding peace of soul---there is nothing else quite like it!
You may never get really good at it. That hardly matters. But from time to time, you will feel something akin to what Rembrandt and Monet surely felt when they backed off from their creation and a little voice inside of them whispered, "Not bad! Not bad!" That is an exhilarating feeling. And when you look at your little painting long afterwards, it will put you in mind of the sunlight and breezes and color you experienced when first you laid brush to virgin paper. So press on!


  (     )

Copyright 2002:  All rights reserved