I try to have a wide range of topics on this blog, but now I am posting watercolor sceneries again! (See the last week’s post). I have quickly become addicted to them! It all started with buying Daniel Smith watercolors and realizing that many members of my community Bloom and Fly love watercolors. I try to grow my skills in most of the media that the members use. Then I can give advice that’s not only great in theory but also works in practice.
Not So Traditional Landscape Painting
A lot of reasons were needed for landscape painting because so far, it has been one of the most boring genres of visual art to me. I haven’t ever been the kind of person who travels with a tiny watercolor kit and sits down near the sights to paint the surroundings. I do usually carry a camera – often just my phone – when traveling or walking in nature but never before have I understand the fascination of the traditional landscape painting.
But last week, I realized that because art is freedom, I can be as wild and expressive as I want. That made the landscape painting a fun game. It gives me the opportunity to re-live the travel memories, get lost in the process, and then come out with a piece that’s like a souvenir from that creative experience.
Watercolor Panoramas – Playing with Expression
This time, I was not painting just one piece like last week, but five small panoramas at one go. I carelessly chose the reference photos for the last part of the process. I will talk about the process later in this post, but let’s talk about the expressive ideas first.
A) How Would The Place Currently Look?
When painting watercolor panoramas, it was interesting to see what travel memories come to mind and how they got merged with the current life.
When we were in the Scottish countryside in 2014, it was a sunny day in June. The heat felt very similar to Finland’s summer. It was pleasant, not suffocating at all, and remembering it made me ponder how the spring would look there now – perhaps quite similar to Finland too.
This was the photo that I used as inspiration when finishing the painting.
B) The Chain of Memories
Barcelona was my husband’s suggestion in 2009. I wasn’t excited until I remembered Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion. And of course, the pavilion was also the first thing that came to my mind when I painted the panorama. But I also remembered Catalonia’s National Art Museum, Gaudi’s architecture, the mountains that surrounded the valley, the sea views, a lot!
The long chain of memories and locations started from this (not so artistic!) snapshot showing Barcelona Pavilion.
C) The Emotional Experience
Last summer, we visited Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Italy. The place has inspired me ever since. I remember entering the museum and seeing the first room filled with chandeliers. It was a hot and relatively quiet evening in Florence, but my mind was buzzing. It’s like I was trying to get exposed to as much art and beauty as I could.
Here’s the photo that I had in hand when finishing the watercolor panorama above.
D) Being Far, Seeing Far
When being far away from home, it’s possible to see the life from a different perspective. It’s like rewriting some parts of the personal story. In the brilliant Palazzo Pitti, I had the same experience than when visiting Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia: I should trust my points of view more, and not hold back. When I looked out of a window of Palazzo Pitti, it didn’t matter what other people saw there. I saw what I saw, and that’s true to me.
Here’s the reference photo that I almost deleted when I came back from the trip because it wasn’t so pretty. While painting, I realized that good reference photos are not only those which show the best scenes. The ones that remind from the best moments are also worth saving and painting.
E) Highlighting What Matters
While traveling in Italy last summer, we visited Vatican Museums too. Some of the things that stuck in my mind were the huge maps on the walls and the incredible number of tourists. While painting, I thought how the old maps could be seen as symbols for the curiosity to know the globe.
The statue of the reference photo (Arnaldo Pomodoro’s Sphere within a Sphere) expresses the complexity and fragility of the world. I made it dominate the scene in the watercolor panorama and made it look a bit like a round map. To me, it’s much more important than the buildings!
Watercolor Panoramas – My Process
The idea for panoramas was accidental. I happened to find oblong pieces when going through the watercolor papers. I often like to paint a square, so I had cut away the excess of a blocked paper. I don’t usually work in this small scale. However, using a thin water brush most of the time, made it quite easy.
For the colors, I used a mixed collection of watercolor and gouache paints.
1) Background – Traveling to the Mind
The fact that I didn’t use any reference photos until in the end, made the painting fun. The first layers were splashing and blending. I had no idea about the scene or the location that would appear on paper!
I took a photo of the backgrounds and then another one when the paintings were finished. Can you recognize which belongs to which?
2) Doodling with Watercolor and Masking Fluid
After I had painted the background, I started doodling. Working with five watercolor panoramas at the same time was handy. I could work with one painting while others were drying. I used both pigments and masking fluid for doodling. Some backgrounds had watercolor doodles first. Others went straight to masking.
At this point, I started thinking about a reference photo that could suit the painting. For some panoramas, I found the picture quickly. But there were a couple that raised no memories at all, so I just doodled this and that!
After the masking fluid had dried, I was having fun again. I splashed the paint and enjoyed the wonders of watercolor.
After the topmost layers had dried, I removed the masking fluid. Here’s “Scotland.”
3) Finishing the Painting with a Reference Photo
When aiming for an expressive and loose image, the reference photo is more like an inspiration photo. I can glance at it, pick some ideas and elements from it but I don’t follow it to the detail. I let my associations and memories override the photo and build an inner vision of the place. (My class Inspirational Drawing guides you to master this process more in detail.)
Why I Have Never Learned Watercolor Painting from the Books
Some elements of the panoramas are more abstract, some more recognizable. It’s important to cherish the abstract nature of art when making room for expression.
I must confess that during the years that I have experimented with watercolors, I have found the books and videos difficult to comprehend and adapt. Watercolor tutorials usually follow the reference photos very carefully. To me, it doesn’t make sense. I need to know “the code” – the logic and the principles behind the image, not just the image. After you’ve got the code, you can express much more!
As an artist, I have always been more interested in what something expresses than how it looks. I have often felt disappointed by the lack of the expression part in tutorials, so I try my best to focus on the expression when teaching others.
The Magic of Finishing Touches
To me, the most challenging step in creating is finishing. The first two steps are usually just happy happy happy, but then there is a danger that the project becomes sad sad sad.
The watercolor panoramas were quite easy to finish, but if I have bigger struggles, I use the camera for the whole creative process. Then I take a photo of my work and look at it in several ways, enlarge it, make it smaller, etc. It’s fast and makes the finishing much easier than just staring at the actual piece. In May at Bloom and Fly, I will show how to use a camera and other digital tools to make the most out of your art, even if the actual creating would happen manually.