Tie Your Hands Behind Your Back

You can go the less extreme route, of course, but there is something to be said about a studio painting session in which you don’t pick up a brush. You don’t make any sketches. You just observe. I find myself doing this again and again when I discover a new artist or a body of work from a painter or draftsman that I thought I knew plenty about.

A watercolor painting by Ella Du Cane.
A watercolor painting by Ella Du Cane.

The work of Victorian-era watercolor artist Ella Du Cane came as a surprise to me when I came across it recently. These watercolor paintings allowed me to step back in time and see Japan and the West Indies through the eyes of someone who lived more than a century ago. When I sat in front of the images I was surprised and pleased at how I was able to give myself a watercolor tutorial in a sense.

A watercolor painting by Ella Du Cane.
A watercolor painting by Ella Du Cane.

By looking alone, I see how Du Cane put a lot of prominence on two or three major shapes in each painting; that the shape and color of cast shadows were a subtle but essential part of her works; and that the lines the artist used to map her scenes were created with deft perspective. And that was just what I observed in the first few minutes of looking.

When I continued studying Du Cane’s watercolors, I found a delicate but relatively tight color palette and large though delicately tinted expanses of white. She was also able to situate figures in the landscapes without having them overwhelm or dominate the scene. About this time, I had an epiphany looking at the paintings–Du Cane was an observer just as I was now, studying the exotic (at least, to me) places she visited and making these beautiful visual memoirs of them.

All that, and I never did more than study the works with my eyes alone! If you are committed to enhancing your watercolor-painting techniques, not to mention your observational skills, the one-of-a-kind resources that I can recommend are Karlyn Holman’s DVDs: Making Your Mark, Watercolor Without Boundaries, and The Spirit of Spontaneity. Just looking at her watercolor-painting techniques is a workshop in itself. And hearing directly from the artist about her watercolor art process is incredibly inspiring. Enjoy!


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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.