When I was very young, maybe 6 or 7, I used to watch, transfixed, my artist mother paint in oil and draw in charcoal and pastel. I remember the smell of turpentine and oil and recall it being an exotic combination of fragrances that stay with me still. She was quite informative too, explaining to me linear and aerial perspective or of how to place the eyes, nose and mouth in portrait drawing or applying color combinations for shading and tone, etc.. A lot of this flew right over my head but the movement of her hands and what happened at the tip of her fingers did not. When I grew a bit older, I began drawing cartoons and crazy figures I would conjure in my mind up while trying to look like I was paying attention in math and English grammar classes. Usually a well thrown spitball would wake me up, though! A junior high school friend of mine and I even developed a handwritten, once a month newspaper, he was the literary component, I the staff artist. We actually had a pretty good readership by Volume 4…..that being 3 of our mutual friends!
At some point in my early 20’s I had the unshakable urge to undertake to draw and paint but just for my own satisfaction. My eye hand coordination was always pretty good being able to hit fast balls pitched at me in baseball and later fast pitch softball. This faculty was further enhanced when I took up model ship building, something to this day I love but have little time for with my painting being my primary artistic outlet.
I visited the Addison Gallery of American Art at Andover, Phillips Academy, just a few miles from our North Andover (MA) home one fall day in 1991. There was an exhibition of the museum’s Winslow Homer watercolor collection that I had the chance to see. These paintings blew me away…..how could somebody be so fortunate to be able to move THAT medium around with those results? I was hooked and determined to give a go at this medium and to give it my best shot. Well….. I am still learning!
Watercolor, for me at least, is a medium that allows me to express my emotions for a particular subject matter, immediately. For a man that is essentially hyper, this works for me. I started off very tentatively, carefully applying the pigments within prescribed and carefully drafted pencil lines, etc., etc., etc. to the tune of complete and nauseating tedium! It was even more tedious to behold the finished works! But I guess one has to go through that stage especially with this medium that has a mind of its own. Years passed and looseness developed. An accomplished internationally acclaimed maritime artist once remarked to me that my watercolors actually LOOKED like watercolors! I took that compliment to heart!
Concurrent with the watercolor commitment I started dabbling in oil on canvas and pastels. Pastels were very gratifying, color wise, but I quickly became aware of the toxic dust hazards and laid this medium aside several years ago. I really couldn’t schedule putting on a facemask, gloves and full body armor BEFORE sitting in front of a blank piece of paper and several soft pastels.
Working in oils on stretched canvas or panels was fast becoming a medium that I could assimilate with like watercolor. And there again was that exotic combination of fragrances that was reminiscent of my childhood years watching my mom over her back while she was at her easel. At some point I found that there wasn’t enough time in a day or week to paint in either medium. I started trying to work exclusively in one or the other medium for a span of a few months at a time. I found that to be burdensome especially when a venue was requiring a painting or two in the medium that was in its “off time” as it were. Now I no longer work in either oil or watercolor for any given time period but just bounce back and forth as needed. This makes for a tad more untidy studio but I know where all my shit has been placed so it’s no big deal!
I have come to love and respect each medium and appreciate their strong points as well as their weaknesses. For me, it’s like cross training in athletics….I can applying watercolor techniques to my oils and vice versa. I find THAT to be a truly great asset for keeping (or trying to keep) works in either medium, fresh. Watercolor appeals to my spontaneous side where oils have that needed slowing down of time also required for my inner wellbeing.
So when asked “which do you prefer, watercolors or oils?” I have to say I love them both equally as much….like 2 of your kids, each uniquely different but each equally loved.