Letters to the Editor
Cows, like cats, are inquisitive creatures. I learnt this to my consternation several years ago when I was in the early stages of this affliction. Sitting in a field in the depths of the English Cotswolds, I was trying to capture the essence of a typical rural landscape in watercolour. Before the first wash of colour was dry, I was surrounded by a herd of Fresians nuzzling my back and chewing tubes of my paint. Swearing expletives has no effect on these dumb but benign creatures. But take note - raising one’s voice and flapping one’s arms will disperse them.
When one is possessed by a passion for this absorbing, creative past-time, this is but a minor hazard. A greater hazard had me banned from driving the family through country roads. Constantly turning round to look at interesting trees, distant hills and cloud formations does nothing for the peace of mind of non-painting passengers.
Watercolour is a wonderful painting medium. It is relatively inexpensive, portable and can be executed rapidly. It makes use of the transparency of the dilute pigments to effect delicate images by allowing the glow of the white paper to come through. This unique quality sets it apart from other, opaque painting media like oils or pastels.
Indeed, some of the effects of a wet-on-wet passage could take only a few minutes to do, but would take an oil painter hours of painstaking brush strokes and drying time, to achieve the same effect.
The rapidity of execution provides the watercolourist with another advantage. He could capture within a couple of hours, a particular image with a special light, or cloud effect or a pleasing shadow line. These natural phenomena are transient and may change dramatically in a short space of time.
Capturing an atmosphere often requires the ability to distil the scene and only record the essence of an image, leaving out many details.
Chronic cases of HCC will often have cultivated the habit of squinting at his subject with half-closed eyes. It is a simple way of filtering out details and identifying areas of darker and lighter tones.
Some of the best watercolourists are essentially impressionists. In my opinion, the greatest exponent of watercolours this century was Edward Seago, an Englishman. Today, I would consider John Yardley one of the foremost living watercolourist in the impressionistic genre. There are of course many more excellent artists in this medium all over the world. Some are brilliant at portraits, others at still life, and even non-representational art. Watercolour is, after all, a versatile medium.
It is admittedly a difficult medium for the beginner, as mistakes cannot be readily corrected. When the technique is appropriately taught, many of these initial hurdles can be side-stepped. Oils can be corrected at any stage, or even scrapped off or painted over.
My first symptom of HCC was an insatiable urge to paint landscapes. After a few stable years, the urge spread to townscapes, interiors and figures. Early signs of still-life are emerging. Landscapes however, are ideal for communicating with nature. A good landscape is composed of elements of intrinsically pleasing colours, form and movement, all in natural harmony. Colours in nature do not clash. I quote Ong Kim Seng (President, Singapore Watercolour Society) who says “if an oil painting is like a novel, a watercolour work is a poem”.
I respond emotionally to a visual image, and try to capture these feelings on paper. When I paint a view, I am therefore portraying not just a view, but also expressing my point of view. Just as a travel writer like Paul Theroux paints a picture of a place in words, he not only conjures up vivid images but also adds his own opinion and comments to present his total view, so a painter does not, and should not, just produce a sterile photographic image. Otherwise he might as well just take a photograph.
Air travel has enabled us urban dwellers to enjoy open countryside and wonderful scenery anywhere in the world. I am always ready with my paintbrush and passport waiting for the next excuse to go and explore, savour and record all those gems that nature has crafted for us. Given a choice, the onset of hydro-chromo-cephalopathy in middle age is a vastly more desirable option than cerebral atrophy.
DR WINSTON OH
Member, Singapore Watercolour Society