Watercolor (American English) or watercolor (Commonwealth and Ireland), also aquarelle from French, is a painting method. A watercolor is the medium or the resulting artwork in which the paints are made of pigments suspended in a water-soluble vehicle. The traditional and most common support for watercolor paintings is paper; other supports include papyrus, bark papers, plastics, vellum or leather, fabric, wood, and canvas. Watercolors are usually transparent, and appear luminous because the pigments are laid down in a relatively pure form with few fillers obscuring the pigment colors. Watercolor can also be made opaque by adding Chinese white. In East Asia, watercolor painting with inks is referred to as brush painting or scroll painting. In Chinese, Korean, and Japanese painting it has been the dominant medium, often in monochrome black or browns. India, Ethiopia and other countries also have long traditions. Finger-painting with watercolor paints originated in China.
Although watercolor painting is extremely old, dating perhaps to the cave paintings of paleolithic Europe, and has been used for manuscript illumination since at least Egyptian times but especially in the European Middle Ages, its continuous history as an art medium begins in the Renaissance. The German Northern Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) who painted several fine botanical, wildlife and landscape watercolors, is generally considered among the earliest exponents of the medium. An important school of watercolor painting in Germany was led by Hans Bol (1534–1593) as part of the Dürer Renaissance.
Despite this early start, watercolors were generally used by Baroque easel painters only for sketches, copies or cartoons (full-scale design drawings). Among notable early practitioners of watercolor painting were Van Dyck (during his stay in England), Claude Lorrain, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, and many Dutch and Flemish artists. However, Botanical illustrations and those depicting wildlife are perhaps the oldest and most important tradition in watercolor painting. Botanical illustrations became popular in the Renaissance, both as hand tinted woodblock illustrations in books or broadsheets and as tinted ink drawings on vellum or paper. Botanical artists have always been among the most exacting and accomplished watercolor painters, and even today watercolors—with their unique ability to summarize, clarify and idealize in full color—are used to illustrate scientific and museum publications. Wildlife illustration reached its peak in the 19th century with artists such as John James Audubon, and today many naturalist field guides are still illustrated with watercolor paintings. Many watercolors are more vibrant in pigment if they are higher quality. Some British market watercolors can be found in many craft stores In America and in other countries too.
Abu kalam Shamsuddin