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Watercolour Techniques

by Elizabeth Seitz and Jason Cawood

Above: Untitled

For her 2D work, Mary Filer’s preferred medium was watercolours. Whether the subject matter was portraits, abstracts, or landscapes, watercolours were most frequently used to bring her visions to life on paper, canvass or artist’s board. This section will highlight the various techniques Filer employed most frequently when working with watercolours, using two specific groups of paintings from the University’s collection as examples: the “Spring” series from the 1953 and the volcano pictures from the 1960s.

The technique Mary used to produce the small series named “Spring” is referred to as “wet on wet.” It involves the application of wet paint to wet areas of paper so that the water absorbs the paint and moves it to fill in the pre-wetted area. This creates an ethereal effect that works in tandem with the dreamy, whimsical subject matter. In the case of the “Spring” images, Filer also used fine black ink to outline and emphasize the figures rendered in watercolour. The practice of using multiple mediums in a single piece is something we see throughout Filer’s artistic career.

The natural world was a never-ending source of inspiration for Mary, as evidenced in the aforementioned “Spring” series, as well as with the numerous landscapes, depictions of flowers and gardens, and her fascination with volcanoes. With the latter, we can observe several different uses of watercolour: “wet on wet,” “wet on dry” (which, as the name suggests, is the application of wet paint to dry paper) and “watercolour resist.” The latter is a technique that involves creating a masking effect on the picture surface where paint will not adhere. Mary used wax for this purpose and the end result tends to resemble pastel or crayon brushstrokes more than typical watercolour. In the volcano pictures, we see layering of colours and the “watercolour resist” approach used to emphasize the dramatic plumes of volcanic smoke and ash.

Incidentally, the particular volcano that appeared to have most served as Filer’s inspiration is Quebec’s Mont Saint-Bruno, which she referred to often as simply “Mt. Bruno.” Mary spent several years living in Montreal during the mid 1940s, which is within close proximity to the Mont-Saint-Bruno National Park.