“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”
~ Thomas H. Palmer (1840)
My name is Susan Bond. I was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia, though I have spent most of my life here in Sydney, New South Wales. Like many artists, I began my art journey at a very young age, as you can see from this piece at only 4 years old!
This passion, in my case, I believe was inherited. My Grandmother, Charlotte, loved to draw with me and was very talented. My mother, Ute was extremely good at painting, but unfortunately, never really pursued her love.
I can remember quite clearly, those rainy days at primary school, where we had to stay indoors at lunch time and our teacher would provide us with LARGE sheets of fresh new drawing paper to either paint or draw on…heaven!!!
I eventually became a Draftsperson working for architects & engineers. It paid well, but was rather constrained for me. After nine years, I gave it up and spent the next 10 years flying around the world as a Long Haul Flight Attendant. Soaking up all the wonderful places, sights, sounds, smells and colours. I dabbled here and there with watercolours on my downtime like this piece I did of Singapore. Gosh I wish I had taken many more interesting photos of my favourite places back then.
When I gave up the flying, I settled here in Sydney and married Gavin. I returned to drafting and was lucky to be able to work from home. I’m now retired, yippee! I decided to use my now free time and ready made study to take up painting again.
This time around, I tried oil painting but it just didn’t do it for me. So I went out and purchased some cheap watercolours & pads by Reeves along with some cheap brushes in a multipack by Mont Marte and began to doodle around and experiment. I was hooked and never looked back.
I had also been creating my own greeting cards, inspired by our two little dogs, Otto & Pippa. It gave me great joy to share their antics with relatives and friends.
Gavin and my dear friend Martina, also an artist, suggested I join an art class. I joined a local art class at our community centre. I tried out 2 different classes but went back to my 1st one, where the Tutor, Bernard has an amazing insight into many mediums of art and inspires us with information about the great artists of our past.
My second Tutor, mostly taught acrylics, despite telling me watercolour was welcome. Not so, as I was berated by a few in the class with taunts as to why I only did watercolours. Or, after the Tutor gave instructions, she would frown at me and sigh with “Oh, yeah, you do watercolours”. It’s very important to find the right Tutor, who not only supports/encourages but guides you and allows you to develop your own style.
In my first lesson with Bernard, he looked at some reference photos I brought with me. Eventually he asked which one did I like the best. It was a photo of my favourite elephant, Apu down by the river at Chitwan National Park where I holidayed in Nepal in the mid 1980’s. He couldn’t have picked a more difficult picture for me to embark on. Bernard guided me patiently through the process and I was pleased with the end result. As I look at it now, I can see what I could have done better.
The following year, now 2017, I wanted to do a portrait. I love to try new things. Bernard showed me a picture of a stunning Indian man. It was taken by renowned photographer Steve McCurry, from whom I was granted permission to paint, exhibit and sell. Very important to always seek permission. I was chewing at the bit to start the drawing.
Instead, Bernard made me first do a drawing of the human skull . ”Oh no!” I thought. It was to be a priceless exercise in helping me to understand the bone structure of a skull. The painting became a love-hate journey. There were many times I just wanted to tear it up!! However, I persisted (I hate giving up) and managed to finish “Raj” in time for our annual exhibition of all our community art groups. I was deeply humbled to be awarded First Prize by a judge from the Royal Art Society of NSW. A very proud moment not for just me but for Bernard too.
I’m still trying to complete a painting of an Indian palace on a lake with floating golden leaves. I am currently on my 5th attempt!! Martina keeps telling me I’m like a dog with a bone! Hence my appropriate quote.
As I’ve progressed over the last 2 years, I’m becoming more organised in the planning of artworks. I’ll research a particular thing I’m interested in until I’m worn out. I really love to paint animals, birds and fish. I still struggle with landscapes, although I love to do snow scenes, probably due to living in Germany with my family for a time.
I will often, after researching, do a rough sketch on paper and paint a sample version, noting what colours I’ve used or mixed in my little notebook.
From there, if all looks well, I will begin starting with the lightest of washes working to the darkest. I do use things like masking fluid and these handy tools (rubber tips by Mont Marte) to apply them.
I will occasionally use white gouache, even though many purists will argue about using any form of white.
An important part of my process is the drawing itself. Sometimes it’s just a simple set of guidelines or more detailed. For this I just use a 2B pencil and a kneadable rubber. A good example is my “Sardines”.
I began with drawing each and every fish, that was exhausting. When I began to paint it became evident that I wasn’t happy with the ‘flow’ of the fish. So, I started again!! This time, I just sketched the shape of the flow and painted each fish as I went down the page.
Drawing/sketching, I feel is important. I’m fortunate that I can draw reasonably well. My tutor suggested I partake in his Life Drawing classes, 2-3 classes each term. Whilst this is not “my thing”, over the last 2 years it has become invaluable. It teaches you to “look at what you see” and trains you into drawing what is really important in a subject like structure, shape and shadows. My Zebra is a good example. Had I not done these classes, I doubt I could have drawn him as quickly or as accurately as I did.
My materials vary, I like to try out different brands. I use 300gsm hot or cold pressed, so I don’t have to waste time stretching. I’ve used Arches, but now prefer Fabriano or Hahnemühle pads. I also use cheap ones too for practice. I used a cheap large A3 pad I bought from our local Aldi Store as it was a lovely crisp white, 300 gsm with a light criss-cross texture, which I painted my Zebra on….I know!!
My paints are also a mix of tubes and half pans of various brands. Mostly Schmincke, some Winsor & Newton, which I find somewhat too granulated. I was also given a few tubes of Maimeri, which are very nice and rich in pigment.
I have a whole range of brushes, probably too many! I’ve learned to stay clear of the synthetic brushes, they just don’t hold enough pigment. I have some cheap hair ones by Mont Martre. They wear down quickly but are great for taking out an area of paint. I recently treated myself to a set of 6 red sable brushes by Da Vinci – just love these.
My point would be to buy what you can afford… said many times, I know! However, cheap doesn’t always mean not useful. Don’t waste an unsuccessful painting, use the back to either practice on or test your mixes. Off cuts can be used to make bookmarks or gift tags. I sometimes use left over mixes in my palette to try out a new idea.
My passion to try new things drives me along this wonderful watercolour journey. There is always something new to learn and the joy of sharing what little knowledge I have with others. Be brave with your choices of subjects and most of all, spend as much time as you can painting, even if it is just an hour of doodling. Which is how my “Little Bunny” came to be!
May I also thank Charlie not only for this invitation and the wonderful work he does, but his enthusiasm to all who are here.
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Creator of Doodlewash®, founder of World Watercolor Month (July), World Watercolor Group™, and host of the Sketching Stuff Podcast. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!