2004-2005 Shows, News and Events

American Artist Magazine coverAmerican Artist Magazine

Winter Edition of Watercolor 2005

"This issue of Watercolor is filled with paintings that may provoke a sense of challenge, as well as discussions of how the featured artists handled the inspiration ... These articles and more are available when you are ready to risk being challenged by the best."

~ M. Stephen Doherty

The article titled "Exploring Common Threads: Gouache on Rice paper" is written by M. Stephen Doherty, the editor-in-chief of Watercolor magazine. This 8-page full color article begins on page106 and features nine selected paintings that represent the gouache style. The magazine is circulated world-wide.

The article is set below. Reprints of the actual article are available directly from American Artist magazine.

Exploring Common Threads: Gouache on Rice Paper

In a loose interpretation of the Yunnan school of Chinese painting, Virginia artist Wendy L. Wilkerson uses gouache on rice paper to explore the relationships and experiences that unite people.

By M. Stephen Doherty

Gouache, or opaque watercolor, is preferred by illustrators and graphic designers because it can be used to create a range of marks - from broad washes of color to tightly controlled edges - allowing the changes requested by an art director or client to be made easily. "When I studied art and design in the 1970s," Wendy L. Wilkerson recalls, "artists were using gouache for everything from fashion illustrations to posters designs. The versatility of the paint, brilliance of the colors, the ease of thinning the gouache and cleaning up with water, and ability to change made it the ideal paint for commercial assignments."

Attracted to the properties of gouache, Wilkerson developed an interest in the paints herself. In her early use of gouache, she would often remove excess paint from her brush by touching its tips to a sheet of paper towel or tissue. "I loved the way the paint bled across the absorbent paper and picked up the weave of the fibers," she says. "I don?t know what happened to the paintings I was working on, but I still have some of the painted paper towels from the 1960s. In analyzing why I found the soft images so appealing, I realized I was attracted both to the physical appearance of the marks and their potential to represent my ideas about certain subjects. The simple, soft-edged shapes floating on a gauze of paper captured my feelings about the themes I painted."

More than 30 years later, Wilkerson is still painting opaque watercolor on soft papers, but now she works on sheets of Unryu white rice paper. Available in a range of textures, colors, and thickness, rice paper is made with relatively little sizing, allowing its fibers to absorb water media quickly. Depending on how the pulp is processed during manufacturing, the random pattern of the fibers is usually visible on the paper?s surface. When Winsor & Newton Designer gouache is applied to the paper, brush strokes bleed and soften according to the thickness of the paint?s application.

The reduced amount of sizing and weight of the rice paper also make it more fragile than traditional watercolor paper. If completely saturated with water, rice paper can easily tear; and if taped to a board, a wet sheet of paper will likely rip when it becomes dry and taught. To compensate for these tendencies, Wilkerson draws the outline of images on the reverse side of the paper while referring to a preliminary drawing, compositional sketch, or photograph. "I prefer to work from drawings done from life, my memory, or my imagination, but I find it necessary to have photographs available when drawing children," she explains. "I interpret the photographs quite freely as I aim to capture that joyous curiosity children express in their posture and wide-open gazes. I particularly like to photograph children individually, because they are more apt to reveal their personalities."

Once Wilkerson has completed her drawing on the reverse side of the rice paper, she applies a thin coat of gouache over the entire sheet with a bristle brush. The diluted ultramarine blue or primary red paint seeps through the surface, providing a unifying tone on the front of the rice paper without obscuring the lines of the drawing. Wilkerson can then paint the front side of the sheet, following the visible lines through the translucent paper.

Although the designs in Wilkerson's paintings convey a distinct flatness, she does include references to three-dimensionality when rendering people and objects. "I'm not trying to achieve a completely realistic illusion in my paintings, but I do model the forms with a clear indication of highlights and shadows," she explains. "I am more concerned with expressing the rhythmic pattern of life than the specific details of a figure, plant, or animal.

"Just like other painters, my style has been influenced by a lifetime of experiences," Wilkerson continues. "I grew up in a home in which the customs and language of my immigrant parents were preserved, and in a neighborhood where cultures and races blended together. As an adult, I've continued to enjoy that kind of diversity. I'm married to a Native American and work in Washington D.C., where people from every part of the world come together. My art is both a response and an attempt to represent those diverse religions, cultures, and races."

A variety of artists and styles have influenced Wilkerson, including 20th century Chinese Yunnan painters, who took inspiration from the Cubist works of Pablo Picasso. "My work over the last decade has become a blend of the Yunnan school of Chinese painting with the earlier stylized figurative paintings of Gauguin and Klimt," she explains. "I softened the Yunnan's painters technique of fractionalizing images to allow my images to become almost a spiritual extension of themselves.

"The women in my paintings become representations of Mother Earth, the fountain of life, and joy itself," Wilkerson explains. "On the other hand, my paintings of children are attempts to represent the center of the universe and the mysteries of life. The crows are probably harder for people to understand because they come from my memories of a childhood pet. To me the crows can represent the Native-American idea of birds as cheats and tricksters, the Old English suggestion of death, or the Far Eastern belief that crows are guardians of the soul. I find that the crows captivate the imagination and stimulate deep thought, so I often use them in my paintings. They are as confusing as life itself and sometimes difficult to look at.

"All of my images are anchored to the sun and the moon," Wilkerson continues. "I always include references to the circles of life and everything those spheres symbolize about existence: the duality of good and bad, the contrast of light and dark, and the yin and yang of life forces."

As a final step in her painting process, Wilkerson uses a thin sable brush to paint a gold or silver metallic outline around each shape. "The metallic lines are symbolic of the boundaries in life and the thin, arbitrary lines we establish," Wilkerson suggests. "They also add an element of esoteric thought and illusion as they appear and disappear depending on how light touches the reflective surface. At the same time, the metallic color can becomes part of the reality of the scene, as in the case of silver maple leaves on a tree, or it can enhance the rhythmic design of the composition."

Wilkerson studied art at Akron University in Ohio, and in the early 1980s was one of the first women to join the sign painters' union and work in Cleveland as a Master Craftsman sign painter. She owned her own design studio and joined the Women Artist Group Effort in Ohio before relocating to Alexandria, Virginia in 1999 and taking a position as a graphic designer with a government agency. For more information, visit her website: www.wlwilkerson.com.