Monday, February 05, 2007

Watercolours Fast and Loose – but are they any good?

I regularly post to artists’ forums and become a bit dismayed by the almost universal preoccupation with ‘looseness’ of handling in watercolour. Look around though and you discover watercolour is a medium which can be handled in many different ways.

The argument about loose and free as against tight or controlled handling of the medium has raged for at least a hundred years. Ruskin taught students to avoid the easy freedom achieved with the uncontrolled sweep of the brush or pencil. He wrote: “masterliness is in never letting the hand be free, but keeping it under control at every part of the line.” The qualities he admired are found in the beautiful drawings and watercolours of artists like Rossetti.

With watercolours of any quality looseness is an illusion. In the apparently freely handled watercolours of Edward Wesson or John Yardley what we’re really observing are carefully considered confident brushstrokes precisely placed to create maximum effect. The kind of mastery they each achieved arises from close observation and through the discipline of drawing. There’s no quick half-hour fix as offered by some of the popular watercolour manuals.