30×30 Failure… Or Was It?

Wow…the past month has been crazy. Mother nature has filled Quebec air with forest fire smoke, rain storms, and brisk winds. I think it’s the smoke, but my cataracts have been causing me fits. But I just had a great time because my daughter was here for two weeks and we really had fun.

This later thing cut into my #30x30DirectWatercolor experiment and I only managed 15-17 direct watercolors, all of which were total failures as art products. In the other hand, I feel I learned a lot about watercolor and about myself so I consider the experiment a big success.

I’m reluctant to talk about this simply because I have little in the way of graphics to go with the words. I was throwing my little paintings away as fast as I was making them and thought I had only one to show you. Then I cleaned off my drawing table and found a couple rejects. Both of these were discarded long before they were finished. They describe a guy using too much water and too little patience I think. A sketcher’s tempo doesn’t fit with 100% cotton paper and high humidity because the paper takes too long to dry for my patience level. I’ve come to understand why Marc Taro Holmes often does a couple paintings simultaneously.

Here is a great example of my loss of perspective as I chase wet paint around the paper. This sort of thing is a breeze if I’ve got a pen in my hand but with a watercolor brush my limited brain power is consumed by the medium. I don’t know what to say about the other sketch except that I think I’d decided to do a “traditional” landscape but it too got out of hand, with everything blending to mud.

Here’s a tree I sketched on location. It’s horrible, I know, but if I’m on location, I want to draw a tree in a few minutes. Unfortunately the drying time of Fabriano Artistico is just too long for that purpose and everything melts together. I think in these situations, doing watercolor on Stillman & Birn Alpha paper would be better. I’ve heard Liz Steel suggest the same thing.

Most of my 30×30 experience (but not the examples shown here) was with what Marc calls “broken silhouette” painting where you sketch by knitting small shapes together. Marc, using his words, is interested in being “painterly” whereas I guess I’m more interested in a higher level of accuracy, or at least I think I do. So I’m not sure his broken silhouette approach suits my goals but I’m intrigued by it. Clearly one of my big problems with watercolor is that I still struggle with water/color mix and keeping it under control while also thinking about perspective, object sizes and relative locations.

One interesting thing is that I don’t seem to have this problem when I’m painting on top of lines and I think it’s because I’ve become invested in the sketch and it slows me down. Starting with watercolor causes me not to care whatever e outcome is and so rushing along down the road is what I do.

Truth is, I like to draw stuff with pointy devices. That’s where “fun” is for me in art, not in watercolor. I know that most people see the color as the fun and the drawing just a means to get there but for me, without the sketching I might as well be painting a house.

I hate “challenges” but I found this one to provide some technical training and lots of food for thought about what’s important, or not, to me. Thanks Marc, for doing this every year. Maybe by next year I’ll have it figured out (grin)

While I’m babbling I thought I’d present an exercise I do regularly. I see it as a way to improve/maintain my ability to draw accurately something I’m looking at and also to locate disparate entities in a scene relative to each other.

In this case I sat on a bench and looked across the path that got me there at a wall of foliage. No real “scene” existed but for my purposes that didn’t matter. I started with the lower cluster of leaves. I draw each leaf to reflect its size, shape and location, doing so as accurately as possible. After I got a bunch of those leaves drawn I chose another group of leaves (the ones higher up in the sketch and started doing the same. Emphasis was still on accuracy but also an attempt to locate that cluster relative to the first cluster. The straight tree “trunks” were my way of connecting the two clusters while looking at how well I’d done in getting everything in its place. The rest of the foliage was mostly scribbles to fill out the sketch a bit.

I do this stuff a lot because my cataracts are messing with my vision and I feel that an artist can’t work on seeing skills enough. My sketches need all the help they can get. Besides, it’s fun.

3 thoughts on “30×30 Failure… Or Was It?

  1. You may have seen my summary post of learnings from the 30×30. I certainly empathize, as I struggled mightily… quite lost without my colored pencil lines to guide me! Interestingly, I really love thick, 100% cotton paper because I wanted to learn wet-in-wet color mixing, and for that, it’s much easier if I have a little time before it dries. Overall, I’m glad that nonsense is over so that I can go back to my true love, drawing. 😉

    • From what I saw, you were better able to adapt direct watercolor to your kind of sketching. I felt lost. As for 100% cotton, it’s a dream to work on when I’m working slowly and deliberately. Trying to chase water around the page, however, is lost on me so quick drying becomes important. I’m a slow kind of guy and so I’m better suited to layered, deliberate watercolors.

Comments are closed.