intro | a picture
sample art portfolio
art & design supplies
other art resources
you might also
be interested in:
art & design schools
art studio furniture
pantone color guides
studio & office art
top 100 books
tools for marketing your services
web design graphics
back to the
|art lesson: the history of watercolor
Watercolor painting -- applying pigment to paper with brush and water -- is an art form enjoyed and practiced by numerous artists the world over. Though body color, or gouache, can be used with watercolors to provide opacity, what sets watercolor apart from other painting disciplines is the transparency of the paint. Thus the whiteness of the paper that shines through the color, and what the artist chooses to leave out, are as important as the brush strokes they lay down. Allow us to trace the roots of watercolors, from antiquity to the present.
Painting with water-soluble pigments spans known history, beginning with primitive hunter-gatherers who mixed paint with water and applied it to the walls of caves with their fingers, sticks or bones. The ancient Egyptians adorned their temples and tombs with water-based paints, but it was in the Far and Middle East that watercolor painting in the modern sense emerged. Chinese and Japanese masters superimposed calligraphic script upon watercolor paintings of contemplative landscapes; in India and Persia, Moslems depicted religious imagery derived from Byzantine art in their gouache paintings. Monks used "tempera" -- a medium in which pigment is mixed with water-soluble glutinous materials such as size or egg yolk -- in the Middle Ages to create painstakingly illuminated manuscripts; others applied watercolors to wet plaster to create frescoes, a practice that continued throughout the Renaissance. German artist Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) is generally considered the first master watercolor painter in the West. He produced a remarkable landscape series, painting on parchment and paper, overlaying transparent colors and using the paper to represent light.
Though significant developments in watercolors occurred in continental Europe, it was in England, toward the end of the eighteenth century, that watercolor became a preferred method of painters. Previously perceived merely as colored drawings or studies for oil paintings, it was the British school of watercolor painters who lent credibility to the notion that watercolors produced true works of art in their own right. Joseph M. W. Turner (1775-1851), known for his landscape paintings, was perhaps the most influential in this movement, revolutionizing watercolor painting by constantly experimenting with different techniques, such as creating texture by scraping and scratching. A greatly increased availability of paper combined with improvements in the portability and accessibility of supplies contributed further to the popularity of the form.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, contributions to watercolor painting in the U.S. began to challenge those of Europe, paralleling a trend in all forms of painting during that period. American watercolor painters, with John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) at the vanguard, produced many important paintings around the turn of the century. Each artist featured at the revolutionary Armory Show in New York in 1913 represented a unique approach to the medium, illustrating the individualism inherent among American painters. Though the emergence of abstract expressionism in the 1940s affected the popularity of watercolors, wash methods came into use on the large canvasses used on abstract paintings, thus re-invigorating the medium and continuing the tradition of innovation through experimentation.
Watercolor continues to be a highly recognized art form. Now that you have read a bit of background, we encourage you to embark upon creating your own paintings by exploring watercolor sets. As you do, remember to have fun!
© Robins Design. All rights reserved.
more art lessons & projects:
About Kolinsky Brushes
About Stone Sculpting
Background & Instruction of Sumi-e
Basics of Silk Screening
History of Calligraphy
History of Henna
History of Mobiles
How to Prepare a Design Portfolio
Dick Blick Art Projects / Lesson Plans