Ever since first seeing the works of John Marin at the Kennedy Gallery in the 1980s in New York, I have admired the atmospheric properties of his watercolors, their undulating movement of line and form. Marin approached his work in an uninhibited, intuitive way and created an extremely personal visual language. While I’ve studied Marin’s work, it wasn’t until recently that I had an epiphany as to how he achieved his improvisational expressions in watercolor. Marin often incorporated different materials – graphite pencil, charcoal, crayon – as additions to his watercolors. He experimented with charcoal, for example, by mixing it with watercolor, often applying it not with a brush but with a rag to create different textures. Marin also drew charcoal lines over wet washes, often blotting them with a stump to create soft-feathered lines.
I’ve implemented some of Marin’s techniques in series of watercolors including Autumn Storm, Winner of the 2011 Common Ground Exhibit, (shown at the right). I’ve incorporated charcoal and pastel, the latter mixed with watercolors in blues, grays, and greens with touches of brown. Working wet on wet, I’ve allowed two or more colors to mingle to create soft edges and a “misty” atmosphere. The natural powdery characteristic of charcoal mixed with watercolor helped to soften the otherwise shaggy surfaces of the mountain ridge. Washes of various blues and grays – aqua, cobalt, ultramarine and Payne’s gray –were then applied, some wet-on-wet, others in wet streaks over dried layers of watercolor. Autumn Storm best represents what I love about watercolor – its playful spontaneity. In this work, no resists of any kind were used; only light washes of color were applied to allow the natural lights of the white canvas to show through.