If I ever require brain-surgery, I want an expert surgeon to operate, not some chancer who’s decided that hacking into my head might just work out: well, they gave plumbing a go (only had a few leaks) and now they plan to crack open my skull with a teaspoon.
That said, despite my lack of formal training, I want to paint, perhaps because of some childish vision of knowingly wielding a palette whilst frowning and wearing a beret, as that’s what proper artists do, right? Oils are expensive and require some technical knowledge with regard to palette and under-painting (note to self: try the internet stupid) so for now, watercolours it is. Unfortunately though, whenever I hear ‘watercolours,’ my mind produces words like damp and insipid.
Watercolours are often a childhood point of contact with art materials: remember those cheap tin boxes with a memorably pungent aroma? (They also smack of art clubs and pictures of cats and posies.) Asking around, few of my art-school trained friends were taught how to use them. Perhaps that’s why they have rejected watercolours, having been captured by the conceptual art pixies and led down the path of installation, performance and artist films. (NB: I shall try them all in the future.)
But I like watercolours. I bought a box of mid-range paints ranging from jewel bright to the earthy tones I reach for elsewhere. I do not buy a beret (not yet.) The ‘artist quality’ paints are punitively expensive and therefore beyond me, but I notice that they are brighter, truer and denser in tone.
My first attempt at watercolour painting is defeated by - of all things, water. An unexpected deluge drenches both me and my first effort, but at least teaches me a lasting lesson: paper must be suited to the medium i.e. it mustn’t crease, or break when sodden. My friend Youngjoo approves, since she insists that great artists must suffer. I am not tortured, just a bit soggy.
I find that watercolours do not lend themselves to life painting, but seem to suit landscapes. I also discover that they dry rapidly, do not blend once applied (mixing in the palette doesn’t work for me - I end up with a puddle of ugly thin mud) and you can’t build up layers of colour.
Beside the sea at Troon, I find a view where the sea meets the sky and there are hills, but the dreich weather makes everything look like a large mountain of sludge. Youngjoo points out that I am using broad sweeps of colour, painting shapes directly rather than creating an exact likeness. I like that. In my craziest, most outlandish, deluded, unreasonable and ambitious dreams I can paint like Rothko. Truthfully, these are my first ever dabbings. I’m just sticking paint onto a surface, but as the rain inevitably falls, and the painting expedition retires for a fish supper, I decide that I love painting. And that I like watercolours. And that berets do not suit me.