Paper as Moon

Attar of Rose, Suzanne McDermott, Watercolor

If I had a nickel for every time I've said, "In watercolor, white is the absence of all color. Black is the presence of all color."...
So many students think that they can paint with watercolor on any old kind of paper. This drives me (relatively) crazy. Another point I often find myself repeating is that the medium of watercolor is not just the pigment and binder in the tube or in a cake. I even go over this (briefly) in my signature lecture on a Brief History of Watercolor. The medium includes the paper (if that's the surface of choice).
In transparent watercolor, white is the white of the paper. Personally, I like a clean, bright white paper (rather than cream) because I prefer clear, bright color. When I started writing this post, I was thinking of the paper as sun. But after further...reflection, I realized that the sun is the sun and the paper acts like the moon, reflecting the sun's light back through the pigment, projecting onto our retinas and up through our optic nerve into our brainy brain so often compromised with critical and wounded emotions attached to all those thoughts tumbling out of our incessant streams of consciousness. Or unconsciousness as the case may be.
Anyway, I like my white. It shows off all the other colors so nicely and the strokes and surprises as well.

The Emergency of Presence

Happy Vernal Equinox!

It's the first day of Spring (Yay!) up here in the Northern Hemisphere. The beginning of the astrological calendar. Everything is budding and bursting or just about to (under a fresh layer of snow).
While painting yesterday, I was thinking about how we need to be absolutely present as we work with watercolor. Certainly not the first time I've thought or talked about that!)
There are few experiences that force us into being absolutely present for any length of time. Meditation is usually a nice try but even masters of meditation, Pema Chödrön for example, reveal that stilling our wild minds is a practice that helps tremendously but rarely leads to long periods of being here now.
Chödrön's teacher, Chögyam Trungpa wrote a great little book called Meditation in Action. There's a lot to that title because, in my experience, some of the greatest practices that keep us present are those involving some kind of physical engagement. Which makes sense because, after all, we are living in physical, temporal structures. Playing music, tennis, and, definitely, painting with watercolor are those sorts of activities that require physical attention with temporal limits. We have to be absolutely present or we'll lose our place, miss a ball, ruin a painting.
Emergencies are another sort of experience that require our complete presence. You know that when an emergency arises you can't be thinking about the past or the future, you are suddenly, solving immediate problems with your full attention and you can usually, in retrospect, break your memory of the entire experience into a narrative of milliseconds.
The word emergency comes from the Latin emergere "arise, bring to light" and, of course shares that root with emerge.
Spring is an emergency of sorts, isn't it? One day, there's snow on the ground. Then, suddenly, a crocus. The cherry trees bud and blossom. A cast of color passes over bare branches and our flowering friends burst forth again. And, boy, are we happy to see them.
Painting in watercolor is my favorite meditation practice (though it's more than that).  An images arises and is brought to light, through light, actually. It requires all the focus that any emergency requires. But don't take my word for it...

"Painting in watercolor is making the best of an emergency."

—John Singer Sargent

White on White (on White)

Painting inspired by an adorable Bichon Frise. Title inspired by Malevich after last night’s online lecture on 20 century painting. But this IS white on white (on white). Rife with (fun) problems to solve. Reminder that I’m running a free webinar next week on a brief history of watercolor.