Amy Greenan, Still, 2013; watercolor and pencil, 9 x 12; Courtesy of the artist

Amy Greenan, Still, 2013; watercolor and pencil, 9 x 12; Courtesy of the artist

"On Watercolor Workshopping" by Amy Greenan

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The last thing that I should probably admit in a blog post for the International Center for Watercolor is that, as an artist, I’m not really a watercolor person. But there; I said it. When I saw that Becky Koenig was leading a watercolor workshop that incorporated drawing into the process, though, my curiosity was piqued.

I’ve spent the last four years working mostly in acrylics, and I felt ready to mix things up a little bit. A medium change can be more than just switching up paint types. It can jog a whole new approach to making art – new vision, new subject... who knows what else.

I had also had the pleasure of being acquainted with Becky both personally and, briefly, as a student of hers. I knew that she was a great teacher. I signed up.

Becky’s introduction that day included a discussion about artists like Cezanne, Turner, and of course our own Charles Burchfield, all of whom used the medium in combination with sketching to create studies as well as complete, fully realized works.

The objective for the workshop, she explained, was to try two different yet similar approaches: one, to start with drawing and then layer wash on top, and two, the opposite.

The first demonstration was simply to apply a wash as an overall background to the paper. Choice of colors was ours – perhaps implying land and sky, perhaps not – and the technique, though fairly simple, can take a number of tries to master. It comprises laying down one long stroke of wet pigment across the top of the page, then, with each subsequent stripe, grabbing onto the “bead” created at the bottom of the first. A very slight overlap – there’s where the special touch and practice is required. The wet paint should blend into itself and create a nearly imperceptible continuation, whether the same hue, or a gradient.

I made two paintings; it was a basic still life that really got me in the zone. Using some of the materials that Becky brought, natural things – a pinecone, a sprig of eucalyptus, with the addition of a small seashell later when I realized that the rule of three* might be well applied to my composition – I started by drawing the pinecone and sprig together with your basic number two pencil.

I laid down some dark areas that I would further emphasize when I went in with the paint later. Initially, I applied paint only to the objects in the space, and then realized that toning the background would add a sense of place, a sense of being.

The very light blue I used went well with the cool colors in the sprig and was a nice complement to the warm tones in the pinecone. That complement was further balanced by the addition of the shell, which had a yellow-orange color, and a purplish-grey shadow.

This back-and-forth process of drawing, painting, drawing, painting was not foreign to me, but sitting in a classroom setting among other artists of varying skill levels and experience felt strangely liberating.

I am normally one of those lone wolves when it comes to producing work, and can be shy about being in the open. On this day, though, I was reminded that there can be something very special about working in the classroom setting, especially with an astute and sensitive teacher who knows just how much to engage with her students. It was definitely one of those situations during Becky’s workshop. It was here that I began to imagine new directions for my work and a welcome shift from a series I’ve been working on for almost five years.

I’m a firm believer that even experts and professionals (of which I consider myself as an artist at this point) can and should learn new things. While I wasn’t entirely new to watercolor, and definitely not new to painting or drawing, hearing about another artist’s approach, and seeing that in action with a small group of other enthusiasts was truly an educational and fun experience that I will be seeking out again and again.


Amy Greenan


Amy Greenan was born in 1970 and raised in Alden, New York. She studied at SUNY Purchase (BFA, 1993), and the University at Buffalo (MFA, 2007). Her first post-graduate solo exhibition was in 2009 part of the TopSpin Series introducing emerging artists at Niagara University’s Castellani Art Museum. The exposure brought Greenan’ s artwork to the attention of serious collectors and institutions.

Her work has since been shown internationally, and has been accessioned into the permanent collections of the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY, the Gibson Art Gallery at SUNY Potsdam, and the Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence, KS.

Amy Greenan works and lives in Niagara Falls, New York.