Some Good Work on Bad Paper
Taking the watercolor sketch to new highs by plunging expectations to new lows may be the key! And I’m finding that my watercolor sketching excitement has been given a good nudge in the process.
I’m calling this most recent adventure “A Beer and a Sketch”, referring obliquely to the Tico bar fare of a decade or so ago – ‘A beer and a boca” (bite). It used to be customary at local bars. Costing just a mil (about $2), one could get a cold beer and a small bite to eat (boca) consisting of a portion of anything from yucca frita to arroz con pollo or pescado frito. Frank practically lived on the customary practice for years.
My artistic version began when I accompanied some guests to my favorite beach spot near Uvita, called Villa Leonor. While they spent time frolicking in the 87 degree Pacific, I settled into the open bar/restaurant and ordered an Imperial Light en vaso con hielo ( in a glass with ice). There were several people enjoying lively conversation – and I heard snippets of English, Spanish and German spoken among the people that day. Choosing a table nearest the garden I spread out the few things I had brought along – two brushes, a pencil, my small folding box of unlabeled paints from long ago – and a Canson 8”x10” sketchbook. The paper was not very suitable for watercolor – just 98# regular sketchbook paper. Bad paper for watercolor.
Nothing like keeping one’s expectations low. So what would I sketch? I decided upon the last image I had just captured on my iphone just minutes earlier on my walk back from the beach – the gently moving small stream along the path. There I had seen a drooping palm frond with its dead and fragile leaves barely touching the water. The rippled reflections drew me in. I wondered if I could paint using the tiny image as a reference and how long the battery would last.
Since the paper’s surface wouldn’t allow much absorption and I imagined I’d have only about an hour to paint before my guests returned, I opted for very loose, very fast approach using one of my favorite brushes, my ½” flat wash brush. Any detailed work in the sketch would have to be fashioned with a just a corner of the brush. I could finish with the other brush – a rigger. Perfect.
I plunged in with my usual mantra, “lightest, brightest or scariest first” – and began in the water areas to get a feel for how the paper would allow me to paint ‘wet into wet’. Starting with the cobalt blue, I painted through in horizontal strokes, adding Nickel Azo yellow as I progressed from upper right to the lower areas of the paper. As a section dried a bit I added in some dark strokes using Ultramarine Turquoise and Quin Sienna – careful to keep my strokes horizontal to suggest the stream ripples. Since glazing was not really a good possibility with this cheap paper, I decided that my strategy of direct painting would just have to suffice – and I continued. Next I took on the palm fronds using negative painting with darks mixes of quin sienna and ultramarine turquoise to carve out the suggestion of the dead verticals listlessly dangling into the water. I put in the darkest fronds after I was sure the underlying water suggestion was dry – and – I used the one other brush I had – a rigger to detail some of those very narrow and languid lines. I was pretty much done in an hour and looked up to see that my beer was finished and my friends were approaching, stopping to shower off the salt and sand before joining me for our lunch.
It had happened so fast I didn’t have time to do much thinking – but the experience was so energizing that I decided to do it again the next time I had guests who wanted to the beach.
The second ‘Beer and a Sketch’ happened while I was teaching a family Intensive and while they were again off enjoying the Pacific at Villa Leonor. This time I painted from my place at a table looking off to a distant coconut palm tree during a gentle tropical breeze. From my place I could barely see details in the distant tree and I thought – this is perfect! If I cannot see the details I get to invent them! And I did.
Another day, while I had no guests or students I decided to take the “Beer and a Sketch” idea closer to home. I simply drove down the back road from my house to my favorite restaurant next to the river – seven minutes down a tortuously bumpy dirt road to the next village, San Ramon. There I could sit at a table and look out in all directions to the abundant plants and flowers at Papas de Paramo. This time I would paint en plein aire from whatever I saw. And once again, I ordered a beer in a glass with ice as well as a glass of water for my painting and gave myself an hour…
And again I found the process exhilarating with the limitations of both the paper and the time pushing me to make quick decisions with fast color and paint selections. The subject this time was the wonderful trumpet flowers called Reina de la Noche (Queen of the Night).
My most recent watercolor sketch was again at Papas with the subject of the back lighted traveling palm tree.
I now have a workable, doable and immensely satisfying way to exercise my creativity. And I can do it alone!. All it takes is about a dollar, two hours, two brushes, a pencil, some paints and a cheap sketchbook.
Some pretty good work on bad paper.