Hi everyone! My name is Krzysztof Kowalski. First of all, I would like to thank Charlie for inviting me to be a guest artist. I’m very honored to be among all the wonderful artists featured here. Thank you!
I’m a self-taught watercolorist based in Poland. My background is not connected with art. I have a master’s degree in Social Readaptation and in 2018, I’m finishing my second master’s degree in Indonesian and Malay Philology. I have never attended an art school. I’ve been painting since I can remember and it’s always been my hobby. I used to paint with oils and draw with graphite pencils.
There was also an episode with soft pastels too. But it was watercolors that I fell in love with. I discovered them in 2012, and since then, watercolor painting became my great passion.
I like to paint in a realistic style. Sometimes I read comments like “At first I thought it was a photo!”. That’s nice, because it means that my paintings are realistic enough to say exactly what they depict. On the other hand, people sometimes exaggerate saying that it’s like photorealism. It is not and I don’t even try to paint photorealistically. I like to call my style just realism with a touch of my spirit. In my paintings, I try to be precise and capture the essence of the subjects, which are usually flowers.
Why do I paint mostly flowers? I think it has something to do with my childhood. My father was an alcoholic (he stopped drinking a few years ago) and art was some kind of a shelter from problems. I very often visited my grandparents who grew beautiful flowers in the garden.
I still remember the smell of huge peonies, lilies and tulips. It was like an escape to a different, colorful world where everything was beautiful, sincere and innocent. Also my mom has always loved flowers and, many times, I painted them for her to make her happy. I still do.
I can paint flowers for hours. Each of them is different and tells a different story. The shapes of the petals, their colors and patterns always amaze me. In my paintings, I try to depict flowers realistically, trying to capture the incredible shapes of nature, but leaving some space for my interpretation. There is always that more creative part of the painting process than just reproducing the picture. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m not a hyperrealist. I always try to put in something of myself. My paintings always have a bit of my spirit.
My journey with painting flowers started with Janet Whittle’s Painting Flowers and Plants. When I first saw that book it was like magic came into my life. I saw how beautiful watercolor floral paintings can be. I read this book during one evening and I think it has influenced me and my style a lot. I wanted to paint like Janet. Her negative painting technique was completely abstract for me at that time, but I couldn’t stop looking at her paintings. I wanted to know how she did that, how to achieve similar effects. I started to absorb everything about watercolor painting from the Internet and books.
In 2014, I discovered a botanical style of painting and fell in love immediately. It turned out that I have enough patience to paint all the details. I started to read books about it, mostly from abroad, because here botanical style is not popular at all.
My first book about it was Billy Showell’s A-Z of Flower Portraits. It was the only book about this style in the Polish language (it is still the only one!). I was hooked. From my usual, floral style of painting, I went to another direction, which required even more precision. I really like to gradually build up something bigger from tiny bits and pieces. In 2016, a series of my botanical paintings was exhibited during the Museums at Night event in Gdańsk.
Botanical painting is very exciting, because I always learn something new about the subject I’m painting. In order to paint something correctly, you have to get to know the subject better. Here’s an example. When I was asked to paint 5 illustration for the Museums at Night event, the paintings had to refer to Maria Sibylla Merian’s artworks. My process of creating those five illustrations lasted about a year.
I wanted to know who exactly Maria was, how she was painting, what subjects she included in her paintings, how she made her compositions and so on. Later, when I tried to figure out what to paint, I did some research on each subject from my illustrations. And that was a very educational process! Did you know, that in China the Giant Atlas Moth (Attacus Atlas), which is the largest moth in the world, is called “snake’s head moth”? The name refers to the outer tips of the wings that look very similar to the head of a snake. That’s fascinating!
Patience is always my golden rule. Watercolor painting has taught me to be patient. When I started painting with watercolors, I had to finish a painting in one sitting. Now I can paint something even for a month, because I know that patience pays off. I’m often asked about how long it takes me to paint a painting. Of course it depends on how big and detailed the painting is. Here are some examples:
I think that the paper is the most important in watercolor painting. I always use 100% cotton paper, because other papers will not allow me to achieve similar results. I use both cold press and hot press papers, depending on what I’m painting. If it’s something in a botanical style, I always use hot press. My favorite hot press papers are Fabriano Artistico and Saunders Waterford (I’m planning to test Canson Heritage soon). My favorite cold press papers are Arches and Canson Fontenay.
There are several brushes which I use most frequently: Escoda Reserva #10 round, Raphael series 8408 #6 and #4 round, Winsor & Newton One Stroke 1” flat. Raphael brushes have an excellent point. They are very good brushes for fine details.
I always use professional watercolor paints and I carefully choose colors.
I’m a color junky and I try to be very conscious about the characteristics of paints. I always take a closer look at the pigments, not the brand, because I think the particular brand is not important when you use professional paints. All of them are excellent. What counts is the characteristic of the particular color. Most of my paints are Winsor & Newton, some colors are from Daniel Smith and one is from Schmincke Horadam.
There are four main steps in choosing the colors for my palette:
- Six basic colors (yellows: warm and cool, blues: warm and cool, reds: warm and cool)
- Earth tones, which are three shades of brown: yellowish brown, reddish brown and some dark brown
- Frequently used colors, like Permanent Rose or Quinacridone Gold
- Additional colors.
I love colors. My palette has never been limited. Nature creates so many beautiful colors, why should we restrain ourselves from experimenting with them.
At the moment I have three main palettes. One is a big porcelain one with 30 big wells. I think that porcelain/ceramic is the best surface for mixing watercolors. I very often use dishes, saucers or I have even found a ceramic candle stand which works excellent. I also have a metal box for 24 half pans. And my latest purchase is a Mijello palette with 33 wells.
I don’t like the stage of making a sketch. I like to use colors, I love colors and I want to paint straightaway. It happened many times that I avoided painting only because I knew I had to make a sketch. Not long ago, I finally bought a light pad (Huion, size A3) and my life is now much easier. I usually paint from photos, so I print out the photo, place it on the light pad, then watercolor paper on top and I just trace. It is so much faster and easier.
Painting from photos and using a light pad may be controversial for some, but in my opinion there is nothing wrong about it. I always say that if something can help you, just use it. I paint mostly from my own photos. In many cases it’s just not possible to paint from a real object. When I travel I take hundreds of photos, why shouldn’t I use them? There are also many websites and groups where people share their wonderful photos under CC0 license or similar (for example Paint My Photo or Pixabay).
I share my process of painting on my YouTube and my blog. You can find many photos from works in progress where I explain what colors I use and I show how I apply them in layers.
Example: Melitaea Didyma Butterfly
I always start from the lightest parts of a subject. In this case the butterfly’s wings have three main colors: very pale creamy color, orange and black. Keeping in mind that it’s impossible to apply a lighter color on top of the darker one, I started with a very pale wash of Naples Yellow Deep PBr24. When this layer dried, I added the orange parts on top.
The next step was to add some shadows, before adding the darkest darks. A mix of Naples Yellow Deep PBr24 with French Ultramarine PB29 worked here as my shadow color. Instead of Naples Yellow Deep, I could have used Burnt Sienna (which makes a grey with French Ultramarine), but I like to keep within my color scheme. If I know that I can create a color with the colors I have already used, I’m not looking for a different one.
Before adding blacks, I painted the head and the body of the butterfly. I used white tempera with a touch of blue watercolor to paint the hairs. At the bottom part of the body I used a beautiful mix of Phthalo Blue Green Shade PB15 with Cobalt Turquoise Light PG50.
Finally, I used black to paint dark patterns. My favorite black is a mix of Perylene Green PBk31 and Pyrrol Crimson PR264.
I apply many layers of paint. Usually the first one is applied wet-on-wet to map in the colors and leave the highlights. The next layers are wet-on-wet or wet-on-dry depending on the particular area. At the end, I usually take a look at a whole piece and I add shadows, unifying glazes or additional layers of stronger colors.
I like to build up the shapes by slowly adding one layer on top of another. This way we can achieve realistic results. The layers are very thin, otherwise it’s easy to overwork. And the golden rule is always the same: allow each layer to dry completely before adding another one. This is very important.
I also have a sketchbook. The one I’m currently using is a Stillman & Birn Zeta series with hot press paper. I bought it with the idea of urban sketching in my mind, but it quickly became a sketchbook for everything. I genuinely admire watercolor sketches of others. I have always been in awe with Brenda Swenson’s sketchbooks. Absolutely gorgeous sketches. I use my sketchbook for sketching obviously, but also for color testing. If I’m working on something complex, it happens that I first make some color tests in my sketchbook, to see if the colors are correct.
I’ve always loved to share my experience and knowledge. On my blog I’m posting photos of works in progress explaining what I’m doing. I also upload tutorials and demos on my YouTube channel (most of them with captions as English is not my native language).
My followers have also encouraged me to set up my lessons at Teachable, which I did at the beginning of 2017. Teachable is a very user-friendly platform. The lessons are more organized, detailed and I somehow found courage to record my voiceover, so it’s easier to follow the videos.
In August 2017, I’m going to Indonesia for a one year scholarship. This will be the last year of my studies and after coming back, I am planning to dedicate myself to art much more than now and create more classes. I will have more time for art and I can’t wait for that! I want to share my joy of watercolors with others!