The Banged-On Brushwork of Oils and the Fluidity of Watercolor

Today’s newsletter is an excerpt from The Artist’s Magazine (March 2009), which featured the work of David Curtis in an article titled “Quick-Change Artist,” inspired by the fact that Curtis is comfortable painting with both oil and watercolor. Continue reading to learn more about his unique style. ~Cherie

Quick-Change Artist (an excerpt) by Ken Grofton

Well known in the United States for his instruction books and DVDs, David Curtis is a prolific painter of landscapes–marine subjects in particular–and also portraits. Many artists work in more than one medium, often focusing on one for a matter of weeks or months before switching to another. What intensifies the busy atmosphere of Curtis’s workplace is that he regularly has two paintings in the works–one in watercolor and the other in oil. “I suppose, after 40 years of painting, I’m at ease with my technique and don’t have to think about it,” he explains. “If I take a break from one medium or the other, however, I feel a woodenness creeping in, and I have to crank up the effort a bit.”

“There are differences between the works in the two media, of course,” Curtis acknowledges. “My oils are banged on with strong colors and tend to be more dramatic, while my watercolors tend to be more fluid images.” He adds, “There are some subjects that I can paint in either medium and others that would work in one but would be difficult in the other. But there are common features. I like the subject to be confidently drawn, and, in fact, the painting will never work if I don’t get the drawing right.

watercolor painting by David Curtis

Sunday Art Market, Barcelona (watercolor, 13×15) by David Curtis

“I spend a lot of time seeking out the best viewpoint, partly for compositional reasons but also to add drama. I have a predisposition to high vantage points, looking down on the subject. The watercolor Sunday Art Market, Barcelona (above) and the oil Rome Square (below) are good examples of this.”

Curtis adds that another distinguishing aspect of his work is his preference for a restrained palette. “Some people say I’m the person who paints with mud and throws in a few bright splashes,” he says. “There are two points to be made here, though. First, I think my palette does vary to an extent and is influenced by mood. Creativity can come from uncertainty and a bit of angst (like this idea? Tweet it), and if I’m feeling contemplative, my paintings tend to be more atmospheric. If I’m more upbeat, I’ll push some elements out a bit more with bright colors.

 

oil painting by David Curtis

Rome Square (oil, 24×18) by David Curtis

“Second, there have been a few milestones over the years that have affected my painting. One of those was evolving the palette I now rely on. I’ve ditched all the umbers, the Payne’s grays–all the insistent colors. For instance, in watercolor you can get the most wonderful transparent dark by mixing French ultramarine with burnt sienna.”

The real division in Curtis’s work, as he sees it, isn’t between oil and watercolor, but between his plein air studies and his larger, more complex studio paintings. He still gets a real buzz from working outdoors, racing against time in changing light conditions to capture the essence of the subject in either oil or watercolor. ~KG

Fascinating! As Grofton mentioned above, Curtis is also an art instructor. We’re pleased to announce that he’s our featured artist for this exclusive kit of the month: Painting on Location with David Curtis (click here to learn more).

Best regards,
Cherie

Cherie Haas, online editor**Click here to subscribe to the Artists Network newsletter for inspiration, instruction, and more!

 

 

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