Despite the availability and prevalence, watercolor technique remains mysterious and incomprehensible to many, both amateurs and professional artists. With seeming ease, this material, associated with water, with its rebelliousness and spontaneity, creates many problems for those who neglect the necessity of its patient study.
Starting a story about the technique of watercolor, you need to remind what, in fact, means “watercolor” in the dictionary sense, since the key to understanding lies in the word itself.
“Water” is the first keyword to pay attention to. In a broader sense, the word “water” means one of the four elements that exist in nature. From the spontaneity and unpredictability of water, combined with paints, and from the master’s ability to control the humidity of the pictorial space, and all possible ways of understanding watercolors and how to master it occur. This circumstance also reveals the mood, temperament and character of the master in his work.
The logic of this relationship is simple. If we cannot cope with a watercolor, with its flowing nature, then we try to save it from the “extra” water. So there is a need to use small glaze and small strokes to “blind” the image in a dry way by addition, layering.
If the “water space” is not scary and there is a desire to submit to the water element of color or to enter into a struggle with it, then work can be carried out in a state of living water movement. Certain courage, ingenuity and agility will undoubtedly be required for such a painting. This is how effective work is done in the wet.
Scenic reception in the dry often used in the open air, when there is no possibility for a long time to retain moisture on the sheet. Probably, in the heat of the sun of Italy a painting style was formed, now called “Italian watercolor”. In the classical sense, work in this manner is carried out with watercolor on dry paper: a contour drawing is applied with a brush and then shadows are developed by it. From this way of work, a mosaic style of writing was formed, mainly by body, that is, opaque, opaque watercolors, and the manner of writing by transparent glazing paints, which are commonly called multilayered painting techniques. The Italian style of writing has become the main tradition in watercolor technique for the Russian academic school of the XIX – XX centuries.
In the history of watercolor there are examples of official use of the material, and they also belong to the “dry” techniques.
Until the 17th century, watercolor was used mainly to decorate church books; it carried out ornaments, miniatures and capital letters. Watercolors were used by Renaissance masters to design sketches for frescoes and paintings; these were drawings (“cartoons”), often of very large sizes, penned by pencil and painted with transparent watercolors. Therefore, in the watercolors of old masters through the paint, the strokes of a pencil or a pen always appear. Academic artists of later times also used watercolor in the development of sketches of small sizes for canvases and paintings. The combination of a light, transparent layer of watercolors with a drawing with a pencil or a pen is called “watercolor painting”.
In the 18th – 19th centuries, participants in scientific and military expeditions widely used watercolor techniques using weakened contours and brushing for sketching archaeological and geological objects, plants, animals, and in landscape sketches. Watercolor also painted architectural and topographical plans, various drawings and engravings. This type of technical painting in watercolor was called “illuminating”.
“Illumination” (coloring, colorization of a drawing made with a pen) was also the earliest name for the watercolor technique itself, and after the appearance of typography, this was the name of a particular branch of the typography craft – coloring printed books and especially prints. From the 16th century, “artisans” were called “illuminati”, who painted cheap prints for fairs, markets, etc.
In the monastic manuscript practice in the Middle Ages another name was born – “miniature”, from the word “minium”, “miniare” – to write or paint with lead red lead, red paint, “miniatura” – dyeing, writing, decorating red lead capital letters, headpieces, endings. The concept of miniature did not have a modern content related to size. In the Middle Ages, the very process of painting a picture with water-based glue solution was called that, almost always it was cherry glue.
Incidentally, the generally accepted term “watercolor” is first found in Chennino Cennini in his Treatise on Painting (1437), the main point in the described process was the dissolution of paint in water containing vegetable glue – gum.