Watercolour paintings are, in many ways, the embodiment of traditional fine art.
Thought of as being developed primarily for aesthetics or beauty, watercolour embodies these qualities with its bleary impressionism.
But it is these same fine art facets that have perhaps contributed to the prejudice that exists towards watercolour.
Its delicacy and accessibility have throughout the years associated watercolour with watery Sunday painters and amateur artists.
However, art is like fashion; ever changing and evolving, but ultimately it cycles and recycles, drawing on its origins and repopularising them once more.
In this instance, we see how watercolour for many years has been the unfashionable medium, cast aside for bolder colours, textures, and concepts by those fighting against tradition.
Yet, as with anything, it has slowly regained its popularity as artists move from one extreme to another.
When directly comparing these extreme mediums, we must look at watercolour and its painterly sibling; oil painting.
When comparing oil and watercolour paints, the most obvious aesthetic difference is the former are more vibrant and pigmented than most watercolours.
Oil paint is more forgiving than watercolour; once you have started using the latter medium, it cannot be erased or drastically altered.
Watercolour is about precision, confidence and working quickly with each stroke by knowing exactly what effect you intend to create.
From the moment an artist places their brush onto the canvas, the pigment is absorbed.
And unlike with oil paint, watercolour allows you to brush water onto the canvas before applying pigment directly where you desire.
The translucent nature of watercolour also allows artists a unique opportunity to see any mistakes in their piece; again, encouraging them to work meticulously.
If an artist applies the tone of a colour that is not what they intended, they can use their brush dipped in water to lift the colour from the canvas to a point, but it will leave residue that cannot be covered.
When trying to reapply a new tone, it is instantly noticeable that it will not be as clean or clear as other strokes.
The delicate nature of watercolour means that if you attempt to rub the pigment away or into the canvas, it will instantly appear muddy and the piece risks losing its immaculate balance and beauty.
The success of watercolour ultimately comes from an artist’s innate ability to work quickly and lightly, in the knowledge that each stroke is permanent and therefore must be intentional.
Oil painting, on the other hand, is technically easier, and if a mistake is made it can be undone by using a rag and thinner to rub away marks you want to remove.
Oil paint is exactly what you get from the tube, meaning tonally it is much stronger and can be distinguished at a distance.
The paint is opaque, thick, and contains a rich lustre that watercolour struggles to mimic.
However, for all its colour brilliance, artists struggle to delineate with oil paint. Watercolour welcomes the introduction of other mediums to create new and interesting visual effects to elevate the piece.
Oil, however, does not permit this collaboration of mediums with the oil paint ruling the canvas entirely.
Watercolour provides painters with a unique fluidity that other mediums simply cannot offer, creating artworks that are very much alive.
For pieces that seek to portray movement, beauty and radiance, watercolour is the ideal choice, offering distinct benefits that other mediums cannot hope to provide.
It has an inner brilliance and clarity of colour that is often lacking in oil and other paints.
Where oil paint uses light that is reflected off of the paint’s surface, watercolour gets its colour from the light bouncing off the white surface below and reflecting back up through the translucent paint.
This provides watercolour paintings with a unique beauty, appearing to be lit from within.
To quote David Hockney: “With watercolour, you can’t cover up the marks.
“There’s the story of the construction of the picture, and then the picture might tell another story as well.”
As Hockney suggests, watercolour is unforgiving; it is difficult, and the more you try to control it the more difficult it can be.
However, this in essence is why watercolour paintings are so valuable.
What many consider to be an amateur’s medium is in fact the most technical and requires a level of skill, concentration and an approach which embraces everything it is to truly create a magnificent piece of art.
When every stroke is a conscious decision and every decision matters, how can we not cherish and be in awe of such a piece?
Those who would so quickly dismiss watercolour paintings simply do not understand or value painting in its truest form.
Watercolour should be valued equally to its oil sibling, not based on its strength of colour or textural qualities, but rather for the traditional values of fine art by noting its beauty and artistic skill.