Am I there yet? A question I regularly ask myself when I’m starting a new work.
Will this be a keeper? I anxiously think as I’m working. When will I know? Early or toward the end? You really never know with the watercolor medium for, as we all know, once it’s down on paper, there’s not much an artist can do to change the painting unlike oils or other media.
If one is an artist, “creating” is something you just do instinctively, not a “process” that you follow like cooking. Thus dissecting this thing we call the “creative process” into distinct pieces takes some reflection. But here we go.
Regarding “creating,” I believe there are five or so specific aspects that seem to always be present at my painting events. From my perspective, they include getting into character, dimension, illumination, drama and finally, serendipity.
First, no matter whether you call it getting into character or “into the zone,” you have to take your mind to a different place.
I transition from whatever I’m doing at the time – business consulting, writing, distance walking (my particular daily activities) – over to my painting table. You need to be fully engaged with your brushes, paint and the particular “world” you’re trying to create on paper.
The second aspect I call dimension.
This includes details like foreground, background, depth of field, height and others. In my early award-winning Middle Bay Light, for example, the looming rain-laden stormy sky overhead dominates the whole painting. While Oaxaca Street, puts the viewer on the sidewalk across from a very brightly painted residence in a quiet neighborhood. Dimension plays a major role in both works.
Next is illumination.
Illumination is a must to any good watercolor painting and my Fountain in a Square work I painted several years ago in Mexico is a good example here. The fountain literally “jumps out” at the viewer as seemingly a spotlight illuminates it in the midst of dark shadowy glade of encircling cool leafy trees.
Aspect four I call drama or “tension.”
I believe drives my paintings to have a lot of visual interest, characterized often in my work in the form of movement or motion. For example, in Match Point, the sports-themed watercolor about tennis, I hope for the viewer senses ball motion, racquets swinging and net swaying in the light breeze, yet frozen in a moment of time – at the crucial point of the match, and as abstract a work as I ever have completed as a painter. Middle Bay Light, too, exhibits drama with gulls wheeling overhead, the approaching stormy summer rain squall and wind – ah the wind – blowing the retreating sailboats. (I can almost hear their sails flapping as they beat on a westerly tack toward the distant safety of the small yacht club – how about you?) The white caps on the bay waves and the water spraying horizontally manifest an uneasy feeling as the storm rapidly approaches.
Either a work has it, or it doesn’t and there’s really no in between. That look, that sizzle, that … well, you know what I’m talking about here! The final work I present to you here – Fountain at the Pier – has serendipity all over it. From the deep almost purplish blue sky in the right upper corner, to the water splashing and gurgling off the terra cotta colored fountain lip, this painting oozes movement – and that drama and tension – from every pore of it’s pebbly surface!
So these are my thoughts on creating and its process. And I invite you to, the next work you gaze at, see if you can pick out my five elements deeply at work in that particular work of art. My bet is that, if you are drawn to the work, it has at least four of my five aspects present!
By William Porter
William Porter is an award-winning watercolorist just moving to the Lowcountry from Atlanta and is currently working on a coffee table book of his large career portfolio of work. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.