Go With the Flow

You won?t find a lot of brushstrokes or fine details in a painting by Donna Wright. But what she lacks in realism, she makes up for in energy and emotion. “I?d rather have my painting speak to me than demand something of it,” says the Merced, California, artist. “I don?t draw things out. It?s more of a feeling. I go with what?s in front of me.”


Paradise Island (watercolor, 28×21) was a finalist in The Artist’s Magazine’s 2001 Art Competition.

What began in the ?80s as an experiment has turned into Wright?s preferred method of painting?pouring. Inspired by color combinations, whether it?s somebody?s clothing or a rock formation in Yosemite, Wright picks two or three colors to start her images. “I put about a tablespoon or so of water in a cup along with a quarter inch of paint. Then I stir it up,” she says. “Next I take a large brush and wet the paper down (always 100 percent rag) and let it soak about 30 seconds. Then I pour in an abstract fashion, like a cruciform or something like that. If the paint isn?t flowing enough, I?ll spritz it.” But she doesn?t tilt the paper or mix the colors very much because she likes the colors to remain strong and clear.

For Paradise Island (above), she started with a half cup of water and paint right in the center of the page. “It was a very watery color. I thought, ?What am I going to do with this?? So I poured it off and in the process this beautiful landscape came to kind of a V-point at the bottom. When I put the cream color on top of the ultramarine blue it created a kind of fog,” she says. “I left that alone and only added a few birds and little palm trees after that.” Lifting shapes out of the rich color is one of Wright?s favorite techniques, for which she relies on various scrub brushes. And sometimes she?ll use plastic wrap to create certain textures.

Although she uses watercolor for her pouring technique, Wright often branches out into other media to keep her work fresh. In addition, she?ll combine media if a piece is proving difficult. “If it doesn?t work out so much as a watercolor, I?ll add some collage or pastel to finish it,” says Wright. “As I tell my students, there are no failures just a continuation of art.”

Wright, who only made art sporadically while she raised three children, began taking basic art courses after the birth of her third child. With the encouragement of her teacher, she honed her style and began entering competitions. Now she works in her studio and teaches at the local community college. At any given time she may have 50 works in progress and each one takes anywhere from five hours to five weeks to complete. But she doesn?t mind the load. For her, art?s like therapy. “With this pouring method, especially, it gets you away from the crutch of having to have a picture in front of you. You rely on your instincts and what?s inside your head,” she says. As a result, “Your soul is right out there. You?re just showing people what you have in your inner self.”

This year, Tony van Hasselt celebrates 40 years of teaching workshops in the United States and abroad. A signature member of the American Watercolor Society, he?s written two instruction books and co-wrote Watercolor Fix-it Book (North Light Books). On the Web, visit his site at www.tonyvanhasselt.com.

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