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The Path of Watercolour

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Painting directly from nature can be a reverent communication with the land. This is a process of the seer, seeing, and the seen in one great act of celebrating or attempting to capture the wonder of it all. Requiring humility, patience, and an openness to hear nature’s song, the landscape can awaken the senses and feed the soul.

The portable and fluid medium of watercolour is appropriate for expressing the light that animates the many moods of nature. Also the medium is excellent for travel, in particular my interest in ecosystems that are endangered or rapidly changing due to climate change.

I use mostly transparent watercolours to let the light in the paper glow under the veils of colour washes. The depth created by the suspended pigments in the cotton rag fibers is excellent for conveying atmosphere and mood from my travels in the North Pole, Antarctica and the Great Bear Rainforest.

However, I have found that the best inspirational moments of painting seem to happen closer to home on the west coast of Canada in the temperate rainforest and ocean shoreline. It is wonderful “being in the zone” but it requires the right practice and discipline. Like the weather, every painting is different, so I try to not fight, but to be sensitive to the dance that is being offered.

I enjoy sharing the art of painting through workshops and find it so rewarding seeing the “lights” come on when participants see the world afresh. First we take time to create a comfortable seat (or standing position) on the shoreline, sunrise or within the ancient forest in good posture. Together, we become aware of our breath. Our tools are simple, and are set up in a way that we are able to respond and paint quickly. As we gaze, we compare and relate arrangements of light and dark coloured shapes, also considering the negative shapes needing their own space. Once painting has begun, the intuitive spatial seer within may start to see or feel what the land is calling us to compose.

Unique to outdoor painting is the awareness created from anticipating the position of sun, the cast of shadows and the overall effect of the weather. Often as light changes so does the location.  It’s common to have a morning and a late afternoon painting both on the go.

To truly see and connect with a place,  it helps to enter with respect and humility. Avoid the arrogance (and often disappointment!) of trying to knock off a masterpiece at first arrival. Patience is part of the process and the process is the whole point of the exercise, the product is secondary.

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Shoreline Embrace 22 x30 inches watercolour

Take a glimpse behind-the-scenes of a few painting sessions and demos at Hollyhock over the past few years. Click on the thumbnail to jump in on our sessions….

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Join David McEown for Watercolour as a Path to Awareness on Cortes Island, May 6-10.

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