Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Oil or Water?

Rain, Frenchman's Creek. Watercolour

Oil or water, obviously they don't mix, I know that! However what drives the decision to use which media, especially when depicting water in all her many guises?
I love watercolour, I am in love with watercolour. I think it is a difficult medium, it takes an almost sneaky type of control on the side of the artist. On the one hand you need to have some experience of what it will do, which colours will cause which reactions. Who will sit happily with who, who will repel and rebel. On the other hand you need to be able to let it go its own way, invite the "accidents" encourage the unexpected. Sometimes the place or mood that I am trying to capture seems to dictate the medium.
The picture above is watercolour. It was a damp, misty day but muggy and steaming too, then it began to rain. There was a cleaning property to the air brought on by the rain and the water in the river seemed to clear showing beautiful patterns of copper and yellow colour. I couldn't imagine catching that feeling in oils. It needed the transparent quality of watercolour.
I also love oils. I love the buttery feeling of the colours, the freedom that the addition of light right at the end of the painting gives you. I can paint and paint and then flick in some light and it is literally like switching on a light switch. All of a sudden the picture is transformed and brought to life. Magic! The picture below is oils. The day was sunny but very still. I was sitting above the small beach at the mouth of the river, where the river widens and meets the sea. Often here are loud and powerful waves but on that day, not a breath of wind. The water seemed almost oily, slightly thick but clear. As the sea slowly sucked out the tide the sand became silver and the pebbles shiny and bright. All I could think of was painting it in oils. Dabbling in all the rich greens and blues that were under the water, speckling on all the yellows and ochres and almost blacks that were the shore.

Ebb Tide, Oil.

Maybe I should stop worrying about being a watercolourist or an oil painter and just be ambidextrous.
I suppose they are a bit like cats and dogs.
Some people are dog people, they just like dogs (that's oils I think, don't you? Quite predictable, loyal but capable of doing tricks and performing very obediently. A dream companion in the right hands, a nightmare in the wrong hands!)
Some people are cat people. So this by rights must be watercolours: Haughty, independent. Make you feel great when they are purring and curled up on your lap but off like a shot for sardines from the house down the road. Startlingly beautiful, wild, free and proud. Or mangy, hissing and untouchable.
And some people are both. I think I must be, the nutty dog woman and the mad cat lady all rolled into one. I suppose one just has to "go with the flow" Try to listen to your emotions, find the feeling that comes from what you are wanting to paint and then reach for your cat or your dog!


Jeanette said...

Very well described. I think I must be a mix as well and I agree some scenes just call out for one medium or the other.

These are great pieces. The darkness and rain work beautifully and that ebb tide - I can almost hear the water moving over the pebbles. Gorgeous.

Maree said...

This watercolour of the pond is stunning. You've really got your water under control. Well done.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

How funny! Your comments really made me think too - definitely a post for who's made a mark this week!

Two really accomplsihed paintings - and I knew it was rain in the watercolour before I even looked at the title

I'm still on a campaign to see you try painting in washy oils!

vivien said...

an interesting post and I agree with you and Jeanette - some scenes just have you reaching for one or the other - I'm in love with both media.

Love these paintings too - the spots of rain in the water are beautifully done and I love the pattern of the tide in the oil.

Kelly Marszycki said...

Your watercolor does capture that light and airy feel that a summer often denotes. Working with oils is like making mudpies, all slogging up to the elbows and such. I think you hit it right on the nose: the scene and the "feel" of the place will dictate the medium -- wonderful work!

Julie Broom said...

Two fantastic pieces of work I can't choose my favourite between them - you must definitely be 'ambidextrous'!

annie said...

Fun thoughts and beautiful paintings, Sarah...those raindrops on the water...

Laureline said...

Oh, these make me so happy! I love BOTH your oils and your watercolors---luckily, we don't have to choose just one medium or way of painting. Lovely work, as always, Sarah!