Not Painting the Light
I always stress with students the value of reserving the white of the paper in watercoloring. Once you’ve killed the brightness of the paper, you never get it back. That being said, truly bright moments in a great subject are rare, and precious. If the image has too much paper showing through, then nothing is truly bright, because everything is washed out. The luminosity of John Singer Sargent’s watercolors come from his judicious reserve of the white of the paper, often juxtaposed to areas of dense, saturated color. It is precisely in these juxtapositions that the luminosity of a watercolor shines. Half the battle is picking the right subject, the other half is knowing where not to put color.
This is a spectacular Roman urn at the center of a foundation in the forecourt of the gracious church of S. Cecilia in Trasteverere. I’ve painted it before in oil, which was of no small value in helping me know how to tackle this watercolor. That, and the haunting presence of Sargent, which I’ve occasionally drawn on in similar circumstances.