my mom told me once that i was too heavy handed with my watercolors. she tended to say exactly what i didn't want to hear, and that's what i loved about her: brutal motherly honesty. i've thought about her critique several times on my journey into learning watercolors. the other day, i was looking at one of her paintings, just to try and figure out what she meant. the watercolor i was examining in particular is a painting of a group of hippopotamuses floating in the water. it's a complex composition based on a tiny magazine clipping, which she taped to the back. just the eyes and ears and nostrils of the animals peek out of the water, and the bodies look like big rocks. the animals are purplish-grey and their bodies reflect ever so slightly in the turquoise water. it's a complicated painting, and it shows my mom's true mastery of the watercolor technique. in it, i can see some of the techniques she taught me as a little girl, like the splatter, salt texture, and bleed. she did so much watercolor as an illustrator that she ended up loathing it, moved on to oils and never looked back. but she was good. really good.
what i gathered from this painting is that a light hand means a confident brush stroke. i have tendency to smoosh and overblend, to blot and add and subtract, and so i generally overwork my paintings. i remember a professer telling me once that a good painter should get the most impact out of a painting with fewer, more confident and expressive brush strokes. there was always a stopping point in a painting, and a good painter knew how far to go, and when to stop. it's a fragile balance, but when you see it in a painting it is unmistakable. true mastery is obvious, and doesn't hide behind gimmicks. sumi-e painting is like that. it's goal is to captures the essence, the chi or "life force" of a thing in so few strokes. it has been said that this type of painting is a high form of spirituality. but it is also extremely difficult, and doesn't come without diligent practice, utmost focus and concentration.
The one mindedness of a brush master was seen as a comparable state as that of a composed warrior on the battlefield. As one writer put it, “for the swordsman, composure on the brink of battle had its artistic parallel in the calm and tranquility essential before the fearless release of a brush stroke.” (from the Outsider Japan article on Sumi-e)
yes, i only hope that after a year of painting every day i am a little bit closer to channeling my inner warrior.