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Painting Underwater in Singapore

September 1, 2015

Singapore_Chinese Garden copy
[Chinese Garden, Jurong, 9×24″]

Let me just say – Singapore was nothing like what I expected.

This is entirely because I’m uneducated, and had no idea what to expect.

Other than it being a modern Asian city with a booming economy. And a democratic republic with a pretty decent reputation for transparency. What I was not really aware of (being basically clueless) was how multicultural it would be.

It was inspiring to see temples of three religions side by side on ‘harmony streets’. Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu all equally well used by a variety of people. It was equally great to see every hawker center (open air restaurant courts) representing ethnic foods from all these cultures. And then to see, in the faces of the people on the street, all these races intermixed.

I would hope this could just be normal everywhere – but it seemed to me a unique aspect of the city. Good for you Singapore! Thanks for that experience :)

Singapore_Japanese Garden
[Japanese Pavilion at the Chinese Garden, Jurong, 9×24″]

The other thing that completely overturned expectations was the fact you cannot paint in Singapore.

Well – eventually you can adapt. And certainly the locals can paint just fine. But I for one, found it to be the most challenging environment of any place I’ve ever watercolored. It reminded me most of that time I painted in the rain in Ithaca.

The challenge was not because of difficult subject matter or any lack of views – but simply because of the climate. The HUMIDITY. (And the heat). But my goodness – the HUMIDITY.

You might see a kind of wild abandon in the painting style on display here? A kind of splashy wet-in-wet and a sort of ‘mosaic’ feeling? Shapes floating on white spaces, a kind of composition that is perhaps on the edge of control? This is my compromise for the shocking conditions we encountered.

Simply put: watercolor will not dry in 100% humidity and 110 degrees.

I suppose the up-side is you have as much time as you like to work wet-into-wet. I had paper remain wet for over four hours. When you made a painting, you had to carry it flat for the rest of the day or colors would actually drip off the page. Some days I ended up only doing two paintings, needing to drop them off at the hotel between outings. My usual method of working larger-to-smaller and wetter-to-dryer in progressive layers, was simply off the table.  If I’d have been working in a sketchbook, I imagine all the pages would be stuck together.

Singapore_Grand Mosque
[The Sultan Mosque, Kampong Glam, 9×24″]

So – these works are not done in layers at all – but are made working edge-to-edge, stroke next to stroke, in a single wet shape. They are more reliant than ever on white space – defining shapes with dry paper edges.

I think I gravitated to this fix for the weather because I was just back from filming: Travel Sketching in Mixed Media.

If you look back to the previous post on the Brush pen silhouette exercise where I’m talking about shape welding and ‘growing silhouettes’ with black ink. This is exactly what’s going on here:) It’s amazing how descriptive you can be even with just black ink. You’re training yourself to make shapes with solid masses, and to be decisive about what you leave out. The small gaps and edges in the brushwork – the negative shapes – can be equally descriptive as the positive forms. All of these works, especially the Mosque above, are done with this kind of thinking – but with watercolor instead of ink.

I’m glad I filmed the class before going to Asia :) Thinking about teaching something, is the best way to get better at doing it. If I didn’t have this concept in my back pocket, I’d have been one frustrated sketch-tourist in Singapore.

Singapore_Garden By the Bay copy
[Giant Super Tree Sculptures at Gardens by the Bay, 9×24″]

7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 2, 2015 7:19 AM

    It made for beautiful paintings. I especially love the second, Singapore’s Botanical Garden.

  2. September 2, 2015 10:00 PM

    These are beautiful! I’m glad you found a way to work in the 100% humidity. I don’t think I would have been happy painting when my watercolors wouldn’t dry. I find it frustrating for one day…never mind several. Great use of the white space.

  3. Margaret Hunt permalink
    September 3, 2015 11:37 AM

    110 AND humidity = torture…great sketches…could have gone last summer but because of those two things elected to stay home in the hot south lol…It is a fabulous city though and your sketches are beautiful!!! Thanks for sharing…confirmed I did the right thing not going!! LOL!

  4. September 7, 2015 1:48 AM

    I am always put deep admiring everytime i see great paintings. And again, here i saw how genius you are, as painter, to catch the view and embrace it into wonderful paintings.

  5. September 12, 2015 1:02 PM

    Manchester should be an interesting change of venue next year!

    • September 21, 2015 9:35 AM

      Yes! not much idea what it’s like – I’ll have to do some research. Seems even the most industrial town in the UK has plenty of history compared to us in the colonies :)

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