michael solovyev marina

GUEST ARTIST: “The Sunny Watercolorist” by Michael Solovyev

My name is Michael Solovyev and people sometimes call me a “sunny watercolorist,” as my airy, transparent artworks look as though they emit the sunlight. My traditional academic art education, extensive experience as a head theater stage designer, and career as an oil painter inform my priority as a watercolor artist – light. Now I travel with my watercolor workshops, demos, and exhibitions all around the world, from Chile to Italy to Australia. I believe that sometimes even a pile of rubbish with beautiful lighting can become an artwork.

Michael Solovyev, Roman, 30x22 in, 2021 - Watercolor

I started off my art career as a head theater stage designer and made more than 50 plays before moving to Canada. The idea of theater art is still very much with me – that is where my understanding of visual arts comes from. In theater, everything is different – the main part is the light and how subjects are presented in it, and not the subjects in themselves.

Thus, the main subject I depict is light. Turn off the lights, and you won’t see anything. People can see only because lighting exists. Any subject can become a piece of art or a piece of trash, depending on whether you present it right, like any culinary dish.

I consider watercolor the most interesting medium because it is the only material on the whole planet where I am not solely responsible for the creative process. The water does most of the work, and I form a partnership with it. Watercolor is exactly like theater – a collective co‐ creation of actors, directors, composers, lighting techs, and artists working in unison. With oil, I am solely responsible for everything – what I did will stay that way.

michael solovyev snow scene

Watercolor, on the other hand, flows – it exists in time, it is an alive being. It does not always produce results I necessarily want, but since it is my partner, I must accept it, use it, and work together with it. It makes the process of co‐ creation truly interesting. In all other branches of visual arts, this element is missing. Watercolor is the only medium that exists in time, where materials permeate one another, and it makes the process feel alive.

michael solovyev rainy church

I see my work as an artist as exploration and observation of the world and its presentation, in such a way that others can see the things I saw. I think being an artist is one of the most interesting jobs in the world. Today, I would like to tell you how the history of watercolor paints informs a set of classic rules that need to be bent and broken to uncover the full potential of the medium.

Michael Solovyev, Glare, 22x30 in, 2021 - Watercolor

When Europe first encountered watercolor, which came from China, there was a slight metamorphosis. It began to be used just the way we used oil paints. So the classic watercolor is based on the same rules for mixing colors as oil. However, the materials are completely different. Thus ideally, all the rules for mixing colors and building a palette should be based on the main features of watercolor ‐ its transparency, purity, and lightness.

forest river watercolor painting

So in spite of all my academic education with oils, I had to relearn how to paint with watercolor. I had to reformulate mixture making and other techniques to follow completely different rules and laws. Sometimes I even had to invent them.

A simple example ‐ traditionally in the palette of an oil painter, Ochres, Natural or Burnt Siennas and Umbers prevail. Following that tradition, they also migrated to the watercolor palettes. But alas, they are not at all rich, nor transparent, and the paper under these mixtures will never glow ‐ after all, they are made on the basis of clay and earth.

beach scene watercolor painting

Watercolor, on the other hand, is an airy medium. That’s why I don’t have a single brown color in my palette, even though browns cover a fairly large surface area of my watercolor works. I just mix my browns, usually by using no more than two transparent colors, making them all light and transparent. As a result, you will always see how the paper shines through even the darkest areas of my blends.

Once you understand that color purity, saturation and transparency are the main conditions for obtaining airy watercolor mixtures, you will inevitably begin a careful selection of the paints you use, based on their quality. That is why my palette only contains pure and transparent DANIEL SMITH colors. After all, if you can use the best of what is possible, why not do it? A great steak needs the best meat, doesn’t it?

cloudy sky watercolor painting

As a result of a long but completely natural selection, I obtained my minimal palette, which covers 80% of my color needs. Moreover, its colors are sometimes completely unusable by themselves. For example, you will never find a color like Phthalo Green (Blue Shade) in nature. By itself, it resembles a child’s felt‐tip pen color, which is unlikely to be used in painting. However, it is simply irreplaceable and perfect in mixtures. With any transparent yellow, orange, or reddish color, it turns into a clear and light watercolor. For example, try mixing Phthalo Green with Indian Yellow or Quinacridone Sienna for a wonderful, juicy color. You can obtain an even more complex dark green (ideal for shadows) by mixing it with Perylene Violet. That is not a standard combination at all, is it?

Alexander, 40x40 in, 2022 - Watercolor

From here I deduced the main rule by which I build my palette. It doesn’t matter how good or bad the color is by itself. It is important what mixtures you can get based on it.


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Michael Solovyev, Self-Portrait, 22x15 in, 2022 - Watercolor

My three main colors are Quinacridone Sienna, Perylene Violet and Indigo. I call them my primary colors – you already know what these are. I concede that, Quinacridone Sienna is not yellow, Indigo is not blue, and Perylene Violet is not red. However, I reckon they are quite close. The principle of mixing is the same. These are almost traditional CMY (cyan‐magenta‐yellow) colors. The difference is they are 100% transparent and pure, and blends based on them are complex, rich and very natural.

You could say the 10 colors from my DANIEL SMITH Master Artist Set are like my fingertips, as I prefer having them at my fingertips. These colors permit me to control my light and create any shades and tones. The light, as well as the shadows, that I get are equally transparent. After all, from my point of view, watercolor is painting with light and light is transparent.

Michael Solovyev
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10 thoughts on “GUEST ARTIST: “The Sunny Watercolorist” by Michael Solovyev

  1. Amazing, the first one with the light shinning, is so powerful. The other ones too, each one special in a different way. I like how you captured the man smoking and the one with the clouds – brilliant.

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