Editor’s Note: Today it’s a pleasure and delight to share with you Betsy Dillard Stroud’s latest guest blog post, in which she features a selection of artists from her new book, Watercolor Masters and Legends. See what she has to say about Virginia Cobb’s “titillating textures” and “inventive shapes,” what Freud might say about Cathy Woo’s abstract art, and more watercolor painting inspiration.
And your insider offer for today? It’s a coupon code! Use SUNNY30 to save 30% off most items, including Watercolor Masters and Legends, at North Light Shop.
Also, now’s the time to enter your best watercolor paintings in the Watermedia Showcase art competition, sponsored by Watercolor Artist magazine! Good luck! ~Cherie
Watercolor Painting: How Can You Know What You Think Until You See What You Say?
by Betsy Dillard Stroud
There are those of us who begin a painting not knowing what the subject will become or where we will go with the paint. As intuitive painters, we are in love with the process of painting. Actually, as watercolor has a mind of its own, in many ways no one can discern exactitudes. Sometimes, we select a palette of pigments to work with and sometimes not, just randomly picking up a tube of paint. For me, this is the ultimate excitement. After all, if I know where I’m going every time I paint, the journey would be far less adventurous. Let’s look at some of the work that exemplifies this approach.
Ann Smith is the queen of intuitive painting. Her paintings are rhapsodic mysteries filled with imaginative shapes and disarming and unexpected color diffusions. In Ann’s work we find both total abstractions and subject matter, but whatever she paints, it’s her process and approach that’s so compelling. She always begins by wetting both sides of the paper until it’s sopping wet. Then her intuition takes over and she begins to apply the paint. In Passion (above) we roam around “whispering sonnets” of shape, bold vertical whites and contrasting reds and darks. Working in layers, with a drying time in between, Ann expertly weaves a labyrinthine series of shapes and colors, a true enigmatic narrative of heart, for as she states, “I’m my painting, and my painting is me.”
Cathy Woo captivates the viewer with wildly, imaginative paintings that exploit shape, line, color and collage. If Freud were looking at these paintings, he would say, “Ah, this artist is integrating the anima and the animus;” the masculine and the feminine. Why? The surface is filled with both bold geometric shapes and more organic ones, and Cathy is quick to change the surface if something isn’t pleasing. We revel in the intensity of her color, the lively markings, the whimsicality of her patterned content and the strong contrasts of value, all part of the definitive work that says “Woo-Dom.” Cathy admits fervently that “My life informs my art and my art informs my life.”
More Watercolor Painting Inspiration
Virginia Cobb is the master of inventive shapes and creative design. Her paintings are total abstractions relying on shape, color, surface titillation and strong contrast to attract the viewer. In the preponderance and variety of geometric shapes in Virginia’s paintings, there is an iconic presence that holds us spellbound. Shapes appear almost sculptural, as if they were part of an ancient temple or a cryptic archaic wall. They are never planned, as Virginia herself will tell you: “I throw myself into each experience with great abandon, finding my way through to resolution by trial and experience. As a result, my paintings never fail to surprise me, and I hope that will always be so.”
Mary Todd Beam’s goal in art is “to become a visual poet,” and she achieves this through the use of metaphors drawn from her everyday life. Her paintings display some representational elements surrounded by abstract trappings, and often, she uses the “hand” symbolically. Allowing her images to emerge as she paints, she will often find a bird has entered the painting. When I think of Mary’s work, I think texture, dynamic texture and that texture represents the textures implicit in her life: its struggles, its heartbreaks and its glories. Characteristically, she uses a limited palette and strong chiaroscuro, and that contrast alludes to the spiritual element in her work. Mary has her own gallery attached to her house and recently a stonemason who was doing work for her asked if he could enter the gallery and look at the paintings alone. When he came out, he said to her, “Mrs. Beam, this isn’t a gallery; it’s a chapel.”
In my total abstract paintings, I discovered that I was subconsciously delving into the Imago Ignota, a term invented by Carl Jung, which describes all those antecedents that we are born with that can’t be explained through recognizable subject matter. I came upon it by accident, if you believe in accidents. After spilling a bottle of Golden’s Bone Black acrylic paint on my painting in front of a workshop of 25 people, I gave into my first impulse. From the great Fujo Kato, the Japanese Sumi-e painter: “There are no mistakes. Where my brush goes, that’s where I am today, and I’m dancing in my own landscape.” Determined to make a painting out of the big black puddle, in a frenzy I scraped, poured more paint, lifted out and collaged, and soon I had one of the best abstract paintings I had ever done. I did 50 paintings before I could stop.
Throughout the years, my paintings change as I change. I always begin with a pour of three or four pigments into a dollop of matte medium and then I manipulate the surface by drawing through the paint, using calligraphy, lifting out, layering and finally stamping, which for over 25 years has become a leit-motif in my work. Now that I live in Arizona, this series has taken on the feeling of landscape. My most important advice to students: Don’t be attached to outcomes.
I encourage all of you who have not experienced painting without a plan to try an abstraction. Remember: There are no mistakes; and, how do you know what you do, until you see what you say?
This blog is dedicated to the charismatic and acclaimed painter, George James, who died just recently. We will miss his charming personality and his whimsical, brilliant paintings, but we will remember him always. From Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “And, flights of angels sing him (sic) to his rest.”
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