Helen Klebesadel offers tips on how to introduce the sometimes daunting medium of watercolor to novice painters.
by Leanne MacLennan
|Cedar Dance II
30 x 22.
Watercolor instructor Helen Klebesadel fondly refers to
watercolors as rich hues that are created by light passing through
transparent pigments. Although she currently teaches watercolor classes
and workshops for adults of all skill levels, Klebesadel initially
avoided watercolor painting because she was taught that watercolor
resided at the bottom of the media hierarchy. It was this introduction
to watercolor, however—despite its somewhat discouraging message—that
eventually spurred her to produce a beautiful body of work and to pass
her love of the medium onto others.
The first assignment that Klebesadel’s students tackle is painting a
color wheel while following her advice about how watercolor paint is
applied. According to Klebesadel, “There are three main approaches to
painting in watercolor: layering wash over dry wash, allowing pigments
to mix wet into wet, and mixing hues on the palette. Using the same two
hues with all three of these methods will teach about the richness and
the flexibility of the medium. The color wheel teaches color theory
while giving everyone a nice way to start playing with the paint
without causing them to worry about their drawing skills.”
For instructors of beginning watercolorists, Klebesadel emphasizes
that they should remind students that not every painting will be a
masterwork. “It is better to learn, relax, experiment, and become
comfortable with the medium than to try to create a perfect work every
time,” she advises. “We are used to seeing artwork in museums and don’t
always remember that there are many works that came before and after
those pieces that are also a part of the artist’s creative process.” It
is also easier to teach watercolor to absolute beginners than to
students with experience in oil or acrylic, she says. “They don’t
always understand that watercolor is more of a drawing than a painting
medium. With opaque pigments in oil and acrylic you lay down darker
colors and then add the light back in by adding whites or lighter
pigments. On the other hand, with watercolor you have to remember to
save the white of the page to retain lighter values in your image in
the same way you do when rendering a graphite drawing.” Novice
watercolor students, she recommends, should also think of the
watercolor paints as collaborators in their creative processes.
“Working wet into wet becomes much less frustrating when you stop
trying to control what the watercolor does and focus on controlling
where it does it. You can gain an amazing amount of control over the
medium by giving up absolute control.”
|Tree of Life
2000, watercolor, 38 x 30.
1995, watercolor, 40 x 30.
|Last Magnolia 2000, watercolor, 15 x 22.
|Gingham Star 2000,
watercolor, 30 x 22.
More important, Klebesadel encourages fellow art educators to
acknowledge these minor pitfalls. “They need to be recognized and
addressed in individualized ways that allow students to feel empowered
and that they are making progress.” Instructors, she says, should also
have a good sense of humor and a supportive attitude in order to help
students gain confidence and expand their skills. In addition, offers
Klebedasel, “With regard to the practicalities of teaching a workshop,
be prepared to go as fast or as slow as is appropriate for the group
you are teaching. Don’t try to cram too much in, and always have a
little extra up your sleeve in case you get a precocious group that
catches on very quickly. I guess my best advice would be to take the
time at the beginning of the workshop to ask your students what they
are hoping to get out of the workshop (in one or two sentences). It
will help you understand the needs of those you are teaching and
emphasize the things they have requested. It also does a great job of
breaking the ice.” Klebesadel finds that her passion for her medium
makes her a successful instructor; she bases her success as an art
educator on her students’ ability to find their creative voices, and,
as a result, produce their own unique work.
1995, watercolor, 48 x 40.
About the Educator
was born and raised in rural Wisconsin and currently resides in
Madison. She earned a B.A. and an M.F.A. in art and a certificate in
women’s studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has
taught a variety of subjects for 15 years at the college level,
including painting, watercolor, printmaking, book arts, and women’s
studies. She offers private instruction and art workshops for adults of
all skill levels. In addition to being highly involved in women’s
studies, Klebesadel demonstrates and reflects her strong social and
cultural interest, which is one of her continual sources of
inspiration, in her art. Her work has been exhibited at numerous
galleries, including Micaëla Gallery, in San Francisco; the John
Michael Kohler Arts Center, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin; the William
Bonifas Fine Arts Center, in Escanaba, Michigan; and the High Street
Gallery, in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. She has also had solo exhibitions
at the National Humanities Center, in Research Triangle Park, North
Carolina; the Tate Center Gallery, at the University of Georgia-Athens;
and the Grace Chosy Gallery, in Madison, Wisconsin.
Leanne MacLennan works in publishing and is also a freelance writer. She is currently pursuing her M.A. in English literature.