Maker’s Medium: Art student explores the wonders of watercolor through family portraits

Mastery of materials is fundamental to the artistic process and the career goal of any artist in the chosen medium. All The method requires a different set of skills and may elicit different reactions from viewers. Follow columnist David Egan on “Maker’s Medium” as he shines a light on mediums of fine art by profiling a different art student each week.

(Cat Nordstrom / Daily Bruin)

Watercolor painting started in antiquity and continues with undergraduate artist Antonia Guerrero Sanchez.

A second year An art student, Sanchez said she had been interested in art from a young age. Watching a Frida Kahlo documentary with her father is what inspired her to pursue art, she said, in addition to a college professor who motivated her. Sanchez started to paint with watercolors after taking an art class in his first year of high school, in which Yarka brand paints were a compulsory material. These watercolors are more translucent than gouache paint, another material Sanchez said he uses.

“The oil takes too long to dry, and the acrylic kind of came out of me,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t have any gouache on me, so I used… Yarka, and they’re semi-wet watercolors. … I fell in love with them.

Sanchez is linked to the world’s leading artists through his medium. Artists have used watercolor for illustration since ancient Egypt, where pigments mixed with gum arabic and egg white were diluted in water and applied on rollers, until the Renaissance , where watercolor was used on a small scale, explains José Parramón in “The great book of watercolor painting”. During the 16th and 17th centuries, artists used watercolor for preliminary sketches, but it was not until the late 18th century that watercolor was recognized as a legitimate medium in itself. The slow path to recognition of watercolor has come from the speed with which it is used, the way he abstracts the figures rather than giving precise details and the translucency which is atypical of more traditional mediums.

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Today, watercolor is practiced in many art schools, including that of UCLA. Painting and drawing lab supervisor Ben Evans said he often helps artists with the watercolor technique. It is widely accessible, easily transportable and can be forgiving if artists learn techniques on applying and lifting pigments, he said. Painting and drawing teacher Patty Wickman said the medium is a quick way to fix color.

“(Watercolor) probably doesn’t get as much attention in the art world as other materials,” Wickman said. “It is generally used on a more intimate scale. Much of the art world’s preference and predilection for large-scale work makes it difficult to use watercolor.

The intimate scale of the watercolor reflects the personal subjects in Sanchez’s work. She paints her loved ones, including her parents, sister and extended family. Although the close-up portraits fill the entire surface of the paintings, Sanchez said the the details are his favorite part of the painting, like the wrinkles on his father’s face and the fine features of his eyebrows and curls on his nephew’s hair.

(Courtesy of Antonia Sanchez)
In Sanchez’s portrayal of his paternal grandparents, Evans said the piece combines unnatural positioning with a natural brushwork. (Courtesy of Antonia Guerrero Sanchez)

Particularly noteworthy is the positioning of the figures in the paintings of his paternal and maternal grandparents, said Evans. On the paternal side, the grandmother is in front of the grandfather, while in the portraits of the maternal grandparents, the heads are directly side by side. Since two people cannot physically face forward while standing so close, he said Sanchez forces the viewer to look at the characters in unnatural ways while using a natural brushstroke and palette.

Looking at the same series, Wickman said Sanchez’s paternal grandparents painting is the strongest piece among all of his watercolors. In addition to how the grandfather’s shirt can be interpreted as an abstraction of the chest and throat, Wickman said the closeness of the characters contrasts with their presence as distinctive individuals, making the work interesting in its formal elements and emotional impact.

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(Courtesy of Antonia Sanchez)
Sanchez’s triptych uses colors that symbolize the different fruits his parents bring him, including guavas, cucumbers, and oranges. (Courtesy of Antonia Guerrero Sanchez)

In addition to painting his grandparents, Sanchez painted his parents in a triptych titled “Fruit Bowl,” with a bowl of fruit between the figures. Sanchez said his parents often bring him fruit, his father cucumbers or oranges and his mother guavas. Her father wears a mask with marijuana leaves in “Fruit Bowl” in reference to an internal joke they have – that he’s the opposite of a stoner, Sanchez said.

There would be a lack of flexibility in the portraits if they were just line art, Evans said, but the slow brushwork shows how much time Sanchez spent on the job. The use of watercolor is effective for faces because the skin is not a fully reflective surface, it noted. Like watercolor applied to paper, he said the skin has layers and the translucency of a watercolor painting can mimic the depth of light hitting someone’s face..

“The beautiful part of (portrait) of her mother is the transition of the hair in the background,” Evans said. “In terms of getting the most out of your painting equipment,… (it’s) pretty efficient.”

Wickman has used watercolor in his own work and can attest to his strengths and struggles as a medium. She said she was curious how many students would use it in her advanced painting class this term.

“A lot of students are turning to watercolor right now, especially during the pandemic, because they’re working in smaller spaces,” Wickman said. . “

Kayleen C. Rice