I decided to repaint a picture this morning.
Back in January of this year I snapped a bunch of wintery pics of the dog while we were out for a walk in the local dog park, a sprawling river valley forest woven with trails and interesting sights.
A couple weeks after snapping those pics, I drew one. I used it as a reference photo for a sketch. It was a light ink sketch of the puppy standing on the trail then painted with some pan-based watercolours.
Fast forward. Today I was leafing through my “snow” pictures (since we haven’t got much snow worth speaking of so far this season) and found the same photo and the picture I’d painted from it.
So I repainted it.
I don’t think either of these are worth much more than as sentimental paintings of my dog, but objectively I think there is a lot going on in the ten months of time that has passed, me as a (sometimes literal) student trying to improve my watercolour crafts.
For starters, the depth of shadow that I’ve been able to realize in the latest painting compared to the older one I think changes the whole dimensionality of the piece. In the February version I was really just getting into the idea of using hues and shadows to imply dimensionality painting them in as a layer after the initial colouring, but often I did this in a way that was almost cartoon-like. For today’s painting, I actually started with the shadows. I painted a very pale wet-on-wet sky, then uses some wet-on-wet shadows to build the background layer of trees. As the painting began to dry I added additional tree layers building them up across at least four, maybe five different stages and then at the end when it was almost completely (but not quite) dry adding the final dabs of dark that imply the shrubbery at the front.
The dog herself is almost entirely shadow. Wherein the February painting I had started (probably started the whole sketch in fact) with a crisp outline of the dog, in the December version she started out as a couple of wet blobs of pale paint. Rather than colour her as I see her, I ignored browns and reds entirely (which is what colour she actually kind is—the colours in the earlier work are definitely more accurate from a hue perspective) in today’s painting I focused entirely on the tonality of her patches of fur and the shadows around her eyes and ears and legs. In the end, if you asked me which one looks more like my dog, I’d one hundred percent say the December painting.
repainting the paints
I was watching an online painting course this weekend and though the material didn't offer much in the way of technique that I hadn't seen from other places a dozen times before, it reminded me that repetition is not only okay, it's actually a great way to progressively improve what you are doing. I often find myself in the mindset of the one-and-done artist, thinking oh, I already painted that, what's next? But in reality, painting the same thing two, three or many multiples of times means that you can step away from the final result and focus on other aspects of the creation of that art: trying different colours, brushes, techniques, etc. It sounds obvious if you already do this, but personally I need to give myself more permission to try things more than once.
As 2023 and December draw to a close, and I enter into what will be my third calendar year of watercolour I know that much of the improvement I make day by day will start to plateau and become less obvious. I want to spend the next year focusing on technique and building up a style and being able to create art that makes people say “wow!” and so I think the first step in that is making myself say wow… an act that often comes from the ability to put your own self-critical eye against something that so clearly contrasts. Looking back on your old work (particularly as a student, still learning everyday) is one such way I think I’m going to be trying to a lot more of next year.