Why Watercolour?

Watercolour, reputedly the most difficult of artist’s media always appealed to me for that very reason: give me a challenge at which I can try to excel and I will thrive. Perversely watercolour appealed for another reason: having been completely out of fashion in the C20th, rejected and  forgotten, watercolour was dismissed as a medium only suitable for Victorian ladies, not a medium for the consideration of great art, as Sir Joshua Reynolds had proscribed in the 1770s. So not only challenging technically but also deeply unfashionable. Even better.

Why is watercolour so difficult? Because mistakes cannot easily be remedied. Careful thought and preparation are necessary ingredients. An intent is vital. Not a medium suitable for wooly undefined creativity which so often disguises lack of ideas. As a translucent medium every mark made is there for all to see, every thought, line and hesitation is visible, naked….So each must be carefully considered and not lamented when it goes wrong. Watercolour is a discipline, an unforgiving taskmaster. By contrast the results so hard-won are extremely rewarding, uplifting.

Being translucent watercolour, it strikes me,  is also the best medium for analysis and portrayal of light, light which gives all things life. Light cannot be clumsily smeared on with a palette knife, spread like butter on a sandwich. Light is built up of layer upon layer of atmosphere, dust in the ether, filling the space between objects, describing form and volume, filling our world with spirit. Light is tangible like water in a pool,  breathable like smoke in a room, radiant like fire in a grate. Watercolour is a medium wholly sympathetic to that sequence of thought, that method of observation and analysis.

Watercolour is a challenge and a reward, it is noble and peculiarly British, it can be delicate, historically impermanent but today’s paints are light-fast, it is beautifully simple in its ingredients and simply beautiful in its use. Watercolour deserves a higher place in the firmament of art.


About alexandercreswell

I am a watercolour painter and divide my time between beautiful architecture and fabulous yachts.
This entry was posted in art, Art history, Watercolour and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Why Watercolour?

  1. Dear Mr Cresswell,
    May I have your permission to publish your “Why Watercolour?” posting in our society’s newsletter, The Aquarelle, in January 2012, together with a link to your blog and website?
    regards, Watercolour Society Africa

  2. Morgan says:

    A friend sent me a link to your site (I believe this post in particular) a couple of months ago and I was amazed at your work. For one thing I had never seen watercolors that huge! And so beautiful. I have really enjoyed your writings as well…I especially like your statement in this post about how light cannot be spread ‘like butter on a sandwich’. What “picture words”! So true–and yet another reason to like watercolor!

  3. maurocyber says:

    I’m not an art expert at all. Just someone who enjoys art in general. But watercolour is something so special to me. It’s a medium that, for some unknow reason, has always appealled to me. And now , when I read your lovely article explaining what watercolour really is, I can understand better my love of it. Yes, watercolour is probably light’s best friend. And it is impossible to not have this feeling of freedom and happiness. Also when you say it’s tipically British I feel even more attracted to it as I’ve always admired Britain and its culture. Thank you.

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