My name is Eva Smith. I’m originally from Leicester, England. My family immigrated to Canada when I was still a baby and we settled in Toronto, Ontario. My husband and I have moved around a fair bit in our forty-two years together, lived in cities and in the country, and now have roots firmly set in the tiny town of Hagersville, Ontario, where we are living our ‘happily ever after’ in peace and contentment.
Humble Beginnings, Growing Into the World of Art
Like many artists, my abilities came to light very early in life. As a child, I drew horses (my favorite animal) in pencil on whatever kind of paper was lying about, and painted in oils gleaned from paint-by-numbers kits. I marveled at what I was able to accomplish with these two mediums and was creative all the time, drawing and painting, writing little stories, and living for the most part in my imagination.
I wasn’t sure what career to pursue when I was young. My sister and I have always had a wonderful relationship and when she suggested animation, my interest was piqued. I applied to the Classical Animation program at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, and when I was accepted the doors to an enormously creative and exciting world flew open.
The professors at Sheridan were all experienced professional artists, each with great accomplishments. Drawing and animation instructors were veterans of Walt Disney Studios. John Wheeler, who taught the watercolour painting course in the Classical Animation program, was a gallery-represented painter and an illustrator. These fine instructors taught me how to observe and study a subject effectively, capture life on paper and convey movement, create characters and breathe life into them, and to draw and paint with great sensitivity.
The training received at Sheridan was expansive and thorough, which I still incorporate in my work as an artist and teacher today. It led to a marvelous thirty-year career in children’s television and I am very proud to claim Babar the Elephant, Little Bear, Franklin the Turtle, and The Magic School Bus among the many wonderful series I took part in as a character animator. Those were the wonderful days of hand-drawn animation when artistic talent topped the list of requirements for success, and animation was in itself an art form.
I am not technically oriented, and moved on from animation soon after the industry went to computer format. My new direction was as a professor at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario, where I’ve been teaching Figure Drawing, Character Design, Illustration and Illustration Techniques in the Art and Design Foundations program since 2012. Teaching these subjects requires using my own drawing skills, which is how I’m able to retain them and a fine reason for maintaining them.
With COVID-19’s arrival and school closures, my teaching position has been put on hold indefinitely. I hope to return to it one day but in the meantime, being forced to stay at home has come with a silver lining: Time. With nothing else to do, the past year has been the perfect opportunity to immerse myself in watercolour art. I’ve been exploring this amazing medium for months, experimenting with colours and brush techniques, learning and moving forward as an artist in the process.
I used to leap into a painting without thinking. There was no rhyme or reason in how I went about it and I never gave myself an opportunity to ‘stop and smell the roses’. I was forever backtracking, second-guessing, making corrections. Having learned how important it is to have a plan and be patient, I’ve discovered the process that’s best for me; it’s disciplined, flexible and lets me enjoy working on a painting from start to finish.
I start by taking a bit of time to warm up. This is playtime, when I simply choose a few colours, lay them down on practice paper, add lots of water and watch what the pigments do as I maneuver my brush in different ways. There’s no subject involved, no specifics and no pressure. I’ll do this several times before setting my brush aside. This exercise gets me excited and eager to start on the ‘real’ painting.
First, I study the subject I want to portray. I look at lighting, surface contours and textures, hues and tones. They define the subject itself and show me areas where I may want to make changes.
Because I’m often limited to working from photographs, when I want to do a landscape I search my memory for locations that are similar in terms of content, time of day, quality of light, weather, colours, and I even try to recall sounds and smells. Applying memory this way, with all five senses engaged, makes the location in the photo ‘real’ for me and I can approach the work as if I was actually there.
When I want to paint an animal I’ve never seen in real life, I look for photos that show it in a variety of angles. I research its anatomy, the type of skin/fur/feathers/scales it has, and study videos and films to learn how it moves and behaves in its natural environment. Sketching the animal at the same time helps me to get a ‘feel’ for it. This process creates the deep connection I need in order to make my artwork believable and unique.
My watercolour process has layers, so at this point, I work my colour palette and brush techniques out at the same time, practicing on smaller-sized paper, experimenting with a variety of strokes and colour combinations. When I’ve found a result I’m happy with and confident that I can achieve the effects I want, I start working on the ‘real’ painting itself.
The greatest challenge for me in working with this medium is staying loose and not fighting for control. I find it helpful to paint the same way I draw with graphite, opening my shoulder for large strokes, flowing through the wrist for small details, and moving smoothly from the elbow for anything in between. It’s also important to keep fingers relaxed and not clutch my brush in a death grip.
Occasionally, I take a break and perform a body scan to check my level of tension. If I find any, my brush is set aside. I leave my studio entirely to move around for a while, stretching and taking deep breaths. I return to my table only when I feel relaxed and grounded again.
To avoid getting stuck in a rut, I try to step out of my comfort zone by painting a subject I’ve never worked with and experimenting with colour combinations wildly different from what I’m used to. Even if I don’t actually work on a ‘real’ painting, taking a bit of time every day to do these two simple things keeps me creative, engaged and excited about art.
Materials and Other Tools
For papers, I keep a range of Arches 140lb cold and hot press paper blocks in stock, in various sizes and finishes. Recently I’ve started working with Arches 300lb, cold press medium-rough paper, which I’ve fallen in love with. It doesn’t need stretching like lighter papers do, is heavy enough to take quite a lot of abuse without damage, and it stands up to large quantities of water without buckling. I buy it in large sheets that can be cut to the sizes I need.
I’ve collected a lot of brushes over many years, only four of which are now used on a regular basis (the rest live in two large jars on my table):
- Princeton, Neptune series, #8 squirrel hair mop
- Princeton, Neptune series, #12, round, synthetic
- Winsor & Newton, professional series, #10, round, natural sable
- Curry’s store brand, series 2449, #4, rigger
I also keep a battered old #6 round brush just for scrubbing out, and an old toothbrush for fine spatter effects. For textures and other interesting effects I use fine and coarse salt, and cling wrap.
Inspiration, Moving Forward and Raising the Bar
There are two main factors that define who I am, and are the inspiration for my artwork. First and foremost is the exposure I’ve had since childhood to the natural world, with frequent trips to Northern Ontario where I’ve explored pristine forests, swum in unfrequented lakes and rivers, and searched for wildlife to observe and admire. Second, a deep love and respect for all living things, and truly magical relationships with a variety of wild and domestic animals who have shared my heart and home.
Artists I’m inspired by are Kanta Harusaki, whose techniques achieve beautiful landscapes that evoke mystery and peace, and the exciting atmospheric style of Jean Haines. These are my go-to’s for exploring new subjects, techniques, and developing my own style in watercolour art.
I consider my level as a watercolour artist intermediate at best, and still have a long, long way to go, but having sold three paintings within the past three months is exciting and tremendously encouraging. As a result I’ve raised the bar for myself, setting a goal to finish at least one painting per week. If I have thirty-five pieces by the end of October this year I would like to approach a few reputable galleries with the aim of finding representation. Whether that happens or not, I will enjoy the journey thoroughly and I’m eager to discover where this challenging effort takes me.
I don’t know where my talent came from; it doesn’t run in either side of my family. Its source will always be a mystery. Doesn’t matter; it’s in me, it’s mine to embrace and I am happy.Recommended6 recommendationsPublished in