Like most kids in the U.S., I began my painting experience with a child’s watercolor pan set, also called a box set by my Canadian cousins. Those sets had a small painter’s brush and six blocks of colors bound by gum arabic inside: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Even at the high school level, we used the pan sets. I wouldn’t see watercolor paints in tubes until I’d graduated and visited an art supply store.
To use watercolors to full advantage requires a high degree of skill. It shouldn’t be the paint one starts out using when learning how to paint, but I did, and my artwork lacked both skill and charm.
It’s interesting and painful to look at my artwork from those days gone by. I cringe at the early stuff. All artists do. Right? We all start as amateurs and struggle and learn to get better. Looking back at my progression is a visual diary of what I learned over the years.
My first serious attempts at watercolor painting were illustrations of whitetail deer. And my very first painting was a cartoonish deer jumping over a fence (shown below). I knew little about deer anatomy, but that didn’t stop me from giving it a go. By the time I’d filled five sketchbooks with paintings that year, I’d gotten better (shown in the second painting below).
Deer painting 1:
Deer painting 2:
I wanted to copy nature exactly as I saw it, but before I learned how, I enrolled in college as a 4-year art major. “Painting is not photography,” my instructors told me, ad nauseam. “Painting is mood, impression, soul.” So, with their advice, I learned how to be an expressive realist artist. I also learned early to be an inventive one if I wanted to pass my courses. Many of my watercolor paintings from those years have salt, sand, wax, gum arabic, and several other substances needed to pass the course. The fawn and doe painting below has all the previously mentioned ingredients in it.
Deer painting 3:
I stopped painting with watercolors and took up acrylics and oils at college, which carried over into my profession after I graduated. I only painted with watercolors when I did field sketches of local landscapes. Below are three landscape studies from 1999 to 2001. You can see how loose the waterfall one is, mimicking the looseness I used in my oil paintings, and how tight the other two are as I reverted back to trying to copy nature exactly as I saw it.
I never became a full-fledged “photo-realist” painter because I never stopped experimenting with my art, which I blame wholly on my college instructors who drilled into my mind: “Painting is not photography!” But I discovered that it is copying the best we can the designs, proportions, shapes, and forms in life that lead many of us to becoming professional artists.
That’s all for now.
This post “It Began With Watercolors” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.
2 thoughts on “It Began With Watercolors”
These look really good Steve…I can’t draw stick figures lol.
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Ha ha, drawing properly proportioned stick figures was a challenge for me too. When I was an art teacher, I taught my students to draw stick figures when beginning to draw people, then to flesh out the figures and add clothing. Every day we spent on those stick figures, I would have the song “Pictures of Matchstick Men” stuck in my head.
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