The Water Colour Boot Camp



By — Kavita Chowdhury

“A Man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for…..” – Robert Browning’s famous lines quoted by Piyush, our teacher for the day, quite sums up what some of us novices experienced at the Water Colour boot camp.

What was remarkable was how he kept us pepped up throughout with priceless nuggets of information. “No art is realistic, if we needed an exact copy we would take a photograph.” Another take away, “A painting is your impression of it. No two water colours can be same.” And so logically there can be no fakes of water colours !  Because every water colour is unique – it’s an individualistic impression.

We started off drawing lines and forms of objects with charcoal pencil and practicing it with bold strokes on newspaper. Just clip it or mask the newspaper to a board.

Lest you think the three and a half hours was all a serious affair, let me assure you it was replete with humorous anecdotes evoking peals of laughter. Sample one of these; Pablo Picasso painted the egg and a later Spaniard Salvador Dali visualized the same egg as an omelette.

After ten minutes we were presented with the ‘subject’ – an apple sitting atop a flat jewellery box and a fruit bowl. Our teacher advised us to draw on paper “what we see not what it should be. The angle that is visible to you. Use the Rule of thirds to put the subject in the center of your page.”

While for the initiated, all this was par for the course, for the few first timers who were trying their hand at water colours, these tips were quite helpful.

Moving onto colours we were told about the basics of colour theory, the three main pigments yellow, blue, red YBR and asked to work with YBR and their myriad combinations. For the uninitiated, the task of using a strip of paper and trying out the experiments with colour combinations there first, was interesting.

And in case of doubts over whether you were getting it right; “Your brush stroke is like your handwriting, no two strokes are the same” we were reminded.

For the novices among us, marking out the highlights i.e. spots where white light falls on the apple and the apple is not red but has a purplish tinge, made us view things in a new perspective. Trying to spot the varied shades on a seemingly white bowl was interesting.

It helps, as we learnt, to use and keep your paper large, it helps to give you a free hand and enable one to draw bigger arcs. Daubing the paper (hence the need for a good quality paper) with water and then suffusing paint on it lets the colour bleed into each other seamlessly. The overall attempt was to create transparent impressionist style washes.

And just when some were disappointed with the output on the drawing board before them, we were told, “Don’t be harsh on yourself, even the greatest painters find still life difficult.” Practicing on our own, would be the next logical step to improve our skills.

A timely reminder brought our water colour session to a conclusion, as our teacher said, “Most importantly, know when to stop. If you know there is still ten per cent work left, then leave it there.”

“From the basics of colours to the brass tacks of holding a brush, this ‘boot camp’ lived up to its name, a short intensive training course.

A big thanks to Piyush, a big cheer to Aarti Uppal Singla who conceptualized the camp and I guess to all of us as well, who made it an enjoyable May afternoon !

Photos: Aarti Uppal