Creative Plan – Watercolour Paints

This exercise was focussing on using watercolours in an expressive way. What immediately comes to mind when hearing the word “expressive” and “painting” is using bright, fluorescent-like colours or splattering and throwing paint in a very random, uninhibited manner.

I’m not the biggest fan of splashing paint around, particularly if there is no intent to it other than its easy or fun to do. If it’s used in the process of creating art there still should be some thought behind it, otherwise as everyone says “I could’ve done that.”

If you said Jackson Pollock did, well he didnt splash it all about in a helter skelter fashion. He was very conscious of things like balance and space, both positive and negative when he dribbled, dripped or poured colour on.  Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm (Number 30). Image courtesy of the Met Museum of Art, New York

I remember watching a documentary on him and they visually cropped one of his paintings into various smaller “canvases” of different shapes and sizes, yet even with each new version they were all still perfectly balanced and composed. This proves there was nothing random about his technique. However, that’s not where I was headed. 

This exercise was about using colour to interpret the expressive power of human emotion.

Online I found some amazing black & white photographs of people portraying some really genuine and raw emotion. It was important that they weren’t in colour as I didn’t want to be distracted by the ‘real’ colours when I painted. Don McCullin. Image courtesy of and Image courtesy of StockSnap

Before I started I spent time really considering the subject matter – something I’ve been trying to turn into a habit. Too many times I’ve jumped straight into my picture and regretted it instantly. This isn’t about accidentally making the subject too big on the page or things not being in porportion, its about the art of storytelling.

Whatever you choose to paint or draw there must be something about it that is compelling enough for you to want to capture it. Once you’ve worked out what that is consider how you can really bring that out more than anything else in your picture. For instance, it could be through light or shadow play, or where you position it on your paper or what other details you leave out to give it emphasis. This can also help manage what might be an overwhelming idea because you’re simplifying your picture down to to one or two objectives.

In this exercise with the focus on emotion to make it simpler I restricted each painting to only four colours. To push myself further I tried to choose colours you wouldn’t normally associate with these emotions. It was also important to respect the people in the photos and that they weren’t just a “sad” or an “angry” face, that their expressions came from something much more deeper and personal. Once I chose my colours I also assigned different techniques to each.

Expression 1 (painted wet on wet)

First stages

I chose the wet on wet technique because there is this vulnerability in her expression. Mind you, all of them show that but with this woman her’s felt like it was teetering on falling apart, a fragility of spirit. So I wanted to let the paint flow and bleed into each other like all her resistance was being weathered down. However, she still had to feel resilient so I used a bold Peacock Blue.

Finished picture

Expression 2 (First layer wet on wet, second wet on dry)

The background was two colurs blended in together on wet paper. I was conscious about not painting all over trying to allow the paper to come through. The bleeding wasn’t as promiment as I would’ve likedto allow the background to be seen. 

Expression 4 (all colours at once)

This was quick to execute and for some reason didnt feel any pressure in “getting it right”. Despite the speed and look of spontaneity about it every stroke and colour placing was still considered. 

I wanted to keep all the colours and brushwork as clean as possible, ie trying to avoid overlapping or mixing of colours wherever I could. They needed to reflect the purity of bliss in his epxression which feels genuine and uncontaminated. 

The colours I used were the brightest I had and admittedly not my first choice for anything! But they really worked and also proved that I have a long way to go in appreciating colours and colour harmony.

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