Water Is The Master In A Watercolor Painting

If the water doesn’t flow, the colors won’t flow


I first learned to paint in watercolor when I took an Asian art course in Sumi painting from Horseshoe, North Carolina. Because of the Asian art approach to watercolor, I found myself loving to draw with a brush. And that’s what Sumi is: drawing with the brush. 

Asian brush painting Dick Crispo
Asian brush painting (sumi) with Dick Crispo

When I was younger, I worked in a Carmel art store. They had a box of sumi watercolor saucers. I was able to learn through using them. When I was 18 years old, I worked on weekends with the famous water colorist Sam Colburn. It was through Sam that I learned the Western approach to a looser watercolor painting style.

Sam Colburn and Dick Crispo
Sam Colburn and Dick Crispo

Having painted in both the Asian and Western styles, I learned the brushes are so important because the response is so quick with watercolor. Today, when I work in watercolor, I like to make the colors flow and have a softness and a strength. I like to play both against each other, the softness and the strength.

So I work in I work in layers and in the end, quick, quick layers that are giving me a chance to see the depth that I that I wouldn’t get if I just hit it once.

So I take the sumi approach of the quick shot, but I also then I take the layers approach of the Western style of painting. So I mix the two together in my style. In my current series of painting the watercolor heads, I’ve been working on and trying different combinations of colors that make a unit.

So I want a very unified feeling in my watercolor.  I paint my watercolors as a sense of expression. You see in the book, I have different ways of working. I paint using multiple layers. I’ll scratch into the color and the paper using a scraper tool, creating textures in the paintings. Sometimes I allow the pencil drawing to show through. I can also use a paper towel or tissue to blot the watercolor on the paper while it’s still wet, creating different textures.

tissue paper
Dick Crispo using tissue paper to create texture in a watercolor painting.

Many of these head paintings in watercolor began during the Covid pandemic. Like most people, I was sitting around at home. In my case, I was working here in my home studio, avoiding a lot of social contact. A lot of these are all smaller watercolors using a variety of techniques. 

Dick Crispo watercolor paintings art book 02

For me, I like painting wet. I’m not interested in dry brush, which is another technique that looks more like tempera. And the dry brush technique is literally as it sounds. You don’t put a lot of water on the brush, just enough to make the paint move.

Dick Crispo watercolor paintings art book 01 

In the end, the ultimate master of my watercolor piece is the water itself. And how the colored water works and flows. If the water doesn’t flow, the colors don’t flow.


gold face watercolor painting
A watercolor painting using paints.

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