I’m not a “born artist”. At school I just managed to pass ‘O’ level Art but my best subjects were science and maths. At university I studied Chemical Engineering and this lead me to a busy lifetime career in engineering and construction. I’ve worked on multimillion pound projects all over the world from Japan to Brazil and the USA to Yemen. The key success factor in engineering is attention to detail. This has continued to be an influence over my paintings which tend to be “detailed” rather than “loose”.
My reintroduction to painting came in 2009 when I went on a cruise which included a Watercolour Painting Workshop. I enjoyed this brief experience so I signed up for a series of Watercolour Painting classes with ACE (Adult Continuing Education) in Milton Keynes as soon as I retired in March 2010. After learning the basics, one of my paintings, “Conkers at Linford Wood”, was awarded “Highly Commended” by the Society for all Artists for Best Beginner, Artist of the Year 2011.
I’ve always had a keen interest in photography and today I have over 250,000 photographs on my computer! Most of my paintings are based on photographs that I’ve taken myself. I can usually remember why I took a particular photograph and what the scene was like. I’m also an experienced Photoshop user and some of my paintings are based on photographs that have been substantially “enhanced”.
I get the most enjoyment out of painting, rather than drawing, but I recognise having an accurate drawing is essential to a good painting so I have developed my own technique which involves using Photoshop and PosteRazor to produce a full-size paper print which I can transfer to paper via graphite and tracing. If you think this is “cheating” you should be aware that Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Degas, Raphael, Frans Hals, Vermeer, Velázquez, Ingres and Norman Rockwell are all thought to have used “artificial” aids to drawing.
There are lots of reasons why I’ve always stuck to watercolour as my medium. I have considerable investment in materials – tubes of artist quality watercolour paint, sheets of heavyweight (640 gsm) high quality watercolour paper and high quality watercolour brushes (I prefer synthetic). Watercolours dry relatively quickly and don’t have any solvent smell. Watercolour paint has an inner brilliance and clarity of colour due to the fact that it is transparent. Most paints reflect colour directly off the surface of the paint. Watercolours, on the other hand, get their colour as a result of light bouncing off the white paper and reflecting back up through the paint. As a result, the paintings almost look as if they are lit from within. This transparency also makes watercolours extremely versatile. A single tube or pan of watercolour paint can give you countless different shades of the same colour simply by adding more or less water. You can build colours to add richness, or mix colours on the paper by layering one colour over another. On the other hand, watercolour can be unforgiving and unpredictable and mistakes are difficult or even impossible to correct. Also, finished paintings need to be framed behind glass which can be expensive. Notwithstanding all the above, I feel I’m still learning and still enjoying watercolours so I plan to continue for the time being.
Another reason why I prefer to work from photographs (apart from lack of drawing talent) is that that I’m not a fan of painting “en plein air” (i.e. outdoors). Standing on a cold, windy hill waiting for the rain to start and for the light to change is not my idea of fun. I don’t see any benefit in making my artwork as difficult as possible. I just want to get on with it!
Although I do paint (almost) exclusively in watercolour, I do have some techniques which are a little outside the standard watercolour on paper. I sometimes paint in mixed media incorporating found materials, newspaper, wallpaper, textiles, etc but with watercolour as the paint medium. I sometimes use texture paste or other mediums to add texture to a painting. I sometimes use Clingfilm to change the texture of watercolour as it dries or various mediums to promote granulation of the paint. Sometimes I may use acrylic ink to create special effects in a watercolour painting. I have painted watercolours on watercolour canvas – these require spraying with a fixative. Similarly, I have painted on a plastic “paper” called Yupo which is completely non-absorbent and gives a surreal effect in the way that the paints mix.
I have done some commissions (14 so far) working always from someone else’s photograph.