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COURSE NAME: "Painting with Water-based Media"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2021

INSTRUCTOR: William Pettit
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: T 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.


Course Schedule

Students are expected to follow weekly posts on Moodle, as the schedule may change according to student input and updates to course format. Details of assignments will be given each week.



1.     The Act of Art

Introduction to course and materials

The Act of Art and simple techniques.

Gesture and language

Kinds of Ink (Part 1). Oak gall and fermented inks, lamp black

Research: Cennini, The Craftsman’s Handbook, Herzog, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams 

Assignment: tonal scales, write a letter with a brush, and first paintings, only lines


2.      Heaven and Earth

Positive and Negative space

Line vs. Tone. 

Kinds of Ink (Part 2). Carbon (burnt) blacks

Shadows and silhouettes / foreground and background

Research: Silhouettes in Greek pottery, 19th century portraiture, Christian Boltanski, Kara Walker

Assignment: positive and negative paintings, silhouettes and self-portrait, eliminate lines


3.     Critique 1

Research: relevant to critique, Oriental Painting text

Assignment: Making and using pens and brushes, Homemade inks, part 1 


4.     Life and Death

Still Life vs Natura Morta

Exercises in black and white using ink continued.

Line plus tone, value, greyscale. Compositional exercises (thumbnails)

Time and texture in still life

Kinds of Ink (part 3). Organics, Sepia, Cochineal

Research: purpose of still life, Roman to Renaissance, Italian to Dutch 

Assignments: still life: something living and something dead; homemade inks, part 2


5.      Land and Landscape

Elements of the landscape, geology

On-site class TBA

Complex compositions and simplification of visual information

Organic and inorganic subject matter

Research: David Hockey on Van Gogh, Romanticism in Europe and America

Assignment: geological and flora inventory and sketches, landscape paintings


6.      Critique 2, Midterm

Group critique of work to date

Research: relevant to critique, Le Clair text

Assignment: watercolors, color wheel and neutrals (swatches)


7.      Sea and Seascape

Introduction to color and watercolors

Basic color theory. Chromatic black vs black, neutrals and compliments

The horizon and water: seas and rivers

Research: John Singer Sargent in Venice, JWM Turner, Gloucester artists, Charles Olson (video)

Assignment: On site paintings in watercolor


8.     Making watercolors

Inks vs watercolors vs dyes, oil paint and egg tempera

How materials effect styles, Florence vs. Venice

Research: Icon painting, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Grand Tour (Corot)

Assignment: Continue making watercolors, paintings in watercolor


9.     Critique 3

Research and Assignments relevant to critique

Research Project Due



10.   Architecture and Habitat

Architecture: Space, structure, geometry

Social spaces and change

On-site painting, 

Research: Monet, Soleri and Arcosanti, Land Art, Environmental Art

Goldsworthy, Turrel, Agnes Denes, Nancy Holt

Assignment: environment vs structure, watercolor


11.  People and Portraits

Basic proportions, portraiture, flesh tones

Figure painting and pose


Research: Durer, Gentileschi, Manet, Lucien Freud

Assignment: portrait and self-portrait, watercolor


12.  Critique 4 

Research and Assignments relative to critique


13.  Before and Beyond

Other applications of water-based media: 

Egg tempera, Fresco, Encaustic

Fresco demonstration and exercises

Materials of transformation

Contemporary applications of ancient media

Research: Peter Flaccus, Altoon Sultan, Arte Povera

Assignment: work on portfolio


14.  Final Portfolio Presentations