Juicy watercolors – a workshop report

Last year I discovered how amazing it is to take in person workshops. You can get personal IRL feedback and you can also learn a lot from the other participants, everyone has their own style and approach and it is super inspiring to work together.

And then covid happened. Fortunately many teachers switched to online prerecorded classes. It is perfect for people like me who work at odd hours / are located on the other side of the ocean. But you still miss out on the contact with other people taking the workshops and there is often no or very little feedback. So I was thrilled to learn that Uma Kelkar would be hosting a two day live workshop via Zoom (she also taught several courses but for me it is really hard to commit to a specific time/day). Uma Kelkar does these amazing things with watercolor (check out her website/IG).

I really like reading workshop reports, they help me to figure out whether the teacher will be a fit, so, here is my report of the Juicy watercolors course! (more pics will be added when I’m back home, but I wanted to put this online before I forget :))

Day 1
I have participated in a grand total of two Zoom calls so it was great that Uma emailed us a very detailed set of instructions. Eventually I created a smartphone holder from an old music stand, it worked perfectly.
We started with a round of introductions. It was super cool to learn that it was a very international group, there was even someone from Singapore (so for her it was midnight!).
Then there was the first exercise – we had to do a graded wash. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing so I looked at what other people were doing. Everyone went about it differently. I created a true atrocity, it looked like a big pink blob. So much for splurging on super expensive paper, I thought.

I tried it again. Then suddenly I heard in my earphones ‘Femke! You need to put it on an angle!’. I put the board to rest on my laptop. ‘No, a bigger angle! Take some books!’ Curiously I found the book lying closest to me (how to be an antiracist – I was not trying to make a statement but it was the nearest book xD). Uma then showed us how to do the graded wash. For the first time I finally understood what people meant by ‘the bead’ and how to use it. The things Uma told us about velocity of paint vs water really made a lot of sense.

And then I created this (I also made neat rectangles with making tape which I saw other people do). We went on to create washes with multiple pigments.

The next exercise was to use these skills to paint a scene. With just a few brushstrokes Uma created an example and then we had to give it a try. Well, it became instantly apparent why I wanted to take this workshop because it is really a lot harder than it looks. There are so many variables to control!

To close the evening, we looked at several photographs and tried to distill them into a value map and then we painted several of them in one pigments, using two layers (one for the lower values and a second one for the higher values). While I could feel myself growing tired (it was nearing midnight) it was super useful to ‘talk through’ the images and see everyone’s approach. Uma’s approach helps to get you thinking about which shapes /values to include and which to leave out. Getting the watercolor sketch to resemble the value sketch was a whole other challenge… 🙂

Day 2
We started off with a great exercise to activate our value-assessing part of the brain. This is an exercise that I’ll be certainly doing again! Uma then explained her approach to painting trees, and then it was time to turn to the images we had selected ourselves. I had picked this one because it was a scene I found beautiful (it’s 5 min away from my work) but I felt way too intimidated to paint it.
We didn’t immediately dig in, we used the skills touched on yesterday to analyze the picture. Part of it is to keep in mind what you want to convey, to start thinking about it in adjectives and verbs, not just nouns. Then we looked at how to select a limited palette to make it harmonious. We broke apart in several groups to discuss our images and the value/color maps we had made.
And finally it was time to paint it! This was super frustrating and hard because I feel I lack the technical skills to pull it off. And I’m not a very fiddly person so sometimes I’m done when I know it isn’t done but yeah, how to improve it… So I took the Femke approach of trying it several times in succession and changing one little thing in each iteration. Uma gave me the tip to soften some parts of the washes, and eventually it resulted in this!

It is way overworked but it does show the darkening sky and the glow of the heather, which were the intentions I had set.
It was so cool to look at the work of the group in the final throwdown. Everyone had created really gorgeous paintings. And it was super cool to see them grow stroke by stroke!
Signing off was a bit sad, in just a few hours in two days you get to know each other a bit and it was already time to say goodbye. Hopefully we’ll meet IRL when we can!

The verdict
This was an amazing experience which I would recommend to everyone who isn’t able to take an in person class with Uma (because she is so amazing over Zoom I assume that the IRL experience is probably even better xD). Uma is super knowledgeable about watercolor and it is not just theoretical knowledge but it is the kind of knowledge you only gain by trying things a million times and seeing what works and what doesn’t. This really matter of fact approach really works for me, because my main takeaway from the workshop is to play around more with watercolor, to get to know the pigments better, to get better at the motor skills. Uma’s approach really demystifies a lot. At the end of the workshop I felt equipped to take the next steps myself, I know where to start improving.
I really hope that she’ll teach more courses in this format!

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