Watercolor Forever

Watercolor Forever

Watercolor is one of the first art mediums we let kids play with. It’s ironic that it is also the medium everyone is intimidated by. I recently visited a David Hockney exhibit which featured his recent watercolors, and everywhere I heard voices whispering “Watercolor is difficult. See that? That’s hard to do.” I hate this mantra because it isn’t true. Watercolor is fun and easy, especially once you slow down long enough to understand how it behaves. In my experience, watercolor is inherently beautiful.

My grandmother loved to paint the view from the train when she traveled from Nebraska to California to visit us. This is a view of the  Denver mountains by Elizabeth B. Petersen 8/14/89

My grandmother loved to paint the view from the train when she traveled from Nebraska to California to visit us. This is a view of the Denver mountains by Elizabeth B. Petersen © Ilah Jarvis 2014

I was lucky that nobody told me watercolor was difficult until I had already discovered otherwise. I was also fortunate my family didn’t distinguish between the watercolors I used, and those that my grandmother used to paint landscapes. You could still buy decent quality watercolor sets for kids during the 1970′s. My grandmother and I had similar metal boxes filled with pans of paint. She refilled hers with paint from a tube when she ran out of a color, and she taught me to do the same. Watercolor painting was ordinary and accessible.

HIbiscus flower by Elizabeth B. Petersen. This was originally a birthday card she made for me.

Hibiscus flower by Elizabeth B. Petersen. This was originally a birthday card she I made for me. © Ilah Jarvis 2014

I understood how watercolor worked by playing with my sets, and watching my grandmother paint. It was like learning a native language.

I did study watercolor in art college years later, and I’m glad I did. I learned about color relationships and played with masking fluid and salt for special effects. It was a pretty unusual choice to focus on watercolor still life when I was in art school. Most people were doing gigantic post-conceptual oil paintings or performance art, and here I am with my little watercolor block next to a pile of chopped up fruit with a DO NOT MOVE sign, but people seemed to respect what I was doing, and it’s what I wanted to do. Please note that I hadn’t studied nutrition yet at this time. I was just obsessed with painting pictures of fruit and vegetables.

Copy of Juan van der Hamen y Leon (1596-1631) Still Life with Glassware by Ilah Jarvis 11/11/96

Copy of Juan van der Hamen y Leon (1596-1631) Still Life with Glassware © Ilah Jarvis 2014

I copied works by Cotan and other Spanish still life painters in my senior year at art school. I painted in oil paint and acrylic, and I love clay and textiles, but watercolor is still my medium of choice. I got to see the paintings I had studied so intensely when I visited the Museo del Prado when I went to Spain for an artist residency.

Quartered Cherimoya by Ilah Jarvis 1995

Quartered Cherimoya © Ilah Jarvis 2014

After graduation, I developed more complicated compositions. I exhibited this work in galleries, entered juried competitions, and this is the work that won me the Spanish residency. Most people who knew me during this period identify me with this work.

Turban Squash by Ilah Jarvis 1998. I got the white dots by sprinkling salt on the wet paint. Not difficult!

I got the white dots on this turban squash by sprinkling salt on the wet paint. Not difficult! © Ilah Jarvis 2014

 

Radiccio by Ilah Jarvis 1997

I was really getting into props and textures during this era. © Ilah Jarvis 2014

I began to long for other mediums and styles by the early 2000s. I played with industrial and abstract themes, and began working in acrylic and textiles. However my love for watercolor was renewed with I started teaching sauerkraut. How can you look at a red cabbage and not want to paint it?

Red cabbage by Ilah Jarvis 2007

Red cabbage © Ilah Jarvis 2014

Pickled okra, cucumbers and radishes by Ilah Jarvis 2008

Pickled okra, cucumbers and radishes © Ilah Jarvis 2014

All text and images © Ilah Jarvis 2014

 

 

 

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