They artists create healing, meditative floral images, the look of stained glass, and vignettes of people in their element.
By Norman Kolpas
In this two-part series, we’ve invited five successful watercolor artists to share some works from their portfolio as well as the unique processes they use to create them. Their stories and approaches shed light on watercolor and the steps involved, offering a wide-ranging look at the medium.
In Part 2 below, you’ll learn about Georgia Mansur and Julia Dufault McGrath; these watercolor artists employ detailed, unique processes to create healing, meditative floral images, the look of stained glass, and vignettes of people in their element. (Check out Part 1 for even more incredible watercolorists.)
Georgia Mansur enjoys a worldwide reputation as a watercolorist and teacher known for vibrant plein-air landscapes. But when her husband died last year, after a brave battle with brain cancer, Mansur began focusing on a deeply meditative painting process that enables her “to really tune into my feelings in a very peaceful and healing way.”
The results are expressive floral images that seem to spring directly from the soul.
Working from her home in the Northern Beaches region of Sydney, Australia—in a studio with a water view—she begins by using large brushes to apply “a big, wet, juicy wash” of colors—selected from her own signature palette of 16 by Daniel Smith Watercolors—on a full or half sheet of rough-textured 300 lb. watercolor paper from Arches, Saunders Waterford, or Baohong. “I want a paper that won’t buckle when I saturate it with a lot of water and pigment,” she explains. While the paint is still liquid, “I move it around to create different effects, bruising and scratching the paper with a palette knife, credit cards, toothbrushes, kitchen tools, whatever I need.” Then she leaves the paper to dry overnight.
Following Her Instincts
The next day, she regards the color-washed sheet anew. “I’ll turn it around from every angle to let it speak to me and see what’s emerging,” Mansur says. Following her instincts, she embarks on the next step: She uses a scalpel or sharp, fine-pointed scissors to cut out small, abstract shapes from sheets of old X-ray film. She then strategically places these templates on top of her watercolor and lifts away the areas of colored wash beneath the cut-outs, using a damp sea sponge or paper towels, gradually “designing the painting in a way that makes sense.” Lastly, she fine-tunes the composition by adding details with a tapered brush.
Mansur now shares this process in workshops. To her deep satisfaction, she finds that it helps her students “address their own stress or grief or trauma. Then they start creating the really joyful, beautiful paintings they want to create.”
To learn more about Georgia Mansur’s artwork and creative process, visit https://georgiamansur.com.
Julia Dufault McGrath
Even the quickest glance at one of Julia Dufault McGrath’s watercolors speaks to her painstakingly detailed painting process. Yet, her ultimate goal is to arrive at something that looks almost effortlessly intimate, whether it’s a nature scene that is “more a vignette than a full landscape” or a portrait that reveals subjects in “captured moments doing something they love.”
A Love of Watercolor
Michigan-based McGrath’s love of watercolor began haltingly in a prerequisite course as a painting major at Wayne State University. “The grad-student instructor never taught us how to harness the magic of the paint,” she says. But when she was pregnant with her second daughter at the age of 29, she revisited watercolors. She finally learned to respect and love the medium, treating it with the deliberation it deserves. This sometimes means spending as many as 120 hours on a single work. “With watercolors, you really have to think about the end game and plan the painting out before you start.”
McGrath’s deliberations begin with “a lot of sketching and drawing,” sometimes inspired by reference photos or, for still lifes, by objects she sets up. Once she arrives at her composition, she executes a pencil drawing on a sheet of vellum the same size as the painting will be. She flips the vellum over and goes over the drawing on the reverse side. Then she turns it face up again and places it on top of a sheet of 300 lb. watercolor paper—she likes Arches and Winsor & Newton. She traces over it once more, the pressure transferring the pencil lines on the back side onto the paper’s surface.
Once her sketch is ready, McGrath begins the painting process. Some aspects of a subject, such as skin tones, can involve more than three dozen separate layers of watercolor. “I’ll lay down cadmium yellow light, let that dry, then go in with a wash of alizarin crimson,” she explains. “If I need it to be cooler, I’ll lay down some dioxazine violet or Hooker’s green dark or French blue. It’s like stained glass: You can see through each layer, and it gets richer and richer.”
A Drawing Transfer In Action
To learn more about Julia Dufault McGrath’s artwork and creative process, visit https://www.juliadufaultmcgrath.com.
If you haven’t already, check out Part 1 of this series to get to know the work and unique processes of Ellen Diederich, Tina Bohlman, and William Ressler. These three watercolorists have mastered the art of capturing rural scenes and small-town life.
All 5 watercolor artists as they appear in this series:
Kolpas is a Los Angeles-based freelancer who writes for Mountain Living and Colorado Homes & Lifestyles as well as Southwest Art. For more inspiring artist profiles, get your subscription to Southwest Art here.
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- Watercolor Techniques: Controlling the Paint
- 5 Watercolor Techniques You Can Learn from Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth, J.M.W. Turner and Other Famous Watercolor Artists