JCU Logo


COURSE NAME: "Painting with Water-based Media"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2019

INSTRUCTOR: William Pettit
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TH 12:30-3:15 PM

This course introduces the use of inks, watercolor, and other transparent water-based paints on paper. Elementary drawing and painting principles will be reviewed, including basic color theory and the rendering of form through modulations of light and dark. Technical practice focuses on understanding the watery nature of these media, the interactions between pigments, water, and paper, and the expressive potential of spontaneous gestures. Emphasis is placed on planning, composition, and the use of preparatory pencil drawings. The subject matter is generally drawn from direct observation, and may include any of the traditional genres of still-life, portraiture, landscape, interiors, figure studies, etc. The spontaneous nature of water-based media assists in significant ways in the development of a personal vision with method and intention.

The particular qualities of water-based media demand an approach very different from pencil drawing or oil painting. Each class treats a new aspect of materials, associated techniques, and artistic possibilities. Students will paint from observation both in and out of class in such genres as the still life, the nude, landscape, portrait, etc. On-site excursions will address problems in landscape, rendering architecture, and depicting nature. Inspiration will come from many historical examples, including Far Eastern traditions. Italy, and Rome in particular, offer important models.


Every class begins with a brief presentation and demonstration of issues such as: using preliminary thumbnail sketches and pencil underdrawings, planning compositions, maintaining the integrity of the original white surface, building layers of transparent color, observing light and dark and utilizing chiaroscuro, cultivating spontaneity and freedom of execution, and studying historic and contemporary examples.


In-class painting exercises and assignments will be supplemented by group critiques and museum visits. Like all studio classes, much of the work will be executed outside of class, in the form of homework assignments. Class discussions and group critiques serve to evaluate and analyze work, increase awareness, sensitivity, and skill in communication.


By the end of the course students will be familiar with the materials and basic techniques of painting with water-based media, will have produced a small personal body of work, and will be aware of historical and contemporary artists in these genres.

They will have acquired:

·      Skill in painting from observation

·      Skill in manipulating color and basic color theory

·      Experience with various paint handling methods

·      Increased visual sensitivity

·      Improved visual problem-solving and communication strategies, and sharpened artistic judgment


MidtermThe portfolio of paintings created over the semester is assessed in two stages Midterm assessment and critique 50% Final assessment and critique 50% Assessment Details Each assessment and critique is based on Quantity and development of work produced (40% of course grade) Producing a large body of work by itself practically guarantees progress Technical skill (40% of course grade) Acuity of observation, concision, complexity, improvement, spatial clarity Artistic quality (20% of course grade) Commitment, range of experimentation, resourcefulness, inventiveness, expressiveness 50
Final 50

AWork of this quality shows excellent mastery of the course content along with exceptional levels of technical skill, artistic awareness, originality, resourcefulness, commitment, quantity of work and improvement. There has been excellent collaboration and leadership in group projects, and there have been no attendance problems.
BA highly competent level of performance with work that directly addresses the content of the course, with a good quantity of work produced.
CAn acceptable level of performance: the work shows awareness of the course content, but is very limited in quantity, quality, commitment and skill.
DThe student lacks a coherent grasp of the course material and has failed to produce much work.
FNegligent in attendance, academic honesty, engagement with the course content, or production of work.

Attendance is mandatory.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Students are expected to spend at least 3 hours a week outside of class time on assigned projects. Details of assignments will be given each week

Week 1

Introduction to materials, with demonstration of simple techniques.

Week 2

Initial exercises in black and white using ink.

Line, tone, value.  Understanding positive and negative space.

Week 3

Exercises in black and white using in continued.

Line vs. tonal value, greyscale. Compositional exercises. Thumbnail sketches, pencil preparatory and under-drawing

Week 4

Asian traditions and the calligraphic mark

Slide presentation: Asian techniques, aesthetics, and influence. Suminagashi exercises

Week 5

On-site class

Complex compositions and simplification of visual information

Organic and inorganic subject matter

Week 6

Midterm critique and discussion. Group critique of work to date

Week 7

Introduction to watercolors, including presentation of images

Basic color theory. Chromatic black vs black

Week 8

Watercolor continued

In-class exercises using the still life: light to dark and transparency, and volume/form

Week 9

Museum visit (details to be established)

Week 10

On-site painting class

Depicting surface reflections of water. Depicting water in the landscape

Week 11

Watercolor continued: the figure

Basic proportions, portraiture, flesh tones

Week 12

Watercolor continued, the figure

The figure in space, group compositions

Week 13

Other applications of water-based media: Fresco demonstration and exercises

Week 14

Finalization of the portfolio Setup for end of semester student art show

Week 15

Final critique