Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Watercoloring the Empty Quarter

I mentioned that lately I’ve been taking an evening class to learn watercolor. I’m interested in using it for location sketching and possibly for the drawings we do for clients, but so far almost everything I’ve done has been indoors after the sun goes down, working off black and white photos. Not exactly location sketching, but it has been pretty helpful. The photos give a good sense of value and because there is no color, I feel free to experiment. The colors tend to turn out differently than I plan, but because it’s from black and white no one can tell.

After some casting about and experimenting, I’ve ended up working from a series of photos by Wilfred Thesiger. A little random, but I had to choose something to paint and I’ve loved his photos for years. He was the last of the old-school desert explorers and one of the all-time great travelers. Arabian Sands about his explorations of the Empty Quarter of Saudia Arabia is one of the great books of travel literature; The Marsh Arabs, about his years living in the marshes of Iraq is also great; and the compilation, The Last Nomad, is one of my favorite books. His writing describes the landscapes and cultures with an amazing clarity, and the photos are powerfully evocative and certainly don’t need any coloring efforts by me. There’s a selection of photos here, but really his work is best appreciated in an old-fashioned, dead-tree book with text and images together. Both his photos and the writing have an unsurpassed stark black and white expressiveness.

I confess I don’t know a whole lot about the places I was drawing. The town above is named Shibam, in Yemen. Below is a place called Liwa Oasis, showing that ‘oasis’ is very much a relative term.

The others are scenes from the Empty Quarter, the largest sand desert in the world.

We’ll see how much watercolor I do going forward. I did feel like it got its hooks into me, so these probably, hopefully, won’t be my last.

2 Responses to “Watercoloring the Empty Quarter”

  1. May 8th, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    James says:

    Nice work. Watercolor can be pretty unforgiving. I think I tend to work too spastically to ever be much good at it. Maybe it helps to have a photo to work from so you know where you’re going with the image? The idea of presenting clients a watercolor sounds terrific. It would project an expectation that the project would be more hand-crafted and not spat out of a CAD program. People want gardens as humanizing spaces.

  2. May 12th, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    ryan says:

    Yeah, I’m pretty spastic with the watercolor whenever I don’t have a plan. The black and whites have been good for learning, because I know the forms and tonal values ahead of time so I can focus the colors and techniques. And watercolor is, like you said, so much more evocative and humanizing than CAD drawings. All the hand graphics seem to be making a big comeback lately for that reason.

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