Dexterity & Free Expression

Feel free to be yourself:

  • Is talent and drawing important?
  • Do you have a magic brush?
  • How to hold and wield your brush.
  •  How important is the ability to draw?
Free loose expression

Watercolour: Misty atmospheric background was created by wetting the paper and dropping in colours.

Is talent and drawing important?

As long as you can draw basic symbolic shapes, it’s okay. Why, because people ‘read’ paintings according to basic dominant shapes. This suggests outlines are more important than the details of the inner form. It’s how you express yourself that counts.

Man painted and danced long before he learnt to write, read and construct! Talent doesn’t come at birth. So why do people worry about whether they have talent or not? If only they realized expertise actually comes with constant dedication to your craft.

 My magic brush:

Students often thought I had an enchanted wand for a brush. Why, because their brush didn’t seem to be able to do what mine does. They forget I had many years of experience.

Because there are different types of brushes, each brush has different idiosyncrasies, some with springy flexibility and others floppy and less controllable. No matter what brushes you have, like a carpenter you need to get used to your `tools’.

 How to hold your brush:

There is a lot said about how we should hold our brush. And there are some strange notions too. But I say, hold your brush comfortably.

If you are inclined to grip your brush tightly, stop it. If you hold it too tightly you’ll choke the life out of your ‘wand’ and make nervous fussy strokes.

Free up your hand. Hold your brush lightly. Balance it loosely in your hand. Loosen up your arm and elbow so you can make more spontaneous strokes. Freedom and flexibility is important, it helps you express yourself more eloquently.

 Brush practices:

  • Flicking your brush: before applying your paint controls the amount of liquid on it. When I’m doing a demo (you don’t want to splash people) or if there is a carpet, I place an old towel on my lap and swipe my brush across there instead.
  • If there is lots of paint/liquid on your brush it allows your brush to flow easily over your paper. And if there is less liquid on your brush you’ll get broken-colour washes.
  • Learn when to change gear: Sometimes the handle is held above the hand (vertical) and sometimes below the palm (horizontally).
  • The angle of the brush is important: as to what type of strokes you require. Horizontally with the paper: you’ll find it easier to cover big areas. Perpendicularly: you’ll get thin lines and dots.
  • How much pressure to exert on the brush: This depends on what shape you wish to make, or if your want to cover a large area. Or if you want to lightly dash your brush back and forth lightly to create leafy textures.
  • When to roll, twist and whirl the brush: to create wavy lines and twirly tentacles.
  • Jerk your brush: to make tree trunks and twigs.
  • And when to change it for another brush. Maybe a bigger brush, or a square tipped brush instead of the round brush etc.

 Freedom of expression:

In watercolour it’s important that your strokes should appear spontaneous. This calls for big brushes, free loose strokes and big washes of colour.

I must own up to the fact I haven’t always had easy flowing brushstrokes. I put it down to the fact I’m a precise person. I’ve had to work at been free and loose with my brushstrokes. In the process I learnt a few tricks:

Before starting an important painting, I fool around with my brush, painting anything, unimportant images, eg: open skies and fields, flashy non-descriptive flowers, etc. This gets you into the right mood, making groovy stuff. To make this work:

  • Make sure you change your attitude. Think positively.
  • No one is dictating, what you should be doing. So feel free to do as you please. It’s your work of art.
  • Be stylish: be brave, slash, dash and splash, twirl and twist your brush.
  • Fantasize: move your hand like you are making time to music.
  • Flirt with your paper as though you are putting a spell on your paper.

 Each stroke should be freshly laid:

In spite of all that always have a purpose for what you are doing. Don’t splash around thoughtlessly. Think and plan of what you intend to do before applying your paint. Consider what undercoat you’ll need, which colours go where, what techniques you’ll need to get the right effect, what brushes will do the best job, etc? Then go with the flow, do your thing.

Amateurs are inclined to `jump in boots and all with blinkers on’ without planning, and then wonder why the painting didn’t turn out the way they intended!

  • One stroke at a time, don’t fuss and relentlessly fiddle. Be bold, but don’t press hard or dig your brush into the paper in the attempt to get what you want.
  • Be gentle. Let your brush caress the paper freely in an easy flowing manner. With practice you will gain a sensitive touch and easy flowing brushstrokes.

Remember your strokes are read like shorthand:

Scrutinize Japanese writing and painting. Each stroke in its simplicity makes a lucid statement. Why, because they pay attend to the outline of their strokes. They manipulate each stroke by changing the angle, the pressure and direction, rolling and spreading the hairs of the brush to achieve different types of strokes.

  • Always check the amount of liquid on the brush and the intensity ratio of water to pigment before applying paint to your paper.
  • Always watch, what’s actually happening between your brush and the paper.
  • Watch how the hairs of the brush are performing, the shape of the hairs as they spread over the paper.
  • Play buoyant tempo music while you paint. The mood you are in affects the way you apply your strokes.
  • The way you handle your strokes becomes your style, your fingerprint to fame.
Free flowing brushstrokes

Visual aid: Plum Blossoms painted on blank newspaper. This is my first attempt at Japanese painting.

The size and shape of your brushes:

Novices generally use small thin brushes and paint like they’re drawing. Tiny brushes lead to fiddling and create texture. And texture creates confusion. Watercolours don’t look nice when there is too much texture, itsy-bitsy strokes. No one can assess what’s in your painting, because the painting looks too busy and confusing.

  • Start with large brushes and only use smaller brushes as detail dictates.
  • If you need to cover large areas or block-in big mass shapes, use a fully loaded large brush.
  • Large brushes hold more liquid so flow easier over your paper.
  • Large brushes make bold strokes.
  • You can’t achieve atmospheric conditions with small brushes. Wet a large area with a big brush and drop-in colours until you have the right graduated effect.
  • A round tipped brush will fill-in round curved objects or areas, like flower petals.
  • A chisel shaped tip will fill-in square-shaped objects like a building and windows.
  • Thin long rigger or stroller brushes make lovely long thin lines, such as long grass, twigs, shimmers on water, fence or washing line wire, etc.

Being a free spirit:

Success comes with being free. Freeing your mind of worries: whether or not your painting will be a success, etc. Doing things with a happy soul: being yourself, feeling free to do your thing.

For free watercolour books check out Free Art Books page on this website.