Wednesday 12 July 2023

EDITORIAL | Watercolor, the Unexplored...

Watercolor is a versatile medium that requires continuous exploration and hard work for the artist who chooses it to unlock all its possibilities. It demands a unique understanding of the medium's properties, such as transparency, layering, quick drying, staining effects, and the use of white space. This approach to art is often underestimated due to a misguided perception that associates watercolor with a limited range of subjects, considering it "limited in possibilities." Furthermore, a specific technique dominated the Greek watercolor scene from the late 19th century until 20 years ago. Greek watercolor has only recently spread its wings, thanks to a younger generation of exceptional painters who primarily utilize watercolor as their medium. These artists possess an unparalleled palette of techniques and materials, including water-soluble inks, powders, watercolor pencils, specialized papers, and other mediums. These innovations rejuvenate and enrich the technical approaches to the medium, unlocking remarkable possibilities for an inspired creator, shattering previous limitations.

Nevertheless, confusion often prevails in Greece regarding which artworks should be considered watercolors based on their technical characteristics. Watercolor is not simply any artwork that uses water as a solvent for pigments, as some believe. In summary, the technical classification of the medium, based on criteria upheld by international organizations regarding the acceptance or rejection of an artwork as watercolor, includes the following:

Medium based on water: Watercolor paints are produced by combining pigments with a water-soluble binder, typically gum arabic. This water-based nature allows for transparent and semi-transparent effects, creating brightness and depth in painting. In contrast, other painting mediums such as oils or acrylics use oil or acrylic-based binders, resulting in different handling and drying properties.

Transparency (referred to as an old italian term "lazoura" in Greece): Watercolor paints are known for their transparency, allowing light to pass through the layers of color. This characteristic enables artists to create delicate layers ("layering"), build up layers of color, and achieve subtle gradations. Unlike opaque mediums such as oils, watercolors rely on the white of the paper to create lighter values and highlights.

Quick drying and limited room for corrections: Watercolor paints dry relatively quickly, especially compared to oils. This fast drying time requires artists to work swiftly and make decisive brushstrokes. Additionally, once the paint is applied, significant corrections or complete removal of the pigment become challenging. Mistakes are often difficult to rectify, making watercolor a medium that demands planning, precise execution, great skill, and determination.

Staining and granulating effects: Watercolor pigments can have staining or granulating properties. Staining pigments create a more permanent mark on the paper, making it challenging to lift or remove the color once applied. Granulating pigments contain larger particles that settle into the uneven texture of the paper, creating interesting texture effects.

Controlled absorbency of the medium (paper) and newer techniques (e.g., wet-on-wet): Handmade papers with specific characteristics, partial use of alternative mediums such as coffee, tea, spices, etc., significantly enhance the medium, but also make the international market in this field even more competitive.

-Paris Kapralos

*The painting illustrating the article is a work created by Foti Kllogjeri.

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