Maryland artist Ken Karlic lets randomness in his painting technique provide a gritty feeling to urban scenes and similar subject matter. Here’s how he does it.
Lead Image: “Main Line Collision,” by Ken Karlic, watercolor, 22 x 30 in.
“Joseph Zbukvic said, ‘If you let it, watercolor will paint itself,'” says Karlic. “That’s easier said than done, but if you let it go, it will go.” Karlic does a fairly detailed underdrawing, and then freely applies washes, charging colors into one another and spattering and spraying water on the surface to create a sense of energy and spontaneity in the painting. “I introduce one color into another and let them figure out which color is going to lead and which will follow,” he says. “I paint fairly vertically, so there are dribbles and runs. There’s a whole painterly experience that I thrive on, that I love. I try to get the excitement and energy I feel when painting into the piece itself. There’s controlled chaos. I draw first, fairly accurately so the proportions make sense, then in a painterly way I break out of all that drawing. I like the contrast of the control and the chaos.”
Karlic put this approach to good use recently at the Paint It! Ellicott City plein air event in Maryland. An industrial building vibrated with subtle color variations; two old trucks boasted convincing rust. “Watercolor really lends itself to gritty subject matter,” says the artist. “I enjoy the weathering of materials, the look of old barns and classic vehicles. Sometimes I splash in thin washes really fast, then build up levels of opacity. I like the randomness of flicking some paint off of my fingers, whether it is a thick slurry of paint or thinned watercolor. I’ll scrub it out with a wet brush or scratch it with a fingernail.
“There is so much to watercolor.”