When two artists of a similar calibre, one working in oils or acrylics and the other in watercolours show together, people tend to compare them, and quite often the watercolourist can come off worse. No reflection on the artist, of course, simply a case of oils having a more dramatic effect on some viewers. Watercolours can, of course, be used to create dark, foreboding and breathtaking works of art as well, but here I am talking about fledgling artists starting on the rocky road to Paintsville and I am trying to warn them of potential stress along the way.
Now before letters come rushing in to protest at the hard done by watercolour artists, or tubes of gouache are squirted at me by ‘W.A.S.P.’ - the ‘Watercolours Are Supreme Party’ - I am merely stating a fact about the boldness of materials. If you want a light colourful wispy feel to a painting then watercolour’s your man. For bold and heavier work, whether it be textured, layered, watered down, oiled up, impastoed, impregnated, adulterated etc. then for me it’s oils or acrylics.
It really is one of those chicken/egg things. Most people when they start painting, myself included many years ago, tend to go for watercolours first as they think will be an easy way to get started. Untrue. How many times I had paintings almost completed, only to ruin them with a careless stroke of the brush, I honestly can’t remember. The problem then is one of constant frustration that only the most dedicated of artists can persevere with, to get past first base and produce something meaningful that is considered good enough to be put on show.
The secret to watercolour painting is the quality of the drawing. If the drawing isn’t up to scratch, with perspective, balance and content for example, then the opportunity to correct these errors later may not be available and the individual will be back to square one again. Very off-putting when you’re just beginning. However, oils and acrylics, and to some extent gouache, forgive the artists little foibles before he or she actually begins putting pen to paper or brush to canvas so to speak. I changed to acrylics about ten years ago and have never looked back.
Why acrylics over oils? A number of reasons actually. I am an impatient painter. When I am working I don’t want to wait for hours on end before I can get the next layer of paint or texture on the board, I find that my paint dries extremely quickly here in the warm weather, and almost instantly in summer! This is good practice for me as it hones my skills to a point where I have to work fast and with enough confidence to get the paint on before it sets off. It also helps to create terrific textures you wouldn’t get if the paint was put on fresh or directly from the tube.
Acrylics are extremely versatile. Depending on your mood, you can water them right down and use them as an alternative to gouache (opaque watercolour) - or throw dirt, sand, broken eggshells and general kitchen waste into the mix to create textures beyond your wildest imaginations. Note - try not to use any kitchen waste that is bio-degradable as this may leave you with a smelly, oozing mess running down your walls when you hang your finished work! Although in some avant-garde circles this can be misconstrued as art in itself. Here I’m thinking of a pretentious couple who supposedly went into a capital city modern art gallery and raved about the violent red tubular installation in the corner of the room and discussed loudly what they believed the artist was trying to say about modern societal values, in an attempt to show they were ‘cultured and knowledgeable’. It’s a fire extinguisher you plonkers!
Finally, and most importantly, acrylics are more forgiving when you make a mistake. Give it a minute or two and you can repaint the area without running the risk of ruining the whole picture. If you have left raised areas of paint when making the mistake simply take a razor blade or similar implement and gently shave off the raised areas to return it to the same level as before, then recoat with a neutral base colour before changing it to what was originally planned before the mistake was made. Alternatively, just leave the raised paint in place and use it as a texture to enhance the final finished piece.