The snow melted, and the pace of life returned to a gallop. Watercolour classes have begun at Haverfordwest Community Centre, with ten beginners in the morning and 13 improvers in the afternoon. Most of those in the improvers class are returning from last year – does this mean I didn’t do a good enough job of teaching them last time so they have to come back and hear it all again? Actually, I think (I hope) they’ve come back purely for fun, because it keeps the momentum going and they learn as much from each other as they do from me. It can be hard to find inspiration when you’re sitting alone in front of a blank sheet of paper.
Beginners are a joy to teach because you get results fast when you start learning something. Watercolours have a reputation for being difficult, and they can be, but the basics are easily learnt with someone looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re not lathering it on like emulsion paint and then wondering why your washes have turned up their toes and died. Norfolk artist Aidan Kirkpatrick once told me ‘If you’ve found a paper, you’ve found a style’, which sounds dramatic, but it is amazing the difference a good watercolour paper can make. The problem is persuading students to experiment with decent paper as they don’t want to waste it.
Two years ago one of my students, Gill, bought some lovely Arches NOT paper; the sort of paper that turns a simple brushstroke into a thing of beauty. It was quite expensive – well, the price of a half decent bottle of Chardonnay, my measure for everything – but not as pricey as, say, the truly wonderful Two Rivers hand made. Some months later I asked how she’d enjoyed using the Arches. “Oh, I haven’t used it!” she said. “It’s on top of the wardrobe. I’ll use it when my painting has improved enough to justify it”. In vain I tried to explain that her painting would be sure to improve IF she used the paper, but I think it’s there still. I now have to explain to newcomers the difference between cheap practice paper and top-of-the-wardrobe paper. I’m sure I get more from my students than they do from me!