The definition of pure watercolour is, according to dictionary.com:
watersoluble pigment, applied in transparent washes and without the admixture of white pigment in the lighter tones. The number 1 definition of pure is: free from anything of a different, inferior, or contaminating kind; freefrom extraneous matter.
Definitions in other online dictionaries and on my Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists amount to the same thing.
This being said there is a grey area between what constitutes pure watercolour and crossing the line into mixed media. There are opaque colours such as cerulean blue, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow, even Chinese white which come under the classification of watercolours. It’s true that the depth and luminosity possible with transparent colours are not possible with opaque colours, but they are still used by most so called ‘pure watercolourists’ in moderation. Even so there are still no fillers ie chalk added to opaque watercolours, rather it is due to the type of pigment in them. However it seems to me that they do not fit into the dictionary definition/s above. In my view, once the line is crossed into the use of any additive whatsoever including masking mediums, salt and abrasive materials then that must be mixed media. Perhaps cling film, rags, tissues, sponges for various effects would be acceptable as they are just another tool to add or remove paint, as brushes are.
Advantages of pure watercolour are its speed so is good for capturing fleeting moments – things that move like animals or change quickly such as weather. Plus it is easy to transport . a disadvantage would be that it is difficult to correct mistake without spoiling its translucency. Old masters like Thomas Girtin, John Sell Cotman and of course J.M.W. Turner were masters at creating wonderful effects with their great expertise.
Mixed media – as an example take Floc by Claire Parrish, which won a prize in the 2016 RWS Contemporary Watercolour Competition. She describes her materials as follows:
I use polyester drawing film, conte, graphite, charcoal, retouching varnish, wax crayon, carbon paper, collage, conte wash and water stain
The compostition of materials in Floc seem to imply the inclusion of water media rather than watercolour to me, as there is no mention of actual watercolour being used as a medium.
I saw another example of mixed media containing bizzare looking pale figures by Kathy Prendergast, forming part of an ongoing exhibition in the watercolour room of Crawford Gallery, Cork http://www.crawfordartgallery.ie/pages/watercolour/Kathy_Prendergast.html
Media: watercolour, pencil and gold leaf
When I went into the room almost at once I noticed this quite large painting had distinct differences to many of the pure watercolours dotted around the walls in that it was much more contemporary looking.
It forms part of a series made during the 1980’s apparently depicting the human form in association with the landscape of Ireland, particularly boggy landscape and its connection with archaeology.
Areas of light transparent watercolour juxtapose and contrast strongly with more solid looking opaque mid and dark tones, where to add further interest a little gold leaf has been added here and there. I think knowing what it is about it would appear to hint that a figure is submerged in the bog or of being sucked into it, which is alongside a similar transparent distorted figure, conversely seeming to suggest its emergence.
Why not use acrylics and even oils with watercolour? The first two for opaque effects and watercolour for the transparent. This painting of a wave Jean Tripier is an example:
Whereas Nathaniel Hone (1831-1917) was a master of the traditional pure watercolour. Disappointingly, when I visited Crawford Gallery he was only represented by one small example on display: Moor in May – a traditional landscape exhibited in a horizontal glass case. He was a master at capturing fleeting impressions of nature, which were spontaneous and often sparse yet vigorously executed, this was one such example. It was not possible to find the actual painting online but this one ‘A Plain’ is very similar:
This one certainly looks quite sparse but it is evident it has been painted quickly as it looks so fresh and lively.
Nathaniel Hone catalogue featuring pure watercolour landscapes :http://www.gorrygallery.ie/catalogs/hone.pdf
James Fletcher Watson (1913 – 2004) is an example of a more contemporary artist who painted mostly traditional landscapes in pure watercolour.
The medium used for these portraits by Frances Chapman is described as watercolour only. I cannot work out how the artist cleverly obtained the intriquing effects – http://www.franceschapman.co.uk/portraits.html
Barbara Nicholls who paints abstracts, has used techniques of using watercolour on large sheets of paper by dropping paint into puddles of water. She leaves the paint to settle where a line then forms on the edges of the puddle. This sounds quite simple but I’m sure it is anything but.
Other works include more recently: http://www.barbaranicholls.co.uk/editions/index/id/5565811982320951617