A few years ago I found myself struggling with my watercolour work and had begun to thing that my hand must have changed. I just couldn't achieve the look I was striving for and it didn't make sense. Same brushes, same pigments, same water, same paper... It had to be me and that was so discouraging that I actually avoided painting for a few years. Almost four years I think! A few months ago I resolved to give it another try but knew I should start out with small work to prevent another huge emotional let down. Sometimes I can get too concerned with the amount of hours and expense of supplies that go into a painting [It's hard to throw away a +$20.00 sheet of paper!] so I started by using some scraps of my lighter weight watercolour paper (140# HP Arches) that were stashed away. After all I wouldn't be laying in huge washes of colour so 140# would more than stand up to what I was planning. I held my breath and began, all the while with a nagging voice in my little head reminding me that perhaps I couldn't do this anymore. Hmmm.. it looked okay. Maybe I was just lucky that time. I try another little colour sketch. Okay! Now, none of them ever look perfect to me [I think all artist probably have to wrestle with this.] but they did make me feel good about them. It felt so good to work again! I couldn't believe it. Whatever it was that made me unable to paint had faded. Could it possibly be?
While working over the weekend I found I hadn't any small pieces of the 140# Arches left but I did have a piece of the heavier paper I used to use (300# hp Arches) that was just the right size. I didn't even give it a second thought and sat down at my table. Things started to go very wrong very quickly which nearly had me panicked. I just could not get the paint to do what I wanted it to do at all. My first thought was I was doing something wrong but as the painting continued so did the war with the paint. I finished the little spot illustration but I was so disappointed in it and myself. Had the previous weeks of work just been flukes? Maybe the problem really was me.
It wasn't until Monday night as I was trying to go to sleep that the answer popped into my head. "It was the paper! Oh, please let that be it... it had to be..." It was all I could do not to leap out of bed at 3 am to test my theory. And I probably would have had it not been so cold! As I fell asleep I was trying to sort it all out and vaguely remembered a fellow artist mentioning that there was something different about Arches' finish, something not for the better. That had been quite a while ago and I hadn't noticed anything different with the paper I had at the time. Then I remembered! When I had begun that doomed series of paintings four years ago I had just purchased an entire new quire of paper - my favortite paper, 300# HP. It could be the paper.
I almost stopped painting entirely because of a paper problem that at the time I wasn't smart enough to see. And I have to admit there was a great deal of trepidation when it came time to prove this out. A strong streak of procrastination convinced me that cleaning the back porch had to be done on Sunday and I'm fairly certain it was fear that prevented me from working on Monday. But today.... I jumped back in... and was elated to find that it really was the paper!!! Painting is a joy again. I can do it!
*** The moral of the story: If you find yourself unable to sew a fine seam don't ever assume the fault lies with the seamstress. It may indeed be the thread to blame!