"Jane Picasso’ attemps watercolors | SummitDaily.com

"Jane Picasso’ attemps watercolors

Few things humble one more than taking a paintbrush to paper. I found this out first-hand recently when I enrolled in a watercolor paint class.

I went into this class with a few thoughts in mind: My daughter draws better than me; the teacher, no matter how talented, would not be able to unearth some hidden talent in me; and no matter how poorly I do, I would stick it out to the bitter end.

Sticking with it might be the hardest part.

During our first class, we learned about washes, which in my unskilled eyes are mere swaths of color. We learned about graded washes – they start dark and fade as you mix in more water – color values and shadows.

The teacher is very supportive of our endeavors.

“This is good,” she told the lady on my right. “Perfect!” she said to a man on my left. “Class, this is how it needs to be done.”

Then she got to me. “Hmmm. This is … coming along,” she said, smiling one of those smiles that indicates she now knows how long the semester will really be. “Try not to use so much water. See these spots? That’s from oily fingers. See this pattern? That’s called frog skin. Try not to overlap. Stay within the lines. Pull the paint down so it blends. Uh … yeah. Something like that.”

In the second class, we jumped straight to still lifes. I picked an onion.

Of course, my logic in this selection backfired. I figured that since onions are round, feature all of about three shades of gold and look a lot easier to paint than the patina-stained copper pot also on the table, an onion was a good still life selection.

I drew a circle. So far, so good. I stared at the onion. It was brighter on top than in the middle, and one side featured a dark brown stain. I mixed my cadmium yellow medium with my burnt umber, diluted it with water and applied the paint to paper, promptly ruining the whole thing. The paper buckled, the paint dripped. My onion was crying.

“Hmmm,” said the teacher, frowning at the blob of cadmium yellow-umber-brown on my paper. “If you work it like this, in swirls, it will give it a round appearance. See how yours looks a … little flat?” Oh, she was so kind!

The woman on my left was painting a duck. Fellow classmates were teasing her, reminding her she was only supposed to use one color. Her duck had perfect shadings, gradations and color values; its eyes glimmered; an iridescent strip of teal on its tail glistened; it had a depth I couldn’t fathom. It had … personality.

Another student was painting a wine bottle, others were painting bowls, tea kettles, a light bulb and deer antlers. The wine bottle looked like a wine bottle. The bowl, the antlers – even the light bulb – looked like a bowl, an antler, a lightbulb. I had a flat cadmium yellow-burnt umber blob.

My brain was spinning, my hands were shaking; I couldn’t take it any longer.

I abandoned my cadmium yellow-umber mixture and dipped my brush in ultramarine blue No. 592. I made a sweep across the paper.

Hmmm, I thought. Not bad. Kind of like a … peacock. I swooshed on some more tail feathers, added a plume on its head, returned to the cadmium yellow and added some highlights. I mixed the yellow with the blue and swept the green mixture into perfect flower petals behind the bird. I painted little yellow explosions of flowers atop each stem, dotted them with orange centers – even drew in tiny red veins.

“What happened to your … onion?” the teacher asked. Gulp. Caught.

“Uh … I can’t take it anymore,” I muttered. “I can’t draw onions. I like peacocks. Peacocks and flowers.”

“OK,” she said, patting me on the shoulder. “Maybe you can paint the onion next week.” She smiled.

I took my masterpieces home for critiques.

“Uh-huh …” my daughter said, admiring my art. She’d been so excited to see my work. “That’s an … onion?”

“I know,” I said, defeated. “But check this out!”

“Oh, Mama! That’s a peacock! A beautiful peacock! I love it!”

She might be the only thing that keeps me going in this class.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or


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