Last week I saw Sean Scully's watercolors at the Chazen Museum
in Madison, along with a huge room of monumental oil paintings. Though I was awed by the oils, it was the intimate, sensuous surfaces and inventive patterning of the watercolors that I took away with me. Scully's watercolors have a simple, effortless look that belies the difficulties of this medium. (Photos were prohibited in the gallery, unfortunately, but above is an example I found online.)
A few days later I felt the urge to dig out my own watercolor supplies, which usually do not get much use in the studio, and have not been updated in years--I had only a couple of usable brushes and a some very used tubes of paint, some of them dried up, some student grade. As with most art media, you get what you pay for...so I experienced some frustration with brushes shedding hairs and a limited range of paints. Still, I enjoyed playing around, inspired by Scully's simple color divisions and patterns. My own color fields developed a considerable amount of texture, because, of course, that's what I like...I enjoyed working the texture through the dripping and wet-in-wet mixing of color that is characteristic of watercolor. I also worked in some of the gorgeous Unison chalk pastels I brought back from Ireland.
My Christmas gift to myself will be some quality watercolor paints and brushes, because I sense more of these small paintings ahead. I really enjoy the delightful immediacy of watercolor, and it offers plenty of challenge. In fact I tend to think of each watercolor painting as a game or puzzle--can I solve it, make it work, pull it off, or will it dissolve into a muddy mess?