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How Watercolor Inspired Artists: A Journey Through History

Introduction to Watercolor Inspired Artists: Watercolor, a medium as old as the cave paintings of Paleolithic Europe, has been a source of inspiration for artists throughout history. Its versatility, unique techniques, and evolving materials have influenced artists’ techniques, subject matter, and overall approach to art.

Watercolor Inspired Artists

This article will delve into the rich history of watercolor and its profound impact on the art world, enriched with insights from the artists themselves.

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Pablo Picasso

The Early Days of Watercolor

Watercolor art has been used for manuscript illustration since at least Egyptian times, gaining prominence in the European Middle Ages. Notable early practitioners of watercolor painting included Van Dyck, Claude Lorrain, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, and many Dutch and Flemish artists.

“Watercolor is a medium that can be as demanding and temperamental as those who choose to paint with it. But it is a colorful and exciting medium all the same – well suited to describing the many moods of the subject, as well as those of the artist wielding the brush,” Jean Burman, a contemporary watercolor artist, once said[1].

The Renaissance and Watercolor

The Renaissance brought watercolor painting into the spotlight. Artists like Albrecht Dürer used it for sketches, copies, or informal drawings. It was also adopted by the elite class as part of their overall education and eventually popularized—particularly in England—as a way to chronicle one’s travels.

“To live with Sargent’s watercolours is to live with sunshine captured and held,” Evan Charteris, a biographer of John Singer Sargent, once noted[1].

Techniques that Inspired Artists

Artists have been inspired by the versatility of watercolor techniques. Here are some of the most popular techniques:

  • Flat wash: This technique involves applying a series of uniform thicknesses of color.
  • Graded wash: This involves a transition from a dark to a light value of the same color.
  • Wet on wet: This technique involves applying wet paint onto a wet surface.
  • Dry brush: This involves using a brush that is relatively dry but still holds paint.
  • Blooming: This technique involves adding water to a wet wash to create interesting textures.
  • Sprinkling salt: An unconventional technique that involves sprinkling salt onto wet paint to create bursts or star textures.

“Master water first and then paint,” Josh Goldberg, a contemporary watercolor artist, advises[1].

The Evolution of Watercolor Materials

The development of watercolor materials also influenced artists. In the 1830s, artists could buy moist watercolors in porcelain pans, a significant advance from the small, hard cakes of soluble watercolor that artists had to dip in water and rub onto a suitable receptacle.

“I have fascination and wonder about the line and transparent quality or properties in watercolor,” Jerry Pinkney, a renowned watercolor illustrator, once said[3].

The Golden Age of Watercolor

The late 18th century marked the start of “The Golden Age of Watercolour”. Landscape painters such as Thomas Girtin, Paul Sandby, and JMW Turner adopted the technique, using watercolor to illustrate printed books, depict wildlife, and create hand-painted watercolor originals or copies of their larger artworks.

Famous Artists Inspired by Watercolor

Famous artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Cézanne, Joseph Mallord William Turner, and John Singer Sargent have all been influenced by and contributed to the field of watercolor painting.

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“You will see, in the future I will live by my watercolors,” Winslow Homer, a prominent American landscape painter, once predicted[3].

Watercolor painting is a classic medium that has been used for centuries to create beautiful and expressive works of art. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in watercolor painting, and many modern artists are using this medium to create innovative and inspiring works.

Modern Watercolor Inspired Artists

  • Abstract watercolor: Abstract watercolor paintings are a great way to experiment with color and form. Artists like Larry Bell and Angela Cartwright create stunning abstract watercolor paintings that are both ethereal and thought-provoking.
  • Botanical watercolor: Botanical watercolor paintings are a beautiful way to capture the delicate beauty of nature. Artists like Sarah Simon and Yana Shvets create stunning botanical watercolor paintings that are both realistic and expressive.
  • Portrait watercolor: Portrait watercolor paintings can be both realistic and impressionistic. Artists like Yana Shvets and Yulia Brodskaya create stunning portrait watercolor paintings that capture the essence of their subjects.
  • Landscape watercolor: Landscape watercolor paintings are a great way to capture the beauty of the natural world. Artists like Alvaro Castagnet and Evgeny Lushpin create stunning landscape watercolor paintings that are both realistic and atmospheric.

Sources of Inspiration

Watercolor artists find inspiration from a variety of sources, including nature, everyday life, light and shadow, color and texture, the human form, the natural world, the urban landscape, the sea and sky, architecture, and the fluidity and expressiveness of the medium itself. Some artists prefer digital sources and popular culture, while others draw inspiration from films, literature, music, and personal experiences. Inspiration can come from just about anywhere, and artists often find it helpful to chat with people, travel, and explore new places.

In conclusion, watercolor has inspired artists by offering a versatile medium for expressing their creativity, providing a range of techniques for achieving different effects and textures, and evolving in its material form to facilitate artistic expression. The history of watercolor is a testament to the enduring power of this medium to inspire and captivate artists and audiences alike.

[1] Quotes about Watercolours
[2] TOP 25 WATERCOLORS QUOTES (of 53) – A-Z Quotes
[3] 45+ Beautiful Watercolor Quotes To Inspire You – Kidadl

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