Painting with watercolor and oil
Julie Gilbert Pollard, "Oak Creek at Crescent Moon Ranch IV," 2008, oil, 8 x 10 in., available from Espirit Decor Gallery, Phoenix, AZ; studio from plein air study. "Having first sketched and painted the scene in watercolor on location," Julie says, "I later made this studio piece in oil."

Painting a favorite scene many times, and in different mediums such was watercolor or oil, can teach you a lot about the subject and help hone your approach to capturing its essence in your work.

Building Skills Through Repetition — and Discovery

By Julie Gilbert Pollard

As water cascades over rocks and boulders, making its way downstream along a mountain slope, we’re gifted with the music, fragrances, and visually stunning sights it provides. With all our senses engaged, we landscape artists are in heaven. We want so desperately to capture this big, beautiful experience, yet all we have at our disposal is a canvas or piece of paper and a few colors. As much as we’d like our experience of the scene to fall spontaneously from our brush, desire is not enough, joy in the process is not enough. Our skills have to catch up with our vision.

For all of us, the study of painting is ongoing. One way I continue to build skills is by painting the same subject, sometimes even the same composition, in both watercolor and oil. Oil, with its more forgiving opaque covering power, and watercolor, a translucent medium, require very different materials, procedures, techniques, and thought processes. Thinking “dark to light” in one painting, then reversing to “light to dark” in the next, stretches and challenges my approach. I learn so much about the mediums, the subject matter, and the process of painting in general.

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To be sure, watercolor and oil are different in many aspects, and yet — paint is paint. The two mediums may just have more in common than not. Both require:

• Shape-making and drawing skills, which go hand-in-hand with “brain-to-eye-to-hand-to-pencil or brush coordination”
• Learning to organize and design those shapes into a composition, using time-honored principles and elements of design
• Learning to see and use color in terms of value
• A knowledge of color theory and color mixing
• Learning to see both positive and negative shapes
• And above all, the ability to simplify

Julie Gilbert Pollard, "Oak Creek at Briar Patch XVII," 2019, watercolor, 10 x 14 in., Available from artist, Studio.
Julie Gilbert Pollard, “Oak Creek at Briar Patch XVII,” 2019, watercolor, 10 x 14 in., Available from artist, Studio

Oak Creek at Briar Patch XVII: Not far north of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, spring-fed Oak Creek burbles and cascades its way down through Oak Creek Canyon, through Sedona, and onward until it empties into the Verde River. I delight in painting its enchanting splashes, pools, and swift passages, both while standing on its rocky banks and from photos I’ve taken there.

Julie Gilbert Pollard, "Oak Creek at Briar Patch XXVII," 2022, oil, 10 x 8 in., available from artist, Plein air
Julie Gilbert Pollard, “Oak Creek at Briar Patch XXVII,” 2022, oil, 10 x 8 in., available from artist, Plein air

Oak Creek at Briar Patch XXVII: For various reasons, I’m not often able to begin and finish a painting on location. This plein air piece was started in 2021, but I never had time to finish it in the studio. When vacationing at the same place the following year, I took my “start” along, set up at the same creekside site, and finished Oak Creek at Briar Patch XXVII.

The eye may see as a camera “sees,” but the mind’s eye sees an altered, imagined image, what it wants and hopes to see. It’s that illusive image, uniquely mine, that I try to express in my paintings.

Visit Julie Gilbert Pollard’s website at


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