Friday, September 16, 2011

"I can't paint watercolor because I can't draw"

(Good news, ebay just approved my guide of this title.  So that you don't have to wander around ebay looking for it, here is the content.)

I can show you 5 ways for a completely untalented person to make something that will make them (and their Mom) proud.
Art as a hobby and then as a part time profession snuck up on me in my mid-to-late 40's. I was not the arty kid in high school who is always sketching in the margins of her math notebook. I was an industrial engineer, looking for a life that better aligned my values and priorities with my day to day actions. Long story. Back to the original statement. Even though I was fascinated with the way watercolor looks, I couldn't draw, so I thought I coudn't paint.
Once I was motivated, I found ways to paint without drawing.
-Abstract painting: just play with colors and movement and textures
-Grid: These can be a bought or home made piece of plastic with lines dividing it into squares: you put it over a photo and it breaks the picture into bite sized pieces. You lightly create the same grid on your paper (erase it later) and sketch the contents of only one box at a time. While you ares sketching, you try not to say, "This is the eye" but say "This is a dark triangle that sort of leans to the left and then a light dot." It will force you to look at the shapes and colors and will help you to bypass the part of your brain that says "I know how to make a face" but means a smily face cartoon. Turning the photo and painting upside down while you sketch will also help with this problem. Grids are also good for making large paintings from small photos or vice versa. As I got better at using grids, I did not need to lightly sketch the grid on my paper, but just put dots at the intersections of the grid lines.
-Graphite tracing paper. At first I tried to trace every detail, but after a while, I just went for the general proportions. You can buy this at art stores in boxes that look like they hold aluminum foil. But you can also make some with a piece of paper and a soft pencil. Make sure to blow all the dust off the home made one.
-Light box tracing, or in my home made version: tape the photo to the window on a sunny day, then tape the paper over it and trace the main outlines. Want a bigger painting? Blow up a photocopy of the photo.
-When I made some money with my art, I invested in an art projector. You put a photo under it, tape a piece of paper to the wall, turn off the room lights and turn on the projector light. I still use it for big detailed projects, but the funny thing is, after all these years of tracing and gridding, I am starting to get better at sketching free hand! I often start free hand and resort to some of my sketching tools only when one section of the sketch is not looking right.
Bonus tip: If you use watercolor pencils to do your sketch, they will guide your color choices and melt into your watercolor painting. No one will even know that you had to create a sketch before you painted.
Oh yes, the painting part. Now that you have a fablous sketch, pretend that it is a coloring book, or paint by number set. Fill in the appropriate colors in the appropriate places. How well they fit and how the paint and water flow will improve as you paint more and more, but for now, don't worry about it. However it turns out is your current "style."
Now find a photo of something you love and give it a try!
Extra bonus tip: some photos work better than others. Over time, you will come up with your own "I don't bother to paint..." list. Mine is currently 2 things: people the size of Barbie Dolls and flowers that are yellow on yellow.

Nan Henke
Texas Hill Country Art
Look at my results by searching for TexasHillCountryArt on ebay, etsy or blogspot
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