Watercolour coaching – just do it!

I subscribe to receive various emails and updates from Winsor and Newton, and openly confess to having an affinity to them as my watercolour ‘brand of choice’. So it was with great interest that I watched Christopher Le Brun, President of London’s Royal Academy of Art speaking about watercolour in Winsor and Newton’s most recent video offering:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wq2oHjY_jq8?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

The video doesn’t necessarily feature or reveal anything particularly earth shattering. It did nevertheless send a shiver of excitement down my spine that made me realise just how much this whole ‘watercolour’ malarkey has gotten under my skin!

Watching what he does in the video, just mixing together a few colours, letting them run together, combine and react with each other to create the most beautiful colours and effects with most minimal of intervention or effort is really mesmerising. I can’t think of any other medium that gives so much with such little encouragement!  When I did my demo painting the other week, my time at the easel was interspersed with frequent breaks to paint with some of the children that were visiting the Open House with their parents. It was obvious that some had never painted before, or at least not with watercolours, and to just be able to use a few colours, lots of water, and to let everything run together – with absolutely no intention of making ‘a painting’ was really wonderful – and many of the children found it really magical too. What I remember from that day, was that these abstract paintings, done by children, spoke much more of the magic of watercolour than anything I was working on or displaying.

Seeing this video, and thinking about my experiences of painting reminded me of analogy that I’ve been playing around in my head with for a while. Quite some time ago, I attended a brief training introduction to the use of Coaching in the workplace. It was only a half-day session but some the principles really stuck with me – in particular, that the role of the coach was not to provide answers. The skill and expertise of the coach is to be able to ask the right questions, at the right time, to help the other person think through a challenge or situation and to develop their own answer or range of answers.

This is increasingly how I feel about my relationship with my paints. My watercolour paints already possess all of the answers. I just have to ask them the right questions!

Often, the more that I try to impose my will on the paints, the less satisfactory the outcome. With practice and experience, I’m getting better at asking the right questions, at the right times, and letting the paints deliver their own solutions – regardless of whether those solutions are what I’d intended. As often as not, in the right conditions, the paints have a way of surpassing anything that I intended or imagined!

Here’re are few examples, the results of me my artists’ collective asking some questions together over the weekend and allowing our paints coming up with some simply brilliant answers. Sometimes it’s good just to play, if only to remind yourself of why you love something so much!

The artists at work in their studio

Energised, invigorated and looking foward to my next watercolour coaching session – I’m going to sign off quoting Christopher Le Brun (and NIKE):

“Just do it – it’s all in the doing.”

Thoughts on Watercolour coaching – just do it!

16 thoughts on “Watercolour coaching – just do it!”

  1. Happy I found this information! I keep trying to get looser with my landscapes. I finally had a real break the other day then tired to do another painting with improvemets and it was a disaster! Over planned, tight and siply awful! This video is certainly a big help! Thanks for the ‘kick in the bu–!’

    1. Hi Margery and many thanks for this, I’m so pleased that this was useful. I know from my own experiences that the journey towards ‘looseness’ is quite often a case of two steps forwards and one step backwards! Good luck on your journey Margery, I wish you every success, and really appreciate you commenting.

  2. john,
    what do you mean by asking the right questions at the right time. Supposing i’m a student sitting in your coaching class what kind of questions would you be asking

    1. Hi there and many thanks for this comment, which has prompted quite a bit of head scratching. I suppose that I used to sketch out a scene and throw myself into it and work things out as I went along. When I’d finished it, I’d then analyse it and work out what was wrong with it. My internal dialogue now might, for instance, be…’okay, so I really want those hills to appear distant, what do I need to do to achieve this? They may appear green to the eye, but to create the illusion of distance do I exaggerate towards a blue/grey? do I want a hard or soft horizon line? If soft, should I paint wet into wet to achieve it, or wet onto dry and then just try to soften the edge with a wet brush. Does this make sense? I think a lot of it comes down to how you plan the painting, not just the proportions on the page, but what you’re vision is for the painting. I’m often so eager to get on with the painting that I overlook some of the really important questions – the answers to which are essential to whether the painting is likely to be a success or not. Does this make any sense at all? (And thanks for the thought-provoking/head scratching question!)

      1. Thank you for the reply John. Yes i understand – nice examples.
        I am an engineer by profession but an artist heart . Keep dreaming when I’ll play with watercolors. In the middle of writing an investigation report I spent an hour & a half reading thru your blog posts and going ga ga over your beautiful works. – All so inspiring. Am sure I’ll soon pick the brush. Thank you so much.

        1. Thanks so much for this and for your kind words about my paintings, much appreciated! I had a look at the sketches on your website. You’ve got a great eye and are already an exceptional draughtsman so I’m sure you’ll progress quickly when you do get around to picking up your brushes – you’ll know better than anyone when the time is right – and I hope that time isn’t too far away!

    1. Hi Evelyn – many thanks for visiting and for your kind comment, it’s much appreciated – and always nice to meet another watercolour enthusiast!

  3. I just watched a Herman Pekel video and he describes much of the same, using brighter base colors and letting the darker colors in layering and concentrating on tone. Opaque on wash. It’s eye opening and so simple. Oh, and Nike actually coined “Just do it”, so it may be a copyright infringement, lol.

    1. Thanks so much Nicola! Afraid I can’t lay any claim to the colour combinations but I’ll be sure to pass on your comments to my daughter – I’m increasingly finding that she makes some of the best decisions!

I'd love to hear any thoughts you have about this

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