GUEST ARTIST: “Happy Experiments Of An Aspiring Illustrator” by Clare Willcocks

Hello, I’m Clare. I live and work in North Devon with my boyfriend Sam and our cheerful 18 month old little boy. I have always enjoyed painting, drawing and crafts of all types. My Dad is an artist, though he’d never admit it!

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour illustration by Clare Willcocks - Peratallada - Doodlewash

I can’t remember a time that I wouldn’t sit down and sketch away. After school, during lunch breaks, weekends – I’ve always spent every free moment creating something. More recently, my painting sessions have got shorter, limited to a snatched few hours during our little boy’s naps, or evenings when I’m not too wiped out, but I still grab every chance I get!

I’ve never formally studied art, unless you count GCSE level! I studied French, Spanish and Russian at the University of Exeter and am now a copywriter by profession. Back when it came to choosing a degree, I was tempted to indulge my love of art and embark on a degree in illustration, but I was put off by the competitiveness of the industry and the freelance nature of the work.

Now though, I would love nothing more than to be a freelance illustrator. I feel that doors are opening to me slowly, having had a few commissions recently which are leading in the right direction, but I’m a long way off even considering it as my only source of income.

So, Why Watercolour?

In the past I’ve tried my hand at a lot of different media, from acrylics to pastels, collage to gouache. Over recent years, watercolours have become my firm favourite. It’s so easy to pick up my palette and just paint. I love the versatility of watercolours, but what I’ve come to enjoy the most is the way you can blend and overlay colours with glazes and gradients.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour illustration by Clare Willcocks - Doodlewash

Everything I have learnt has been from experimentation, watching YouTube videos and using other artists’ work for inspiration.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour illustration by Clare Willcocks - Doodlewash

Colour selection has long been one of my biggest challenges. Probably due to the fact I’ve never studied art, I’ve never had the best grasp of colour theory. I can appreciate great colour combinations I see them in other peoples’ work, but I find picking colours to use in my own paintings very difficult.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour illustration by Clare Willcocks - Doodlewash

Just recently, I’ve resorted to consulting Pinterest for colour inspiration, and forcing myself to stick to a limited palette in order to create more harmonious pieces. It’s been like a painting epiphany and I now feel much more confident in choosing my palette.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour illustration by Clare Willcocks - Doodlewash

My Materials

My Winsor & Newton paints are one of my favourite possessions. I would save them in a fire. I’d want them with me if I was washed up on a desert island. If I go away for a few days without them, I miss them.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour illustration by Clare Willcocks - Doodlewash

It hasn’t taken me long to form such a close bond with my watercolour set. I bought it about three years ago on my first, and regrettably only, visit to a Cass Art shop in London (a drawback to living out in the sticks). Seriously that place is artists’ heaven – so much beautiful, quality equipment at reasonable prices. Anyway, I treated myself to a Winsor & Newton professional watercolour set with 24 pans and haven’t looked back.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour illustration by Clare Willcocks - Appledore - Doodlewash

The colours I use most are Paynes Grey for shadows, Permanent Sap Green, Winsor Yellow, Winsor Red and French Ultramarine, as well as several browns and orange.

As for brushes, I’m not very adventurous. I tend to just stick to my trusty two – a Daler Rowney Aquafine Round size 6 and a Rosemary & Co Series 301 size 3 for finer details. I fish out my larger brushes for bigger pieces, but at the moment most of what I do is in my sketchbook, so these smaller sizes suit me just fine.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour illustration by Clare Willcocks - Wells Cathedral - Doodlewash

I’m not a snob when it comes to paper, I’ve even had people looking down on my cheapy sketchbook and pads of WHSmith’s own brand watercolour paper. The truth is, most of the time I’m painting for myself, and I secretly like the cockles in my sketchbook which leave it looking fat and bursting as it grows more full.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour illustration by Clare Willcocks - Bideford Library - Doodlewash

I should counter that with a disclaimer though, whenever I’m doing illustration work for a client, I switch to artist quality paper, usually Bockingford. To date, my biggest commission was an illustrated map of the Thames to feature in boat hire company ‘Le Boat’s’ tourist guide.

What’s My Style?

I don’t think I have a style. At least, I’m still trying to find it! I’m not sure I’ll ever be happy to just work in one style though, as experimenting keeps me motivated. There’s always more progress to be made, another step towards becoming an accomplished artist, so I’m reluctant to find a style and commit to it forever more.

If pushed to describe my style, I’d have to say relatively detailed and always realistic. I also make layered paintings, combining my love of watercolour with my second love, paper cutting.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - illustration by Clare Willcocks - Doodlewash

Below is a poster for a theatrical production of The Ugly Duckling and Other Tales.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour illustration by Clare Willcocks - Ugly Duckling - Doodlewash

The following layered piece was my first painting which I’ve ever had exhibited, selected to be displayed at the Burton Art Gallery, Bideford during their annual open exhibition. I painted from reference photos taken of people one morning going about their business in Bideford.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour Illustration by Clare Willcocks - Bideford People - Doodlewash

How Do I Paint?

I always begin with a purple coloured pencil line drawing. I learnt from another artist that if used lightly, the purple lines practically disappear with the watercolours, and it also doesn’t risk muddying the colours like a soft graphite pencil might.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour Illustration by Clare Willcocks - Shells - Doodlewash

Sometimes I leave the line work at that and use the paint itself for definition, as in my wildlife paintings, but other times I use a black Micron 005 and 01 for outlines. For my last couple of paintings I’ve used a dip pen and ink; definitely a technique I want to pursue further.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour Illustration by Clare Willcocks - Doodlewash

I paint in layers, starting with very light colours and building them up, using glazing to create depth. I usually use Paynes Grey for shadows, or sometimes mix a bit of the opposite colour on the colour wheel to give a more realistic colour. I can’t say I never use black, because I do on occasion mix a little in with Paynes Grey, but most of the time I avoid it.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolour Illustration by Clare Willcocks - Frog - Doodlewash

Blending colours when the paint is still wet makes my heart sing. So cheesy. But seeing colours flooding into each other and drying into such beautiful gradients is perfection! I have learnt that using flat colours is what has made my paintings boring and lifeless in the past, so now I always try to pick out subtle differences in colour and reflect this in the layers I apply.

Artists I Love

When it comes to artists I find inspiring, I could go on forever! My favourite changes on a regular basis, every time I find someone new whose work I’m excited by. Here’s who I’m loving right now: Matteus Urbanowicz, Jérémy Soheylian, Katya Mihailina, Minnie Small and everyone on the Urban Sketching Facebook group!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings and photos of my work. I’m extremely flattered to have been asked by Charlie O’Shields to be a guest artist among such accomplished painters!

Clare Willcocks
Doodlewash Gallery

Recommended9 recommendationsPublished in Featured Artists
  1. Melissa 5 years ago

    Your work blows me away. That ugly duckling piece is amazing. Your style is beautiful, you have a great eye for both proportion and detail… Consider illustrating children’s books, for one thing, but really, you can do everything. Sometime when you have a bit extra put by, or get paid for a commission, order yourself a few tube paints (Holbein, Da Vinci, Daniel Smith) and see how you feel about them compared to your W&Ns. Keep branching out, you have no limits.

    • Clare Willcocks 5 years ago

      Hi Melissa, thank you so much for your lovely comment! I should try a good brand of tube paints – I’ve tried some cheap stuff before I got hooked on the W&N pans, but I should give it another go as you say! Thanks again 🙂

  2. Saswati Misra 5 years ago

    Excellent and a very Unique Style Indeed!! Thanks for Sharing!!

  3. Thomas Blanchard 5 years ago

    Wow Clare! I can’t even begin to pick my favorite style of your work. I’m in love with your layered paintings. The dimension is so cool! Then the detail of your portraits are stunning. I’m inspired by your immense range of talent. Cheers.

  4. kimbidraws 5 years ago

    I love Minnie Small as well. That’s my favourite channel on you tube!

    Loving your art, really creative and cool!

    • Clare Willcocks 5 years ago

      She’s awesome! Definitely deserves more subscribers! Thanks for your lovely comment 🙂

  5. memadtwo 5 years ago

    Really enjoyed this post. Unique style of painting which I like very much. N.

    • Clare Willcocks 5 years ago

      I tried to reply to your comment before memadtwo, but it doesn’t seem to have worked! Thank you very much, I think it’s very hard to find a style, so your comment makes me very happy!

  6. Val Evans 5 years ago

    Fabulous article and so inspiring. Your paintings are beautiful xx

  7. M. L. Kappa 5 years ago

    Wonderful work, Claire! I love the paper cutting, and you really get the likeness in portraits! I shall follow you on IG 🌺

  8. Kati Brooke 5 years ago

    Your work is amazing! I really love the layered piece with all the people, and in spite of you saying you struggle with colors, the colors in all your pieces are lovely.

  9. Mary Roff 5 years ago

    Outstanding work!! Love your colors and designs! And, thanks for the tip about the purple colored pencil.

  10. Sandra Strait 5 years ago

    Your work is so beautiful! I’m like you – like the cockles you get with cheaper or non-watercolor paper. I like the sound it makes when you turn the page! Thank you for sharing your work and artistic journey with us.

    • Clare Willcocks 5 years ago

      Oh yes, that sound! I’m glad I’m not the only one – I love a nice thick sketchbook, it shows it’s been used and loved!

  11. Jennifer McLean 5 years ago

    fantastic work and your buildings definitely have a distinctive style which I covet. I’ve followed you and added a friend request to stay connected. Really beautiful work.

  12. jmnowak 5 years ago

    Fresh and delightful! I really like the cutting pieces and their 3D effect. But, then, I like,all I’ve seen so far, Clare. PS: You can combine your copywriting work, with being a mom as well as being a illustration freelancer. Lots of people do that! 👌🎈

    • Clare Willcocks 5 years ago

      Thanks jmnowak – I know it’s possible but the balance is in favour of the day job and being a Mum at the moment! Hoping to turn that around!

  13. Rob Willcocks 5 years ago

    Wondeful work Clare…but then I am biased 😀

  14. SnehLata Maheshwari 5 years ago

    Awesome and beauty full work done Clare.

  15. Prashant Maru 5 years ago

    Yummy 😋
    Very nice 👌

  16. Sharon Pannewitz 5 years ago

    Thank you so much Clare for sharing your story, it is inspiring. Your work is absolutely beautiful and I wish you every success in your journey. One day if I return to the UK I would love to see your work on display in a gallery!

  17. smzang 5 years ago

    The seashells look so real I could almost hear the ocean!
    So much enjoy seeing your work.

  18. Sharon Nolfi 5 years ago

    You have a lovely and creative technique. How do you construct the paper cut paintings? Are the figures attached with foam to create depth?

  19. Elizabeth Metz 5 years ago

    Those 3D bits made me squeal out loud. Thanks so much for sharing all of this with us!

  20. Liz Powley 5 years ago

    You are one of two artists who have inspired me to give my watercolours a go. And how I ended up here. In particular your cityscape with the river running through it. It is absolutely divine with your colourwork and wash work. You challenge me to have a go 😀

    Thank you so much for sharing your process. It helps a lot.

    Best wishes,

  21. Hannah 5 years ago

    Your work is amazing and very inspiring! How wonderful to be able to use paper cutting and watercolour together… I really like the dip pen and watercolour style. Also the people are wonderful, the way you have made them pop with raising them from the paper, giving them shadows. Thank you for sharing so much detail.

  22. Sharon Nolfi 5 years ago

    Ugly Duckling piece is amazing!

  23. Jennifer McLean 5 years ago

    you have such an incredibly cool style!

  24. Val 5 years ago

    Wow! These are lovely. I particularly like the layered ones and the sunset… you have a very good colour sense, so don’t worry about that!

  25. Cindy 5 years ago

    I absolutely love your art work. I think the frog is my favorite; however, your maps and buildings are lovely, and the way you draw them, they seem to be alive!. Thanks so much for the ‘purple pencil’ tip! I struggle to sketch, and I don’t particularly like the pencil lines with watercolor. I’m going to give that a try.

  26. Lin 2 years ago

    Please do not take classes. They might steer you away from the incredibly beautiful unique style that is “you”. Your color choices are perfect. You have a natural gift so just keep doing what you are doing. Your work is wonderful.

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