McQueen’s Slough in Spring – watercolour painting by Angela Fehr

This was the demo painting I brought to my watercolor painting class last week. Using the reference photo, this completed painting, and step-by-step demonstration, we managed to complete a painting in the two hours’ class. 

This is a relatively simple layout, but there is always a great variation when it comes to how each student interprets the painting and implements the techniques. Being our first class of actual painting, it’s important for me to be observant – to see what students might be more experienced or comfortable with the medium, which students need closer attention or extra encouragement, and which students are struggling with the shortcomings of cheap student-grade materials.

I took my first painting class when I was seventeen years old and I too clearly remember my own struggles with paint, brushes and paper, especially paper. As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to paint, you might as well use student grade until you are experienced enough to tell the difference, and there are cheap brushes that perform well out there, but paper is another story. The Fabriano that I used for this painting absorbs water in a way that my students’ Cotman paper just wouldn’t, and when dry, the paint settles into the paper and takes repeated washes and glazes. Student grade paper tends to resist the paint and no matter how dry a wash may be, the next wash or glaze will invariably disturb the pigment and things start to get muddy. Not to mention the way a wash will buckle and pool unpredictably.

This week our class will be painting a great big sunflower, and in addition to demonstrating again, step by step, each student will be transferring the same sketch to watercolour paper I provide. Starting with a level playing field, so to speak. It’s funny – I remember being given artist grade watercolor paper during my first series of classes, and while the experienced painters remarked on the immediate difference in my painting, I don’t remember being able to tell the difference myself, at first. Inexperience couldn’t see it. But while ignorance may be bliss, having your art supplies working against you is not.

My biggest priority for these classes is for the students to learn to enjoy the process of painting. If they can do that, they will  keep painting, and in continuing, can’t help but grow technically and creatively.