Friday, June 19, 2009

Part 3: Technology of Watercolor

The technology of watercolor developments corresponded with the evolution and advancement of the British school of watercolorists.

In the 1780's, a British company began producing paper made especially for watercolorists which was treated with sizing, or glazing, to prevent washes from sinking into the fibers of the paper. Early watercolorists ground their own pigments, but by the late eighteenth century the Englishman, William Reeves, was selling them in portable cakes.

In 1846, Winsor & Newton introduced colors packaged in metal tubes. This growing technology encouraged many European artists to experiment with watercolors until eventually the tradition spread to America.

The earliest watercolor drawings produced in America were created for factual documentation of the "new world." As early as the 1560's, European explorers carried this visual information back to the "old world". The first of these important artists was Mark Catesby (English, 1679-1749). He came to Virginia in 1712 and documented hundreds of species of American birds and plant life with hand-colored engravings.

Watercolor by Mark Catesby

Catesby's prints foreshadow the ever-popular romantic and analytical depictions of American wildlife by John James Audubon (American, 1785-1851). Audubon did his first study in 1805. He eventually devoted himself to recording this aspect of the North American continent in a manner seldom equaled in any other medium.

Watercolor by John James Audubon

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