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Painting Expressive Watercolour

Painting Expressive Watercolour

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Painting Expressive Watercolour

5/5 (4 evaluări)
525 pages
4 hours
Jun 30, 2014


Watercolour offers great potential for expression. Its fluidity, full colour range, generous spread and variety of marks can portray a likeness, a response, a feeling - even the notions of time and speed. This book is a practical guide to watercolour painting and more. It explains the importance of colour, tone, shape, texture and scale through exercises and shared techniques, but it also encourages the artist to express sensations and ideas in watercolour - and by exploring the joy of the medium, to develop handling skills, confidence and a unique painting 'voice'. Includes: getting started; materials, fundamentals and mark-making; ideas to trigger the imagination for developing personal style; a variety of images to inspire and encourage; and help and advice throughout to practice new skills and gain confidence with a medium that has the potential magnificence of a 'full orchestra', yet can be slipped into the pocket. Lavishly illustrated with 259 colour photographs.
Jun 30, 2014

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Painting Expressive Watercolour - Bridget Woods


Autumn Wind. A bold step from soft to sharp marks to express the bittersweet change of season.


I am not a teacher, only a fellow-traveller of whom you asked the way.

I pointed ahead – ahead of myself as well as you.

George Bernard Shaw

As a painter, I am continually learning:

As a teacher I am still discovering the power of watercolour to express the past, present, future ideas and dreams of my world through trial, error and an open mind. Aware of the perseverance that is involved, I want to share my discoveries thus far, offering shortcuts and encouragement to other learners while holding a space for their own moment of discovery, development and personal expression.

This to me is the key for watercolour painting at any level of experience: the beginner’s mind which is aware of what is and open to what might be. I feel keenly that it is this ‘playing attention’ that engenders questions like, ‘Could I…?’ and ‘What about…?’ and opens a world of possibilities, invention and individuality.

With this approach, as a teacher, I learn more and the process of watercolour painting becomes an infinite, living thing, stretching way beyond the realms of finite accomplishment towards its unique potential for personal expression.

Watercolour may be considered by many to be a humble medium, yet it is my teacher and honest companion. Gentle, stern and frivolous, it is a mirror to my behaviour and can reveal my subconscious when I am sufficiently humble to look. For me it is the best visual descriptor of the human condition: mind, body and spirit. It unrelentingly tells me to be open, here, now. But secretly I hope, one day in the future, to be a worthy friend.

Geysir Pool – 2. An example of ‘re-presentation’. A metre of reality painted as accurately as possible yet still inviting many questions about scale, texture and depth.



Throughout history there have been many aspirational, practical, life-enhancing incentives for painting. How many of the following factors affect us now in our own society, whether as painting or non-painting individuals?

Survival – ‘capturing’ an animal on a cave wall

Spiritual – expressing the ‘worth-ship’ of powers greater than man

Immortality – creating an artefact to outlive its maker or subject

Direction – making signage and map symbols

Embellishment – decorating our bodies and homes

Symbolic – displaying identity with signs bold, discreet or coded

Communication – conveying a visual likeness, news or response

Expression – literally ‘getting out’ a non-verbal feeling or idea

Sensuality – ‘doing’; a multi-sensory proof of being alive

Study – learning by observing and recording a subject

Preservation – holding a visual moment in time

Meditation – focusing attention to occupy or calm the mind

Giving – creating an image to offer to another person or deity

Selling – exchanging an image for money for food and living needs

Today, when photography and film are available for visual communication, it might be said that the artist is released from the job of painting a likeness. Yet interest in super-real imagery in painting is still alive.

Painting offers an alternative and personal means of reportage. Every painter makes selective choices when delivering their viewpoint or testimonial. By accentuating or taking away some of the available information, all forms of painting lie somewhere along the scale of ‘expressive abstraction’. (Even a photographer does this by reducing three dimensions to two, ‘re-presenting’ forms as visual, not tactile facts and involving personal selection, such as framing and cropping.)

So what individual motives drive us artists, amateur and professional alike, to want to create an image or to paint? Here are some of mine:

Stoke Clump Cloud. An everyday occurrence, yet this cloud stopped me in my tracks.

Painting develops my visual memory: the pleasure of visualizing is magical and can lift and move me no matter where I am. To be able to imagine, for example, an autumn day of soft mist, crunchy leaves and dank smells is a deep, basic joy of living. With observational and painting skills in hand, to be able to paint that idea, place and time is even better.

With a painting you can tell a story, a lie, a fantasy, invent, design new objects, animals and worlds. Visual information not only stimulates the eye but by association, triggers much more to invoke and express remembered atmospheres and the other senses of touch, sound and smell. When shown a bright yellow, oval shape the brain may subliminally remember the smell, touch, taste and warmth of ripening sunshine that makes a lemon.

To be able to express the sensations that you feel requires only two things: most importantly, your wish to express them, and painting processes that are effective for you.


Yes. Painting is an activity, a skill that can be learnt by anyone. It is considered by many to be a gift. I believe that it is a choice and a human right, as is driving a car. Learning to drive is complex and takes time and practice, involving not only different activities for each foot and hand but several modes of looking and thinking. Yet around the world, in most countries, regardless of age, gender, religion or nationality people are driving cars (and most of the time, avoiding each other).

Why? Because they choose to. Driving is neither a talent, nor is it hereditary, and with concentration and practice can be done extremely well. Painting is less complex and far less dangerous.

Learning this skill begins with the question, ‘What do I see?’ There are only five main visual factors to consider and identify. I call them the ‘Big Five’:

These are the building blocks of painting. Magic is not necessary to paint; only the ability to identify these basic visual elements. If you can see and identify these five factors out there or in your head then, with practice, you can paint what you want.

But this is the magic. Because every person is unique, their painting will be different not only from a photo but also from every other person’s. You don’t have to be ‘dramatic’ to be worthy, or already skilful in other expressive areas. Nor do you have to be ‘good’ in the subjective opinion of other people, to enjoy what is a basic human right, an expression of personal identity.

Everyone works in a different way. Some artists immerse, marinate and slow cook a theme and then say much with a few marks; others hop from idea to idea to refresh their creativity or frequently change their vantage point for an overview, while others revisit the same subject over a period of years. Every working practice is right, according to the artist.

The best way to express yourself in paint is your way, and your chosen way need not be influenced by a formula, fashion or habit. The magic will float in on the skill.


We humans have an affinity with water and a natural response to and respect for it. Not only do we gestate in it but water makes up about 50–70 per cent of human body weight. I believe that the attraction of seaside, lake and river holidays for people of all ages and the lure of raging seas and waterfalls is not coincidental. It is said that negative ions released by moving water give us a sense of well-being.

Watercolour is:

Riverbank – spring.

Riverbank – midsummer, midday overhead sun.

Riverbank – blazing evening light.

Painted over a fifteen-year period, these three paintings express a different response to the same location.

Fish in Orange Colander (detail). A translucent fin.

Mapson’s Farm Under Snow. Obliged to use melted snow for painting, cold, slow-drying conditions combined to give this tiny painting a soft, frosty look.

Fluidity. With water it was easy to drip in dark paint for this stained glass fretwork.

Eucalyptus – Summer Breeze (detail). Contrasted by a dark, dense background, swaying leaves are wetly painted to transmit the glow of sunlight.

Scorching Sunflowers. The harsh heat of midday sun in southern France caused quick-drying, sharp-edged paint marks.

Painting at Abu Simbel, using a field box and water-filled brushes.

Crystal Sealight. The thought of a North Cornish cliff-top, exhilarating wind, emerging sun and the smell of the sea encouraged me to be daring with marks.

Boat Passing – Sailor Waving. Painted from a small boat while tacking, I managed to make a series of six five-minute paintings in a half-hour sail.

Stoupe Brow Beck – approaching rain. I obviously had to stop painting but, in tune with the elements, this little watercolour painted itself both through, and despite, me.

The challenges are also the joys

Many people believe that watercolour is difficult because ‘mistakes’ cannot be covered up and that water is uncontrollable. But consider these two challenges for a moment because they also bring the greatest joys of watercolour.

The ‘no cover-up’ factor enables transparent glazing and the potential to express veils of memory, idea, suggestion and chronological time: an expression of serial events viewed simultaneously but always showing the palimpsest of the past.

In practical terms, semi-transparent paint allows a tentative, safe build-up of colour while an underlying construction is still visible beneath.

The free-flowing nature of water can easily be used to quickly cover large areas of paper with colours varying in hue and from light to dark.

The apparent unpredictability of flowing water brings the exquisitely sensory pleasures of play. Working with the mobility of wet colour, whether strong and rich or transparently opalescent, encourages the artist to live ‘in the moment’.

It is a condition of being human to want some control of our situation – not just external events but also our inner reaction to them. Interacting with water, nature, weather and life outside the self develops ways of adapting to and working with the whole environment. In combination with the landscape, water-colour offers the chance to ease up for a continuing journey to self-discovery and understanding of the human being in the world.

In this respect, watercolour has been and continues to be my brilliant teacher.


Watercolour is positively addictive for describing weather conditions, whether you live in a temperate climate of four changing seasons, where there is always an exciting development, surprise or shock for the senses, calling to be painted, or one of extremes. But the transparent quality of watercolour is also capable of describing the abstract dimension of time, allowing the eye and brain to visualize a past, present and imagined future and, by painting layers, superimpose them in any appropriate order. So, this special medium can accentuate these interfacing notions of weather, climate and chronology; concepts which are made visible at times by their pattern and regularity, then at other times intersecting, crossing, blocking each other’s life rhythms, whether this be breathing, water, birds, wind, heartbeats, clouds, people clustering on a beach, roads through woods, walking or rock formations.

Painting people (‘life’) with watercolour gives me a similar thrill because, like the model, the medium is also alive, ‘breathing’, moving and changing and, whether the pose is short or long, it has the capacity to ‘dance to the rhythm’ of the subject.

Ferry Café Sunset. The funnelling together of diverse people, temporarily locked in a floating vessel, no land in sight. Fixed yet moving, it is an edgy world, a no-man’sland of arbitrary time and place, which at twilight subjects its inmates to the paradox of overlapping light, natural and neon, mingling in windows and mirrors.

Move to the Rhythm. Though proportionately inaccurate (focused on the moving hands, the enormity of the harp took me by surprise), this was a galvanizing experience combining free movement while painting and a treat for my ears and soul.


The least for the most

This list will be brief because I believe in carrying the least amount – both in size and weight – that can achieve the most. Carrying less, the more likely you will be to take painting equipment with you on any trip or walk and also have less to pack up, wherever you are.


For portability and economy, a palette needs no more than these six colours. If you are not sure of a colour by its name, there is an international colour index numbering system, e.g. PV19, which identifies and links colours regardless of manufacturers’ names. (The reason for this choice and ordering of colours will be made clear in Chapter 1.)


Round at the neck and with a pointed tip. Soft, natural hair brushes are better than nylon for water-holding and avoiding scrubbing, abrading the paper or smearing previous washes. Good Chinese brushes are ideal.


I recommend a lightweight box that contains deep mixing palettes and compartments for your own choice of half pan, full pan or tube colours, which neatly closes. The ‘Liz Deakin’ paintbox is ideal.


Low, broad for stability, leakproof and with a handle. A cut off water bottle or food containers can be customized.


A5 size cartridge paper.



Lifts graphite, charcoal and pastel cleanly. Can be washed, cut to fine point and does not attract water-resistant oil.


For quick preliminary colour ideas.


I have customized a light picnic rucksack. Flat-bottomed, it stands up to make a ‘table’ for my brushes. The front can open like a hinged door to act as a windshield if necessary (when I am painting lying on a cliff, for instance). It has elastic fixtures for utensils and an insulated, waterproof compartment for food

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  • (5/5)
    E un libro di arte/ vita nel quale posso ritrovare molte mie esperienze fatte prima della lettura. Qui trovo in maniera organica tutti quegli argomenti che ho affrontato senza farne un libro...complimenti all'autrice.Ho ordinato la versione cartacea per poterlo mettere tra i miei preferiti sulla libreria del mio studio. Una ispirazione,un aiuto a focalizzare la propria pittura e la propria individualita'.