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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Watercolour, Tate Britain, review

Roger Hilton 'Foliage with Orange Caterpillar', 1974 Roger Hilton 'Foliage with Orange Caterpillar', 1974 Photo: Tate Britain

In its purest form, watercolour consists of pigment mixed with water and water-soluble gum binder. Light, liquescent and quick drying, watercolour is so easy to handle that children can paint with it, but those same properties make it a fiendishly difficult medium to master.

One advantage of watercolour is that it enables artists to paint much more quickly than is possible in oils. It is good at capturing transient effects of light, atmosphere and weather and an efficient means of describing things that fade, change colour or won’t stand still for long, such as botanical specimens or animals. Easily transportable, it is popular with travellers, landscape painters, and naturalists — in fact any artist who works in the open air.

The downside is that if you make a mistake in watercolour you can’t correct it, because to apply one layer of transparent colour over another would be to destroy the translucency that is the very essence of the medium.

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