Lines and Colors art blog

Eye Candy for Today: Andrew Wyeth drybrush & watercolor

Flat Boat, Andrew Wyeth, watercolor and drybrush

Flat Boat, Andrew Wyeth, watercolor and drybrush, details

Flat Boat, Andrew Wyeth

Watercolor and drybrush, roughly 22 x 29 inches (56 x 74 cm). Image and link is from a 2013 Christie’s auction sale.

While I don’t always respond as strongly to his more formal and conceptual works, I very much like Andrew Wyeth’s watercolors and drybrush watercolors, in which he is just directly observing from nature and interpreting what he sees in simple, often spare compositions.

This is a combination of both traditional fluid transparent watercolor, and drybrush, in which passages — particularly those involving texture — are built up with short multiple strokes applied with most of the paint wiped from the brush before application.

Flat Boat, Christie’s


9 responses to “Eye Candy for Today: Andrew Wyeth drybrush & watercolor”

  1. He makes it look so easy. The restraint, the limited palette, the unusual composition, the light ….

  2. Visited the Rembrandt house on Friday and it was a dream come true.
    The Petronella Buys portrait was the dream.

    Andrew Wyeth is another of my favourites.

  3. Andrew and Betsy Wyeth crafted the terms “drybrush” and “tempera” to refer to his work. To my understanding they use the terms differently than others have in the past. “Tempera” doesn’t mean poster paint, but rather “egg tempera.” And “drybrush” seems to be a broad, inclusive term for watercolor that allows for gouache and other enhancements. It’s not necessarily dry.

    1. Thanks, James.

      Yes, these are terms that get used in multiple interpretations, and are somewhat confusing. I’ve been trying to get a better understanding of “drybrush” (or “dry brush” as I often see it used), and it’s led me to Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite watercolorists who painted those extraordinarily textured works that are often simply labeled as “watercolor”, like William Henry Hunt and Marie Spartali Stillman.

      I found the Dry Brush technique video preview from botanical astist Elaine Searle on this page (scroll down) instructive in that regard, but I still don’t know how much of that applies to Wyeth’s technique. Some of it has a look of texture that may be “drybrush” in that sense, but certainly not all.

      I have noticed that those watercolors of Wyeth’s I’ve seen that are labeled “drybrush” have characteristics different from his other watercolors. I really should try to inquire through the Brandywine River Museum’s library and see what I can find.

      1. I ran this by a Brandywine curator on “Curator’s day” but they just mentioned the traditional drybrush technique. I’m certain you are correct that there are more elements to his approach, perhaps combining gouache, wax, scratching and whatever else works in a manner somewhat similar to that of Sargent. The Brandywine curator was unfortunately unaware of any resources for Wyeth’s drybrush technique in the way that that there are some for his tempera technique.

  4. I too would be an enthused student for anything the Brandywine staff could indulge us with on Andrew’s drybrush techniques. It’s sad that they don’t know. His son Jamie could tell us. ๐Ÿ™‚ I suspect his methods were truly plural; he might have had a dozen approaches to working with thicker pigments on a splayed, almost dry brush. You can see the size of his tiny brush – a 4 or a 6? – while working on a drybrush portrait of Thomas Hoving in this video:

    1. Thanks, Belinda. I didn’t know that existed. I’ve been trying to compare whatever I can find out about Wyeth’s drybrush technique (which I think, as James Gurney suggests, is actually a grab bag of techniques) with drybrush watercolor techniques of Victorian still life artists, some contemporary botanical artists and certain Victorian (particularly Pre-Raphaelite) watercolor portraiture. I think there is a common thread of small brushes wiped almost dry and applied with a stipple effect. I don’t see much stipple in Wyeth, but I think there is a commonality between his drybrush watercolor textures and the typical hatching with small quickly drying strokes that is often applied in egg tempera.

      1. I just found this passage of Wyeth describing his technique to Hoving:

        Drybrush is for more contemplative works (as compared with watercolor, n.d.r.), or when a work arrives at a profound emotional stage. “I use a smaller brush, dip into the color, splay out the bristles, squeeze out a good deal of the moisture and color with my fingers so that only a very small amount of paint is left.” Drybrush is layer upon layer โ€” a definite “weaving process.”