Watercolor Wonder: On Questions and Art Collaboration

“Art, to me, is a question. It should never be an answer.” – Marilyn Manson

There are many ways to begin a project. A powerful one is to begin with an inquiry, then commit to an act of creative exploration. To explore familiar materials in new ways. This is what this blog series, Watercolor Wonder, is all about.

I find it’s also helpful to have a clear idea about what drives and excites you about making art, then work to keep those values in mind as you begin. This, too, begins with a question: When I am making, what is important to me?

I have asked this question many times. The projects below were driven by my guiding values as an artist: creativity, connection, community, and collaboration.

An art collaboration inspired these two mixed-media artworks.
An art collaboration inspired these two mixed-media artworks.

Recently, while corresponding with Tonia Jenny, Senior Editor of North Light Mixed Media, she mentioned it would be fun to collaborate on some projects. The question arose: What might that might look like? As artists living on opposite sides of the country who work in various manners, connecting for an art collaboration could have its challenges. But there are a number of common interests and soulful intersects in our work, so we decided to proceed. We decided to start by sending each other one piece of paper and cloth to work on, and a word to inspire our creativity.

A week later I received a package from Tonia with a piece of canvas with a perfect circle cut out, a piece of watercolor paper painted with what immediately reminded me of the moon, a used tea bag, a piece of gold foil paper, and a single word: gardenia.

These are the materials I received for the art collaboration. How do they inspire you?
These are the materials I received for the art collaboration. How do they inspire you?

As I spread the items out on a table I found myself thinking, I wonder what I’m going to do with these? As I write this column, I wonder if you might reach out to a creative kindred spirit and start a similar art collaboration.

Below are my rules I set out for the projects. When creating them, my thinking was that the beauty in creativity, collaboration, and community is that you can give the same materials and guidelines to 100 different people and get 100 different pieces of art. What would happen if I created two pieces, following the same guidelines? How would they differ?

  • All materials sent from my collaborator, Tonia, must be used.
  • For both pieces, have the inspiration word “gardenia” be the focal point, and have a sketch I did of a gardenia serve as my starting point.
  • Explore a similar watercolor palette for both pieces.

Here is how I created one piece.

Project One: Mixed Media on Paper—Moonlight Gardenia

The first piece I produced from the art collaboration was “Moonlight Gardenia,” done on watercolor paper.
The first piece I produced from the art collaboration was “Moonlight Gardenia,” done on watercolor paper.

Materials:

• Watercolor paper with a painted circle (sent by Tonia)
• Gold foil paper (sent by Tonia)
• Used tea bag (sent by Tonia)
• Watercolor paint (I used Winsor & Newton’s Oxide of Chromium)
• Watercolor brush, size 08 round
• Sketched gardenia image
• Pencil
• Glue or matte medium (I used Liquitex Ultra Matte Medium)
• Acrylic paint pens in gold and black
• Sakura Pigma Micron Pen, 08 nib

Cogger4--CROP-800

Upon looking at the piece of watercolor paper I received in my art collaboration packet, I immediately thought of a full moon. As I began transferring my gardenia sketch to the paper, I allowed it to be a driving force in selecting dark colors for my palette and in placing the gardenia sketch.

The materials received from the art collaboration inspired a dark color palette for my artwork.
The materials received from the art collaboration inspired a dark color palette for my artwork.

After sketching the gardenia, I wet the tea bags and placed them on the drawing to stain the flower petals. Using the tea bags as a subtle stain allowed a contrast between the warm white of the flower and the cool white of the moon. Continuing with the idea of a moonlit gardenia, I painted a flat wash of Oxide of Chromium watercolor over the rest of the page.

Tea bag stains were used to add subtle color to the gardenia.
Tea bag stains were used to add subtle color to the gardenia.

I began playing with shapes and placement with the gold foil paper and the slip of paper with the word “gardenia,” until I achieved something I liked. I then glued the pieces down with matte medium.

The foil paper was cut into shapes and glued down.
The foil paper was cut into shapes and glued down.

Returning to the image of the gardenia and my concept of a moonlit garden, I repeated the flower, filling the background space, and used black and gold paint pens to outline elements and bring the whole piece together.

The gardenia image was repeated in black and gold paint pens.
The gardenia image was repeated in black and gold paint pens.

Project Two: Mixed Media on Canvas—Gardenia

The second art collaboration piece, “Gardenia,” incorporated a pre-cut and stitched canvas.
The second art collaboration piece, “Gardenia,” incorporated a pre-cut and stitched canvas.

Materials:

  • Pre-cut and stitched canvas (sent by Tonia)
  • Gold foil paper (sent by Tonia)
  • Scrap of paper with word “gardenia” on it (sent by Tonia)
  • Glue or matte medium (I used Liquitex Ultra Matte Medium)
  • Watercolor paint (I used Winsor & Newton’s Oxide of Chromium, Holbein’s Cadmium Yellow Light, and Sennelier’s Payne’s Grey.)
  • Watercolor brush, size 08 round
  • Black marker
  • White sewing thread
  • Sewing machine

Cogger10--CROP-800

The canvas piece that Tonia sent for the art collaboration was a bigger challenge for me. I wondered if I could paint on it successfully with watercolor, and how I could incorporate a gardenia with the pre-cut hole. I decided to turn to my interest in symbolism, and investigated what exactly gardenias convey. This flower symbolizes love, purity, and refinement. In Victorian times they were symbolic of a secret or unknown love. As soon as I read the “secret” and “unknown” part, it was clear the hole could be part of the flower itself—a symbol of love, with the missing portion representing the unknown.

This canvas piece was a challenge at first, but I soon discovered a way to integrate it.
This canvas piece was a challenge at first, but I soon discovered a way to integrate it.

Using the same image of the gardenia from Moonlit Garden, I transferred it to the canvas. I made certain to place it over the cutout, since that was important to the story I wanted this piece to tell.

Fully loading my brush with a dark wash, I painted the leaves a varying mix of Oxide of Chromium and Cadmium Yellow Light, and a background of Payne’s Grey. Once the watercolor dried I ran the fabric under the faucet, creating a subtle modulation to the fields of color.

The same gardenia sketch from the first art collaboration piece was also used for the second one.
The same gardenia sketch from the first art collaboration piece was also used for the second one.

Thinking of the line work in the earlier piece, I pulled out my sewing machine and created similar outlines in a different way. I chose white thread, taking into consideration a gardenia’s white color, and the high contrast against the rest of the canvas. After stitching a bit of the flower, I craved higher contrast there as well. I outlined each petal in black marker, then stitched on top of it.

Outlines were created with stitches done in white thread to create contrast.
Outlines were created with stitches done in white thread to create contrast.

After stitching the flower, I realized I still had some gold foil scraps and the scrap of paper with the word “gardenia.” I placed these pieces on the canvas to create balance and contrast, then glued and stitched them in to place.

The second art collaboration piece also included foil paper scraps, plus the word “gardenia” written on paper.
The second art collaboration piece also included foil paper scraps, plus the word “gardenia” written on paper.

At the beginning of this art collaboration project, I wondered what I would do with the selection of materials sent to me by Tonia. I didn’t have an end piece in mind as much as I had an inquiry, a set of materials, values, and some personal rules for the project. Setting up guidelines for the process permitted an insightful, creative exploration that allowed me to touch on many of the values I have for the artistic process. How would you set up a similar exploration for yourself? What might come of it?

Cassia Cogger’s new book, Creating Personal Mandalas: Story Circle Techniques in Watercolor and Mixed Media, is filled with ideas and techniques for making mandalas and more, and for finding meaning in your artwork. Get your copy today in the North Light Shop!

Find your authentic voice in your artwork in the new book Creating Personal Mandalas: Story Circle Techniques in Watercolor and Mixed Media by Cassia Cogger.
Find your authentic voice in your artwork in the new book Creating Personal Mandalas: Story Circle Techniques in Watercolor and Mixed Media by Cassia Cogger.

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