Repeating yourself

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing to excess.

A billion tries later, I finally had something that wasn’t totally embarrassing.
This is the first workshop I’ve taken in many years, and I’m glad I came to Nova Scotia to do it. Poppy Balser knows her materials. She’s interested in process, not in having us produce something pretty to take home.
If nothing else, I’ve learned that by holding my watercolor brushes like they’re oil brushes, I’m impeding the flow of fluid from their tips. I’ve been using watercolor for six decades and Poppy is the first person who’s pointed that out to me, at least in a way that I could hear.
Yesterday she turned the traditional order of watercolor painting on its head, painting a moody mass of dark spruces and then adding a light, foggy background at the end. I wanted to compare this to painting the same subject in the traditional watercolor way (lights to darks).  I taped two pages to my board, intending to do the two value studies simultaneously.
Fail, fail, fail, fail, fail…
The problem is holding more than two concepts in my brain at the same time. I immediately jumped to color. Whoops.
There were aspects of each technique that I liked, so I drew and painted the subject again. It came out worse.  In fact, each iteration seemed inferior to the one before. Value is everything in watercolor, and mine was heading south quickly.
When you add a new idea to your repertoire, you often forget everything else you know. Mercifully, this amnesia is generally temporary. “Why are you putting water there?” Poppy asked me. Of course, the location of my pool was ridiculous; I’d just wanted an excuse to draw my luscious fat mop brush across my paper and make sparkly water. 
Bobbi repeating herself.
I did about five terrifically bad paintings before I finally took the advice I give all the time as a teacher: when everything is going wrong, go back to first principles. I did the value study I’d intended to start with and then painted the subject again. Of course it came out much better.
Meanwhile, Bobbi Heathwas doing exactly the same thing with graduated washes. I looked up and she was surrounded by paper, all bearing images of the same salt marsh.
This is an important principle of workshops and classes: what you’re painting isn’t nearly as important as how you’re painting.
One of Poppy’s other students mentioned not wanting to take the time to do a value study first. Most serious painters do them routinely, either as thumbnail sketches or notans. Drawing first saves time in the end. All your serious thinking is done in the planning stages. It’s less onerous to sketch in monochrome than to wrestle with color while you make value decisions.
Poppy’s color choices for her spruces.
By the end of the day, I’d used half of my watercolor block. I had one painting which I am not reluctant to show you. I didn’t realize how tired I was until I was driving home from the workshop and had trouble focusing on the road. Being a student is exhausting.  I need to remember that when I’m teaching.

Today Bobbi and I leave to drive around the Bay of Fundy in slow stages, painting our way home. Meanwhile, Poppy is teaching twice more this season. If you’re interested, you can find information here.