The Science of Art — Watercolor Paintings by Lisa Hill

Tangerine and Cream, original watercolor by Wenaha Gallery guest artist Lisa Hill.
Tangerine and Cream, original watercolor by Wenaha Gallery guest artist Lisa Hill.

When it comes to art, there is a tremendous amount of science involved.

For those who don’t believe, watercolorist Lisa Hill of Richland poses a question:

Colors of Autumn, original watercolor by Wenaha Gallery guest artist Lisa Hill.
Colors of Autumn, original watercolor by Wenaha Gallery guest artist Lisa Hill.

Why, when one mixes three primary colors in particular proportion — Phthalo Blue, Quinacridone Rose, and Hansa Yellow (even the names sound like something from a laboratory) —  is the resulting color black?

“This is a lesson on how pigments absorb or reflect certain color wavelengths of light,” Hill, who teaches watercolor as well as creates it, explains.

“Between the three paints, all the light is absorbed, almost none is reflected back to the eye, and we perceive it as black.”

And not only black can be actualized from these three colors, Hill adds, pointing out that thousands of hues result from two or three of these ideal primaries, which closely match the CMY (cyan, magenta, and yellow) of printing inks.

Hill herself creates boldly vivid, richly chromatic artwork with a limited palette of roughly five colors (none of which are white or black), but, not wanting to make things too challenging for her students, she allots them a magnanimous seven paints to manage and master.

Ripple Ellipse, original watercolor by Wenaha Gallery guest artist, Lisa Hill
Ripple Ellipse, original watercolor by Wenaha Gallery guest artist, Lisa Hill

“I teach my beginning students to make color mixing charts with these seven paints and show them how valuable the charts are as a planning tool for a painting. The color mixing possibilities are endless.”

If Hill sounds thoughtful, methodical, and organized (she adds the word, “meticulous” to the list), she comes to it from a background in dirt — planting soil, specifically — and her success in capturing flora and fauna two dimensionally is related to her first career in ornamental horticulture and landscape design.

Lost Edges, original watercolor by Wenaha Gallery guest artist, Lisa Hill
Lost Edges, original watercolor by Wenaha Gallery guest artist, Lisa Hill

After moving to the Tri-Cities from Spokane, Hill was ready for a change of pace and occupation, a watercolor class with Kennewick artist Laura Gable sparking an interest that later turned into a vocation. With the same sense of inquiry that she used in horticulture, Hill focused on being a student of art, first; then an artist; and finally, a private teacher of art based out of her dream home studio, a 700-square foot apartment Hill and her husband teased out of a second floor bedroom, with an enviable view of the Yakima River.

Student, Artist, Teacher — Hill wears all three caps seamlessly, her fervor toward her chosen medium strongly evident in her research, experimentation, zeal, and knowledge.

“I’m going out on a limb here since I haven’t painted with oils or acrylics,” Hill muses, “but I think success with watercolor techniques requires a higher level of scientific knowledge of behavior of water and light, and the mechanics of vision, specifically color and value perception.”

Blue Skies, original watercolor by Wenaha Gallery guest artist, Lisa Hill
Blue Skies, original watercolor by Wenaha Gallery guest artist, Lisa Hill

What causes the “transparency” of watercolor?

Is it possible to layer a lighter color successfully over a darker one?

How does one keep the “wet” look once a painting dries?

“Understanding how water behaves puts the artist in charge (mostly) of what happens to the paint on the paper,” Hill says. “The answers are almost always related to the water — how much is on the brush, the paper, and in the puddle of paint.”

Quiet and soft spoken, Hill nonetheless speaks with confidence, and one person who noticed was Robin Berry, a nationally known author and porcelain and watercolor artist who put Hill in touch with Quarto Publishing of London. The happy result included a series of published step-by-step demos of Hill’s work, as well as images of her paintings, in three Quarto art books.

Cereus, original watercolor by Wenaha Gallery guest artist Lisa Hill
Cereus, original watercolor by Wenaha Gallery guest artist Lisa Hill

Hill, who regularly participates in Richland’s Allied Arts’ “Art in the Park” and the Custer Arts and Crafts Shows in Pasco, Spokane, and Wenatchee, garnered Director’s Choice at the 2014 Wallowa Valley Festival of the Arts in Joseph, OR, with the winning painting, Lost Edges, featured prominently in the event’s 2015 promotional materials. She sells her original work, as well as prints and note cards, to collectors throughout the Northwest.

An unapologetic proponent of representationalism, Hill admires the skill and knowledge necessary to create abstract or vaguely realistic art, but gravitates toward realism, an area she finds uniquely suited to capture the subject matter she finds most intriguing.

“I have a lot of plant knowledge and thoroughly enjoy gardening, so it is natural that the subjects I most  love to paint are flowers and foliage.

“I don’t think I am making a statement by painting these things — I just love them.

“Maybe that IS the statement.”

Wenaha GalleryLisa Hill is the featured Art Event artist at Wenaha Gallery, 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA from Saturday, September 19 through Saturday, October 17. She will be in the gallery Saturday, October 3,  from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., to give live watercolor demonstrations during Dayton’s Art Walk.

Contact the gallery by phone at 800.755.2124 or e-mail art@wenaha.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.

Wenaha Gallery is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional customized framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists.   Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton, WA.

This article was written by Carolyn Henderson.

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