How to Collect
Original Watercolors

Watercolor — a painting medium in which pigment is combined with water — is sometimes considered as preparatory, a sketching medium for oil painters. However, watercolor has long been known and used as a striking technique in its own right, enlightening in terms of artistic prowess. Painters such as William Turner (1789-1862) mastered the medium and its exceptional relationship with paper. In his comprehensive and complete guide to works on paper, Looking at Prints, Drawings and Watercolors, Paul Goldman writes that the “brilliancy of pure watercolor occurs because its translucent nature allows the white surface of the paper to be used as the lighting agent.” In stunning contrast to oil or acrylic painting, in which light must be artificially created on the canvas surface, light and illumination are inherent to watercolor. Today, contemporary watercolorists exploit this fantastical glow through diverse styles and aesthetics.

While watercolors or preparatory watercolor works used for oil painting are most often found at auction or historic galleries, contemporary watercolor works are available at contemporary fine art galleries on the Internet and elsewhere. Given their delicate, subtle nuance in color and light, it is generally best to observe a watercolor in person before purchasing, but high-quality gallery websites such as do allow for careful study and scrutiny. Guides such as Goldman’s Looking at Prints, Drawings and Watercolors serve as in-depth educational tools for those who want to develop an understanding of the medium, and watercolor collectors should educate themselves so that they can appreciate and judge prospective purchases. However, in order to truly build a relationship with a watercolor work, and to subsequently form a meaningful and lasting collection of the medium, collectors must become immersed in the watercolorist’s work and aesthetic through constant and practiced looking.

Collectors must train their eyes for quality in watercolor, searching out balanced use of water, pigment and binder. Binder (the substance used to collate pigment to the painting support, or paper) can be altered and exploited through the artist’s use of additives such as chalk or wax. Contemporary watercolorists explore the possibilities of watercolor, washing paper in loose, faint hues with profuse water, or dryly tempering their compositions with brushy, saturated color. Light is radiant in watercolor works, and collectors should appreciate the artist’s economical or effusive treatment of paper.

Given their fragility, watercolors should be treated with caution. Paper can easily tear, and should be mounted on a support with non-acidic tape and framed. Watercolors should be kept in an air-conditioned room out of sun or artificial light. Perhaps more than any other medium, watercolor is collected by those who have a love of color, light and unlimited aesthetic possibilities.
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This article was written for ARTmine by Leah Triplett.

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