Humans logo

In Pursuit of Painting: My Watercolour World

by Isabel Crabtree Parker about a month ago in art · updated 25 days ago

The Art of Aquarelle

Weir at Throop, 2019 (watercolour and ink pen on paper, 20 x 28cm)

Picture a piece of paper. It lies before you blank, barren and untouched, but watermarked faintly with potential. Pick up the paintbrush. Lower it, poised with purpose towards the paper and touch. Puddled pigment blossoms from the brush, rippling into rivulets of liquid lace. Welcome to watercolour.

My passion is painting, watercolour (otherwise known as aquarelle) to be precise. Like its element, this medium is serene but playful: sometimes it runs down the paper like a racing raindrop, or bubbles and balloons into odd feathery shapes. I adore how light glows within its stained-glass transparency, turning Alizarin crimson to ruby fire and Viridian to an icy emerald lake. I love how my brush skates across paper, leaving translucent rivers in its wake.

But I haven’t always been a watercolourist.

In the beginning I wrestled with acrylic, a well-liked medium ubiquitous to every school art classroom. Despite its popularity, this particular paint seemed to have a vendetta against me and working with it felt like fencing with a paintbrush. In the classroom we would trade blows, battling with blending and drying time: a stab at the canvas here, there, a simple swerve and flick, then-

I froze. Oh dear.

A splotched stain of paint mirrored my frown, curling on its cotton canvas setting. Locked into a stupefied standstill I goggled at the offending splotch before slumping into my seat, eyes arrested by the besmirched background. “Perhaps I will never master acrylic” I mused. Rubbery impasto stared back.

“Perhaps I am… too controlling. Or you”, I gestured to the offending splotch, “are too stubborn. I mean honestly, do you have to dry so fast?” Hard, palpable plastic glared in retort. “Whatever the case, I believe it’s counterproductive to keep duelling with you” I continued, swirling my brushes in cloudy water, “so I suppose I’ll bid you farewell”.

There was no drama - no reddening rage or passionate pleas. I didn’t even shake my fist at the canvas, although I was highly tempted to. I merely felt disappointed. You see, I had spent years struggling with acrylic paint, applauding my friends for their wonderful works while yearning for a scrap of their skill. In the end I had to accept I simply didn’t possess any painting talent…or so I thought.

My next art class prompted students to attempt a quintessential classic: the fruit bowl. I remember half-heartedly sketching a wobbly outline before picking up a crimson pan of watercolour paints. I had only used aquarelle once before for a weak wash - I certainly didn’t expect watery oranges and pink apples to bloom under my hesitant hand. Intrigued, I gave a fluttery flick of my wrist: brown and purple merged, melting into dappled bruises among buttery yellow.

Hmm, that’s odd. Acrylic never behaved like that.

I tried again; poking the paper with sap green then rose madder. The colours bled brightly from the bristle, swirling into a velvety, violet-tinted green. I was giddy with delight. I had thought I might never be a painter, let alone find harmony in this medium; and here I was, waltzing with watercolour! That was the moment I plunged into the watery world of watercolours.

My first watercolour painting, 2018

Galaxies came first, glistening in inky Prussian blue, billowing pink plumes and glimmering green. With one flick of the fingers a sparkling silver net ensnared the page in a twinkling web and a star-spangled bookmark was born. I gave this to my father three years ago. Although the corners are slightly bent and faded, he has always kept it carefully tucked within his latest book.

Through nature, my inspirational muse, opalescent silver birches and trickling, tinkling streams come to life in a tapestry of transparent hues. I am no stranger to foaming, frothing water or crooked, crackling bark; they often play in my paintings. Snow, however, is a silvery stranger - the salty sea air around my childhood home keeps it at bay. As a child I longed to play and pounce in this wintery wonder, or sculpt a frosty friend.

Stream 2020 (watercolour on paper, 16 x 20cm)
Silver Birch 2020 (watercolour and ink pen on paper, 21 x 16cm)

One crisp November morning I decided to indulge my desire. With a sweep of white gouache and a splash of cerulean my fantasy grew, branching into a snowy woodland. It was all I ever dreamed of as a child: a pearly blanket of snow and a chilly winter wood…but there was something missing. I pondered for a moment, before adding a sleepy red fox curled in a crumbling ring of white: my favourite animal, turned into a signature. Upon its completion I showed it to my family over a steaming cup of tea, smiling at their delight. What I didn’t expect was my family to love it so much that they wanted to turn it into a Christmas card!

Winter Woodland, 2021 (watercolour and gouache on paper, 22 x 17cm)

It looked better than I hoped. I eagerly unwrapped the brown paper parcel to uncover a treasure trove of printed cards ready for signing and sending. That Christmas I received many messages from friends and family including our friends from Germany.

“Where did you get your inspiration?” They asked me. I laughed and replied that it was simply an imaginary landscape born from my desire to play in the snow.

“Really? It looks just like some of the woods over here!”

I was surprised and genuinely moved. I never thought that my imaginary winter landscape might be a tender touch of home for our friends; that when they opened the envelope, they saw their painted memories of crisp winter walks and merry snowball fights arise from my fantasies.

Since then I have dreamed of exhibiting and selling my work, sharing my love of watercolours in each painstaking piece. I never thought I would find my peace in painting- working with acrylic always left me agitated and angry. But there is a playful peace in watercolour; in the way it slithers into streams, leaving creamy paper glistening with wet jewels of puddled pigment.

In the end there is nothing more that I wish to do than swim through cerulean seas and paddle in purple as I pursue painting.

Isabel Crabtree Parker
Read next: 'Chocolate Kisses'
Isabel Crabtree Parker

I'm an emerging artist studying for my BA (Hons) Fine Art degree. If you like my work please consider giving it a like!



See all posts by Isabel Crabtree Parker

Find us on socal media

Miscellaneous links