What sort of planning do you do before you paint?
Tony White: Mostly, I just paint and it’ll either work out or it won’t. We MUST be comfortable with failure and throwing things away that just didn’t work. That’s ok, it is all part of the process. My planning is usually done on a sketchbook or in my head, whatever is closest to hand. As long as I’ve at least thought my way through it, it should be ok. You mustn’t OVER-plan with watercolor. That results in us trying to control it too much and you’ll lose that battle every time. My philosophy is ‘think long, paint fast’. So, have a think about what you’re going to do and then just go for it.
How do you get to that point?
White: Observation. I am constantly (to the point of it becoming annoying) looking at things, editing them in my head and translating it to a potential painting. So, my first stage is simply choosing a decent subject. If it is a subject I’ve not painted before or there are a few tricky drawing elements then I’ll do a pencil sketch first, but I don’t really do value-study paintings or anything. As long as I’m feeling confident going into it, I’m usually ok — although that’s not always the case. 😉 I tend to paint things more than once. Doing tutorials on Youtube as well as in-person workshops allows me to develop some works beyond my initial vision for them. Some scenes are so great for teaching I repeat them over and over but, being watercolor, they’re different every time. The ending stage of the painting is the hardest. We have all had paintings that looked better a half-hour before we stopped painting. Overall, have a plan, but know when to go with the flow of the watercolor itself. Be observant as you paint and the pigment and paper will give you little gifts along the way that you can and should use.
When a piece isn’t working, how do you assess it to figure out why?
White: Usually, the first sign of something not working is that it becomes a chore to paint. We end up overworking it and trying to wrestle it into submission and ultimately it ends up in the burn pile. I find that 9 out of 10 times it is due to me not planning quite enough or something being wrong with the drawing. Sometimes it can be rescued, but I find that it is best just to take that lesson-learned and redo the piece. It is ALL about learning. we never stop and never should.
Tony White is a watercolor artist from Newcastle, Australia, who currently resides in Hobart. He is a regular contributor to Australian Artist Magazine. He paints traditional, impressionistic landscapes with a strong emphasis on light and atmosphere.