Tie Your Hands Behind Your Back

16 Apr 2013

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 most one-of-a-kind resource that I can recommend is Mary Whyte's Essential Lessons in Watercolor Painting. Just looking at her watercolor-painting works is a workshop in itself. And hearing directly from the artist about her watercolor art is incredibly inspiring. Enjoy!

 

Courtney


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