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Day Nine : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Failed State Buildings

June 9, 2018

Ah, overconfidence. Thy name is watercolorist.

Or something.

I mean, if we weren’t unreasonably optimistic, would we even be trying Direct Watercolor?

I had three false starts today! Which made me quite annoyed, as I was trying to paint our city hall – which I’ve painted many times before, and thought would be a piece of cake. But just couldn’t get it this time.

This is Fail #2. I won’t show you Fail #1.

I suppose this isn’t the worst thing ever made – but it’s cluttered, monochromatic, poorly proportioned, and far too pale! This is what happens when you try to draw nitpicky details – almost like a line drawing with the brush – instead of seeing shapes.

This is Fail #3. At this point, I just gave up. This initial shape was monochrome and way way too watery. It’s like a ghost! Someone suggested ice cream and I promptly gave up.

Out of desperation, we relocated behind the Gare Viger. Our old train station, which is now – I think, a convention center? – and shops.

There’s a pedestrian overpass that gives you a great view of the back side of the building. We’re looking over the parking lot in the unfinished foreground. It’s amazing that this old building is just as detailed on the back as the front. No budget-cutting in those days.

This view works for me, as it’s straight-on. No perspective problems! Much easier for my pea-brain.

My second rule of solving perspective. Move! Til you don’t see any :)

And, when I talk about false starts here – honestly – refusing to do a line-drawing before painting – insisting on going directly in with a brush – this is only being obstinate.

Some subjects really should have a bit of a drawing. These buildings are fantastically complicated.

I think, back when I was doing finished drawings underneath everything, these subjects attracted me, because of the complexity. All the cupolas and towers and clocks – something to sink your teeth into. Now that I’m doing Direct Watercolor – I’m getting more interested in painting the wider view. The city skyline, instead of a portrait of a fancy building.

But – struggling with the lack of drawing aside. When I *do* finally get one of these – there’s something about this spontaneous, calligraphic brushwork that I really love! It makes the torn up paintings (on expensive paper today! <oh, the pain!) just the price of achieving success.

At the end of the day, I know I could get better and better at tinting drawings. I probably should have stuck with that. I still might go back! But doing this stuff is taking one step back from draftsmanship in order to take two steps forward toward painting.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Leslie Rego permalink
    June 9, 2018 9:24 AM

    Marc I am a little bit confused by what you mean when you say you should have stuck with tinting drawings. Can you explain this a bit further? Thanks!

    • June 9, 2018 11:24 AM

      Tinting – is a word I use to avoid saying “coloring in” :). I used to make a very finished drawing, and then just fill in the blanks. It’s MUCH easier for me. But, I’m not sure I like the overly precise results any more? The jury is still out for me on that.

  2. Lee permalink
    June 9, 2018 9:48 AM

    Marc, as a relative beginner, these posts are helping me in a way beyond your Craftsy classes or books. It helps to know how professionals push through the learning curves both technically and emotionally. The repeated attempts and approach to the discipline of practice are offering insight. Oh, that’s what building skills and opening to inspiration looks like, hard work that resists defeatism. Thank you.

  3. tallboyone permalink
    June 9, 2018 10:18 AM

    I wanna see drawing #1!!!! 😆😆😆Seriously though, this is very encouraging to me to see you have works you don’t like. You’re one of my favorite artists, so this is just super great to see the spectrum of stuff you like (what youre used to crushing it at) vs stuff you find challenging

  4. June 9, 2018 11:37 AM

    When I was “formally” taught drawing in high school in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the world still tipped to classical, tinged with the introduction of “modern art” . . . basically, what I learned and remembered is that it is a good thing to make preliminary sketches, and keeping sketch books of preliminary sketches was a good thing.

    What I’ve been seeing in your examples is not so much a struggle to find a composition, but the willingness to dabble in preliminary sketches without shame.

  5. June 9, 2018 11:39 AM

    It really is all drawing though, don’t you think? Direct to watercolor is limiting your tools to a brush but you still have to think and measure and make your marks. Instead of a line you can make an entire shape with a stroke. Placing limits on your approach does force one to think differently though. You have to see several moves ahead to avoid problems. I find the challenge advances my skill and I look at it as exercise. But sometimes the image you want takes all the tools you have.

  6. jcbrown2017 permalink
    June 9, 2018 11:54 AM

    Marc-. Your willingness to honestly share the true process of a skilled artist..with those of us who are just starting … Is so generous and helpful.

    I am very grateful. .. think you are teaching us more than you may realize! Much different ( and lerhaps more helpful??) than the formal ‘classroom step by step’ approach. Or at least equally beneficial! Merci!

  7. June 9, 2018 12:14 PM

    Marc, unless I’ve only ever seen your more recent work, I wonder if ‘tinting drawings’ is quite a fair description

  8. June 9, 2018 12:20 PM

    Sorry! Hadn’t finished – I meant to say the amount of preparatory drawing you usually do is pretty minimal, more like a very basic framework for a guideline – and the watercolour then is still doing more than 90% of the work…. so I’d hardly call it ‘colouring in’? I do think we’re all feeling the benefit of rising to the challenge of not using any drawing at all, but perhaps the value of this challenge is just that – to push ourselves towards shape and away from line for a bit, but not with the aim to do this just for the sake of it? If you know what I mean?

    • June 9, 2018 6:57 PM

      That’s exactly it – shape vs line. But as well, this helps me see how little detail I really need. Whereas line encourages me to be obsessive about detail.

  9. June 9, 2018 6:22 PM

    I really appreciate your sharing and vulnerability …….helps us beginners have courage! Your tips are always very pertinent and helpful – thank you!

  10. katzp2014 permalink
    June 10, 2018 12:15 AM

    I love this rule of thumb:

    My second rule of solving perspective. Move! Til you don’t see any

    John Lovett is pretty good at practicing that philosophy. A lot of his sketches are straight on views.

    Cheers, Patricia

    Patricia Katz – Pauseworks Studio

    P: (306) 9341807 E:


    315 O’Brien Place, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada S7K 6S9

    From: Citizen Sketcher Reply-To: Citizen Sketcher Date: Saturday, June 9, 2018 at 7:01 AM To: Patricia Katz Subject: [New post] Day Nine : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 Marc Taro Holmes posted: ” Ah, overconfidence. Thy name is watercolorist. Or something. I mean, if we weren’t unreasonably optimistic, would we even be trying Direct Watercolor? I had three false starts today! Which made me quite annoyed, as I was trying to paint o”

  11. June 10, 2018 7:05 AM

    Marc where do you start on something like this. At the center point and then work down and out. Or do you sketch it in with a watercolor brush same as you would do with pencil.

  12. June 10, 2018 7:07 AM

    Marc where do you start on a subject like this. Do you start direct on top and work out it do you draw it in with watercolor

  13. Kathryn Kershaw permalink
    June 10, 2018 7:22 PM

    Dear Marc, I Love the commentary about your work. I know you see some of your work as failures, But they are great teachers. The paintings show a real honesty and vibrancy. Thank you for your posts. X kat

    Sent from my iPad


  14. JC Needles permalink
    June 10, 2018 11:36 PM

    Days 1-4 I did ok, 5-8 it all fell apart for me. Too rushed, too much self-imposed pressure, whatever. So I’ve backed off, slowed down and went back to basics. Thanks for sharing your false starts. Getting back to watercolor is challenging at best and knowing my false starts are more of a common problem than just me messing up is very encouraging. Thank you again.

    • June 10, 2018 11:58 PM

      I do find that! You start to do ok, and the pressure mounts. If you want each one to be better than the last – well that’s impossible right :)

  15. June 11, 2018 12:15 AM

    Honestly, I think you are leaning on comping by making and rejecting samples. If you just sat down and produced “a masterpiece” I don’t think you’d enjoy finding it. Even the best photo is usually one of many taken – – ask your wife.

    • June 11, 2018 8:39 AM

      Well – (maybe I’m not quite sure what you meant) – but isn’t that the nature of watercolor? Many tries, pan for gold – because, you can’t really revise. Where’s with oil say, it might be more suited to working the thing and refusing to stop till it’s perfect?

      • June 11, 2018 3:05 PM

        I should never reply on my cell phone or iPad because of word substitution. I’ll try again, hopefully clearer. The “fails” appear to me to be preliminary sketches used to plan going forward. They are not fails, but are loosely sketched plans, with one thing leading to another and the ultimate insight (dot plot) and execution.

        I think describing the process proceeding on “fails” is catchy, but developing a plan is not in my mind “a fail.” I do not do something “to fail,” but to “understand,” and the understanding leads to a pleasing result.

        • June 11, 2018 3:08 PM

          Ah ok – well – yes every “fail” is a study – but I call them that A: for motivation :) (as I g**damnit! Next one for real!), and because each one is started with the plan it is the final! (Usually :). This avoids half hearted attempts.

          • June 11, 2018 3:39 PM

            I understand the need to quickly produce works of genius without even trying, springing spontaneously from the brain and heart – kinda like trying to get a college degree without attending classes. Acts of discovery, however, are “full-hearted” when a goal is in mind.

            When a goal isn’t in mind, the result isn’t a fail. It is just “pure crap” — so many people lavish praise on artists, deserving or not. I think that if an artist refers to a sketch as “a study” upon which he intends to develop into even more satisfactory work, the person appreciating the work before his eyes will develop a greater appreciation for what comes next.

            A possible response from the appreciative person might be in response to learning the painting is “a study,” is “what is it you are seeking?” or “what is it you are trying to know about this scene” or “what is it that is difficult to express?”

            Anyway, you are a master in moving the brush, tonality, and the flow of watercolors. I don’t think you need a line drawing at all (which is what you are striving for), but you do need plans, which in your case, are preliminary paintings. They create the maps to the final composition.

            Thanks for showing your preliminary paintings and your insights related to them.

  16. June 12, 2018 8:52 AM

    Nice one…

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