Mareea from Burleigh Heads, Queensland writes:
During your last tour in Australia, did you get a chance to do any painting on the Queensland coast? I’m just learning the watercolour medium and am still experimenting. That, and the situation that on some days the light intensity and clarity in scenery can be stunning can prove to be very challenging to represent on paper. Even though I’m loving it I just wish I can get certain techniques down so I know the outcome when I do the brushstrokes. How do you deal with the times when you don’t reckon you’ve captured the completed subject the way you’d like to?
Roly: Mareea…I’m sitting here thinking about all the things you touch on there and I keep coming back to “very challenging to represent on paper”. I guess if you paint…then every time you wake up and go outside…your painting lesson begins. It’s outside where you come up against the moving picture show…whatever picture you’re painting will have moved each time you check it. The first “trick” that ever made sense to me about watercolor was when somebody told me to get the best quality paper, colors, and brushes made. I’ve never really figured out any definite brush strokes to use because water is thin and when it’s wet….it’s alive and it turns my strokes immediately into history as the colors gallop into each other. It seems to me that brush strokes are for oil. Through trial and error I learned what to kind of expect from certain combinations of water and color. Timing is important. You might lay a red in someplace and think it’s too red and want to break it down with a little green. Well…which red are you using? And which green? There are several of each and depending on what they’re made of…they act in their own fashions. How wet is the existing red…and the green you’re slipping into it? If it looks right when it’s wet…it’s probably wrong! You’ll need to be pretty well acquainted with these things and the best way to do that is to try them. Green is a subject in itself. I always make my own out of other colors because I haven’t found a tube-green yet that looks like anything that happens in real life. I used to really love Winsor and Newton’s manganese blue for this. Maybe that’s the reason they stopped making that color! Once you become well-versed with as few as nine or ten colors…you’ll be sailing. Anyway…if I’d’a gone to art school I might have figured some of this stuff out sooner. I got used to a certain kind of paper and use that as a “constant” in these experiments…but the experimenting isn’t ever going to stop.
I wish I could get up to Queensland more often. I’d worship that sun. I painted one time out on Magnetic Island but only because I had the time. There must’ve been fifty things I’d wished I could have done along that coast. Once I saw a pale red and yellow aqua plane taxi up to a pier and cut the engine over a patch of coral in impossibly multi-blue water. A lady was flying it…got out and took her flight jacket off and was shaking her black hair out on the dock. I was above it…looking down from my hotel room porch. It was a sunny day about nine o’clock in the morning and of course our tour bus was waiting for me downstairs. This was in Cairns and it was one of those that Got Away!
About dealing with the times when a picture doesn’t turn out the way I wanted it to…sometimes it goes terribly wrong early on and you can save time by just starting over. If I think it has a chance…I take it home and try just about everything I can think of to bring it around. If that doesn’t work…I notice that watercolors burn really nice once they get dry. There’s always tomorrow.