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Archive for November, 2009

Traditionally when we draw,   line is used to separate forms and to indicated where color or value changes.

In many types of painting, for example oil painting,  the drawing is for the eyes of the artist alone and is usually completely hidden by the application of paint.   The same applies to the support like the canvas which is most often covered up, but in watercolor painting the paper is often left white and the line is left showing.   This is not simply an unfortunate problem one has to put up with in watercolor.  It says something important:  The evidence of effort of the watercolor painter is left for people to see, and there is no desire to fool the viewer into thinking he or she is looking through a window into a real scene.  Although the line can be descriptive sometimes the application of watercolor doesn’t follow the line or doesn’t completely fill the space delineated by the line.   It is a much more abstract type of painting superimposed on a realistic drawing.

Of course, the paper and the line can be hidden in the types of watercolors that I don’t personally like, but in Homer’s case commentators have notice that Homer uses the line as part of the final painting.  It is for our eyes also.    He, however, uses it mostly in the figurative center of interest, and  even there he does not use it to separate color or value, but only form.   For example, he will draw lines to indicate the outline of a shirt or pair of pants that someone is wearing, but  use watercolor of different values to indicate the folds in the cloth.  Occasionally he will use pencil lines on some of the rigging of boats where the form being portrayed in actually a thin line.

As I have already indicated, I think one way of thinking about the pencil line in watercolor is that there are really two pictures superimposed on each other.  The first is the drawing which in some artist’s work is quite prominent (like Charles Reid).  The drawing therefore has to be good and it has to be accurate and the line has to be interesting, not sketchy.  A continuous contour drawing works very well.   Another interesting observation is that drawing mistakes often don’t have to be erased, particularly if the color isn’t going to follow them.   Homer’s drawings are remarkably accurate, but, of course, early in his career he was sending drawing back from the civil war front.     Superimposed on the drawing is the application of color washes which do not have to necessarily do the work of defining form.  They “decorate” the drawing.  Thus in the Blue Boat which you will see on the masthead of this blog, the boat and the men are drawn beautifully, but the background is, in fact,  done in a very different style.  Homer has really gone all out and restated some of his darks and added gum arabic to make it not too flat and reflective  — a practice that is usually avoided by watercolorists.   It is the combination of these two styles that is so wonderful in Homer allowing him to produce what I am calling two separate works of art superimposed on each other.

There are two other artists who I have noticed work with one picture superimposed on another.  Turner did  the very colorful background first, let them dry, and then, often in a careless way, put figures and objects over it.  The Monet water lilies were done the same way.  He first painted a colorful water scene but so abstractly and colorfully that I think it would be hard to recognize at this stage.  Over this he put in water lilies in perfect perspective.  That’s hard to do because waterlilies are ellipses; and as they receded, they are very different, flatter.  When this worked the picture came together:  the water looked flat and the lilies receded into space.  When it failed, the water lilies look like balloons floating upward and the water didn’t seem like water but atmosphere.

In ink and wash drawings using watercolor the “weight” of the inkline is much more than the typical pencil line in true watercolor. The ink line is very prominent and kind of upstages the wash of color which seems often to be perfunctory in the sense that there is very little action in the wash — no mixing of warm and cool colors, no scrubbing, blotting out, and so forth.   It is more a ink drawing, which may have had a pencil underdrawing, to which some color has been added rather than a watercolor with pencil lines in the “background.”

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