Last week I talked about why I paint what I paint. This week will be more practical, we’ll be talking about what makes a good subject. Of course, subject matter is very personal and subjective, so I am not here to convince you what to paint. I’ll always remember what my teacher and mentor Joseph Zbukvic told me about subject. He said “you don’t choose the subject, it chooses you”. For me it simply means to pick the subject that can demonstrate the strength and the uniqueness of watercolor. Subject such as night scene or a big cloudy sunset might not be suitable for watercolor.
But instead of talking about what doesn’t work well for watercolor, I rather talk to you about what works! And to know that, we need to know what’s the strength of watercolor:
Subject with atmosphere -
Watercolor is made for creating atmosphere. And that's because the edge varieties it has to offer. From the misty soft fading edge to the razor sharp edge. Watercolor is the perfect medium to create depth. There are also ways to add more depth into the painting. The key is not to paint exactly what you see. We will be going over that in the future.
- Subject with strong dark positive shape-
Because we paint light to dark in watercolor, we have to paint around the light in order to preserve it. It is easier and more natural to have a lighter background and paint dark negative shape on top. The simpler the shape is, the better. And keep in mind that simplicity is not a bad thing. Remember the good old term “less is more”. Your skill as a painter is not defined by how complicated your painting is, but how well you put together one!
- Subject with good lighting-
This goes hand-in-hand with the point above. Because of the translucent quality of watercolor, the light penetrates through the layers of paint and illuminates the painting. If the subject has large area of light, you will be able to make use of this beautiful quality of watercolor. That doesn’t mean the focus of the painting is bright (it’s often the opposite). Rather, half or more of your painting can be established with one to two simple washes.
- Subject with delicate detail-
Ah the detail… Something you will rarely hear me speak of. My fear is people rushing into details too early in their painting and put too much of them. But details are great story telling devices! What makes the watercolor great is the ability to paint some sharp fine details. This is where an artist show his/her sensibility with the shape he/she sees. But remember, a little detail goes a long way. Don’t overdo it because when you paint details all over, they become noise.
Painting starts the moment you set on a subject. It should be interesting and fit for the medium. If you pick the right subject, you win half the battle. Of course, subject and reference are two different thing. Don't mistake your photo reference as your subject. Think about what story are you telling and express it in your own unique way!