BACKGROUND – Becoming a watercolour artist
Prior to becoming a full-time watercolour artist, I was the financial director of an engineering organisation that myself and my husband started. Obviously, very different to the art industry, I had very little time for other interests and pursuits and my love of painting. Furthermore, raising a family took a lot of my time and my passion for painting sat on the back burner and remained unfulfilled. For over twenty years I didn’t pick up a paintbrush which saddened me, however, the desire to paint never left me. It wasn’t until moving home to a beautiful location and stunning views of the rolling landscape of Shropshire that I started to paint again. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to run an after-school painting club, which I managed for two years, every week. Almost the whole school was attending and seeing the confidence the pupils had in me really spurred me on, in addition to this, it gave me the confidence to finally take the step and pursue the thing I am most passionate about, art.
After twenty years, picking up a paintbrush was a daunting and strange feeling, however, it didn’t take me long to fall back into it. Overall, I am a self-taught watercolour artist. This has been the best way for me to learn and develop my own style and technique as there are no boundaries. I most love the luminosity and subtle layers of colour which I can achieve with watercolour paint and therefore, this is why it is my chosen medium.
IDEAS AND INSPIRATIONS
When people ask me where my ideas and inspiration comes from, there are often surprised to hear, anywhere! This could be even whilst I’m doing something simple like the washing up or gardening. Anything can encourage my creativity and I always quickly jot them down or complete a small sketch. I have a vast collection of sketches that I have yet to turn into finished paintings.
However, in general, I am most inspired by the nature around us. One of my favourite things to do is take long walks in the hills of Shropshire and sketch as I walk. I tend to sketch whatever attracts my attention with the overall aim of re-creating the feeling I had when I go on to paint the scenes. I love to incorporate all hues into my paintings such as all the colours of a sunset including the orange and purple tones. I absolutely adore the technical challenges of being a watercolour artist. I also believe that every brushstroke of any painting, including my own, has its own story to tell.
In terms of artists whose work I admire, American watercolour artist, Andrew Wyeth is a big inspiration to me. I appreciate the sense of mood he captures in his simple compositions. In addition to this, I enjoy the works of Albrecht Durer. Not only was he technically good in his paintings but he creates beautiful subtle tones which create movement. Overall, in terms of landscape artists, I enjoy the works of Allan Ingham and Helen Attingham. Additionally, I appreciate the light and dark tones of Turner’s and Caravaggio’s paintings. However, this list of artists I respect could continue on for a long time!
FROM SKETCH TO PAINTING
Before I commence with painting, I initially sketch and layout any ideas I have. However, I generally don’t like to ‘waste time’ by analysing things and really would rather proceed with the painting. Although, with watercolour, you can’t afford to make mistakes and you cannot just paint over or scrape mistakes off such as you could do when painting with oils.
After completing an initial, brief sketch in pencil, I make a note of all the white and highlighted areas. Due to my pure watercolour technique, these are to be left unpainted. Leading on from this, I then mix my palettes. This is always with just three colour, red, yellow and blue. I don’t use any white or black pigment in my paintings so I begin to paint the undertones of colour into my image.
So once I have a simple pencil layout of a landscape, I make a note of all the white and highlighted areas. These are to be left unpainted. Then I mix my palettes, using only three colours (a red, a yellow and a blue). Then I start to paint the undertones of colour. I don’t use white or black pigment paint, so painting lace in watercolour can be technically challenging, because I am basically painting everything but the lace (the paper is my white).
Being a watercolour artist means I paint from light to dark, building up the tones of colour and getting the consistency and depth of watercolour pigment just right. I love the transparent flow of watercolours, where the layers of different watercolour pigments combine to create a new hue.
Every painting whether it’s a landscape or a portrait is a technical watercolour challenge that I thrive on. I generally work on a painting as a whole and will keep stepping back to see if I’m achieving what I’m trying to communicate. Usually when I think I’ve finished a watercolour, I will leave it for a day and only sign my artwork when I’m happy with the watercolour painting.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF
I’m an early riser, probably due to the cuckoo making it’s morning call. I go for an early morning run four times a week, which sets me up for the day. Then after replying to emails and sorting print orders I make my way to my studio, which luckily for me is in the garden, so no commuting, bliss.
Not every day is the same, it all depends on whether I am painting a commission, having to meet customers or sketch and paint on location. My blogs generally tell you what I’ve been up to. I usually do my research, planning, ordering and final sketches during the evening and will have stretched my paper at least the day before. When I go into my studio I already know what I am painting and can just get started. I prefer to make the most of painting in the natural light.
Normally I play music from my own playlists, or the radio or even listen to podcasts while I paint. Besides being a watercolour artist, I have a curious mind and a thirst for knowledge, which means my tastes are wide and varied and not shared by the rest of the family (so I’ve been told). I become completely absorbed in painting that the time just flies by. I’m generally in the studio till late or until I realise I’m hungry, but I have been known to go back to the studio after a late dinner.
Helen’s work has been sold across the UK. She is available for private commissions. Check my availability