I had my weekly Ridgewood Community School watercolor class tonight and wanted to share my demo and a lesson on brushstroke economy.
Today's lesson was focused on John Singer Sargent. I've studied a lot about Sargent and I'm always impressed with how efficiently he worked. We talked in class tonight about midtones (also called halftones) and we discussed the idea of brushstroke economy. Sargent was a master of midtones and he wrote "You must classify the values...If you begin with the middle-tone and work up to the lights and down towards the darks -- so that you deal last with your highest lights and darkest darks -- you avoid false accents."
Now to discuss brushstroke economy; I think this is one of the most important lessons in all of painting, but especially for watercolor painting. I first learned about this idea in college in a class with Patrick Connors. I loved Professor Connors' class because he emphasized traditional techniques. He told us about Frans Hals (1582 - 1666) and how he would lay down a brushstroke and leave it. This lesson was taught to Sargent by his teacher, Carolus Duran (1837 - 1917) as well. This goes well with midtones because you can lay down a broad midtone and then start sculpting the form with singular brushstrokes au premier coup (on the first try).
A lot of translations of au premier coup that I've seen have related it to alla prima, but they're different according to what I've read in the book, The Painter in Oil by Daniel Burleigh Parkhurst. Parkhurst writes that au premier coup means to lay down a brushstroke and then leave it and to build up the brushstrokes in a mosaic fashion. Alla prima only means that the painting is completed in a single sitting, but au premier coup isn't necessarily in one sitting.
That's my lesson for today, have a good week everyone.