On the shelfPosted: October 19, 2012
A few weeks ago someone asked me for a recommendation for a good watercolour book because she was finding her sketches “flat and overworked”. I thought I might share some suggestions in the form of a post instead of answering in the comments area, in case others are interested as well.
Before I recommend any books I have a few other suggestions.
1. Look at the paper in your sketchbook. Is it watercolour paper or all-purpose sketch paper? If it is the latter, then you will really have a hard time obtaining vibrant colour or a nice, even wash. And the colour may look really flat because the paint gets sucked into the paper. I use both a Moleskine watercolour sketchbook and small, cut sheets of 140 lb. watercolour paper for my work. Most 100% cotton rag watercolour paper has a sizing on it which makes the paper less absorbent. Remember, the paper in a sketch book is for SKETCHING and it is not meant to take a heavy wash. That is why many people also make their own sketchbooks with a good quality rag paper that can handle the paint. This is far too time-consuming for me!
2. Are you using tube paint or dry pans? If you are using dry pans, it takes a lot of water to dilute the paint. That means that your colours will be really washed out. If you use fresh tube paint then it takes much less water to get a dilute the paint and your colours will be much more saturated. That may also solve the overworking problem. Usually that happens when you can’t get your colours dark enough on the first try and you go over areas again and again.If you use fresh paint you can obtain those really gorgeous darks because you don’t have to water down the dry pigment in the pans. And even though tube paint may seem expensive, you just need little dabs of it to get great colour.
I learned most of what I know about watercolour by taking workshops with some of the greats whom I often name in my posts. Among them are Ed Whitney, Frank Webb, Milford Zornes, Barbara Nechis and Skip Laurence. I love watercolour and I have been collecting books for years but mostly I buy monographs because I like to read about the artist and look at the paintings, especially anything by Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, John Singer Sargent or Andrew Wyeth. I also have lots of books on technique, often by painters I have taken workshops with like Ed Whitney or Frank Webb, or by painters whose work I love like Charles Reid. Other good ones on my shelf are by Zsoltan Szabo, John Pike, Judi Betts and Rex Brandt, but if I had to recommend one book it would be “Making Color Sing” by Jeanne Dobie. She covers composition as well as colour and there are lots of practical exercises. But if you try them, make sure to use good quality paper and fresh paint because you’ll never be able to obtain results without the right tools.