Hi, my name is Jennifer McLean, everyone calls me Jenn. I now live in Beautiful British Columbia, Canada in the city of Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island. It took all of my childhood and moving to more than twenty houses (my parents were house flippers before that was a thing) to get back to the West Coast.
I was so happy to make it back home before finishing my degree in Psychology from the University of Victoria. Growing up in a house full of creativity and design, where I watched my father build the walls & structure and my mother make the house around me a show home, helped fill me with a need to create. My mother is an artist so as a young child I watched her paint and I wanted to be just like her. I wanted that so badly I ached.
It thrills me to finally be able to call myself an artist. It’s taken many years to get here. I’ve always wanted to be an artist, but I was so afraid. I was afraid that if I tried to paint and wasn’t good enough, then my dream would die and I’d never truly be happy with myself.
So instead, I funneled my need to be artistic into a plethora of other activities. I have dabbled in so many kinds of crafts that I don’t think I can name them all: Flower arranging, macrame, rug hooking, cross stitch, calligraphy, sewing, ceramics, pysanka (Ukrainian egg painting), crochet and designer wedding cakes just to mention a few. None of them filled the desperately empty need to paint.
About seven years ago, after closing my wedding cake business, my mom bought me a few days of painting lessons with a well known local artist. I had tried for nearly eight years to build a designer wedding cake business but unfortunately, I started to have health issues. The cold porcelain flowers I created for the cakes just weren’t fulfilling that all consuming need to paint either. I finally had to admit that if I didn’t try painting, I was never going to be happy.
It was three little words that changed everything for me. That local artist, after listening to my fears and excuses for not painting said to me, “JUST PAINT, JENN!!!”. That same day, as I struggled to start the assignment the artist had given me, my mother yelled, “Just add water, SILLY!”. And that’s all it took. Within a week I had a blog and I was painting.
I chose watercolors as my medium because of the beauty and translucency of the paint on paper. I loved how they moved in water and that I had to learn to give up a little control, I’m a perfectionist after all and therefore giving up control is a good thing.
I find that it really depends on how a brand handles a color that makes me fall in love with it. The more transparent the better. I was so lucky to get a limited edition set of Schmincke that Wet Paint assembles every year or so. It was such a fantastic deal, hopefully they’ll do their custom set again soon as they just sold out of 2017’s version. If you’re interested, they recommend getting on their list to be notified.
I have definitely learned my lesson about buying the best, not just the best you can afford. I started off with student grade paints and paper.
Then I struggled to get the depth, beauty and flow that I craved until I upgraded to the above brands of paint and Arches hot pressed 140 lb paper. For journals I have three favorites that I have switched between. Moleskine Watercolor, Strathmore 500 series mixed media and Stillman & Birn journals. I also couldn’t live without my Masterson Rinse Well and the Da Vinci Maestro 1503 travel brushes.
Now when I can’t afford what I want, which happens a lot, I save for it until I can get it. Although it’s always hard, I recommend if money’s an issue, wait for a sale then get only a few colors. Learning which colors I loved and about a split primary palette helped me figure out what colors to start with and what to hold off on. I also really recommend trying to get dot cards from good paint companies like Daniel Smith. You can also try and convince your watercolorist friends to make you a dot card of the paints they recommend.
I am self taught and credit four artists for inspiring me and helping me get to where I am today. Marit Barentsen, creator of Featuring Magazine, asked me if I wanted to write for her art magazine after I submitted an article on The Butterfly Project. It was amazing to be the Canadian Contributing Editor! I got to learn about and write about other artists and it was thrilling to have my byline in a magazine. After several incredibly fun and fulfilling years, Featuring closed it’s doors due to the European financial market.
I was hungry to learn and I happened upon Sketchbook Skool created by Danny Gregory & Koosje Koene. I started from “Beginning“, they’re first course, and was thrilled to find hundreds of other artists struggling like me. I continued with “Seeing” and was surprised to find talent I thought I didn’t have by doing all the interesting lessons they provided. Danny helped me to stop being a perfectionist and it was thrilling to fill my first sketchbook with art I was proud of. But what I had learned wasn’t enough.
I had so much more to learn and I knew it. Roz Stendahl helped me see that when she taught a little about color theory in her class. Her blog is a fountain of information about paint, paper, pens and skills. I had not found my style at all and I still considered myself ignorant about paint but just painting and drawing successfully filled me with joy.
I had finally bumped my nose against all I didn’t know about watercolor. Now I wanted skills, serious skills. I wanted to know the secrets that the practiced artists and professionals knew. In came one of my most lovely, brilliant friends, Tracey Fletcher King. She had just come out with a new course called Delicious Paint and I jumped in with both feet. I can honestly say I’ve never learned so much about how to paint successfully and in such a short time.
Tracey taught me all about underpainting and layering/glazing paint. She taught me about shadows and how to make a painting pop. But the biggest thing she taught me was to relax into who I was as an artist. It freaked me out how much I loved painting fruits and veggies but she made me realize that it doesn’t matter what I paint as long as I put ME into it. Once again, she was telling me to JUST PAINT and the rest will come.
She was right. With the skills learned under Tracey’s careful and fun tutelage I have blossomed into a more confident artist. I embraced my almost obsessive love of color and I stopped punishing myself about what I should paint. I paint what I think I can and just a little more. As my skills improve, my scope of work broadens.
Tracey told me to “Lean into discomfort” and I try to do that every time I put brush to paper. Painting like that makes each painting about who I am because I’m pushing myself to feel the discomfort of creating. That’s what puts me into my art.
I’m inspired to paint when the line or shape of something intrigues me. I am gleeful when I see good strong shadows in and around an object that also has cool and interesting lines. When all that good stuff is also connected to vibrant color I just can’t help myself, I have to paint it.
That’s probably why fruits and vegetables inspire me so much. Their rich color, their undulating lines and, in the right light, the shadows they throw are so incredibly interesting that it inspires me to pick up my paintbrush and get out my palette. Although Sketchbook Skool tried to teach me to put down the pencil, I find it’s one of my favorite tools.
I love all the shades I can get with the same hue. The pencil allows me to bring out my perfectionistic side for a little playtime without it infecting the way I paint. I want to paint loosely and allow the water to work with me to create something awesome but sometimes I crave the precision of a drawing so I indulge that side of myself. I never want my art to be just a photocopy of my subject so I try to find a good balance between realistic and painterly. Everyday is a new adventure in paint.
Right now I’m focused on honing my skills and I know that only comes through repetition. I have recently been diagnosed with cancer but I find filling as much of my day as I can with painting helps me stay positive. Sometimes, I struggle to find time to paint because much of my day is taken up with this illness but I’m always pleasantly surprised how creating art allows me to go to another place, my happy place where nothing but color touches me.
I find painting all the things around me and bringing out the color in everything makes me happy. There’s nothing better than that. Ok, maybe it can be improved with a good strong cuppa hazelnut coffee… oh, and a book. I do LOVE to read, alas you can’t read and paint at the same time. If I could, now that would be a perfect world.
Thank you to Charlie O’Shields for asking me to participate as a Guest Artist. You can find me at the following places, I’d love it if you’d stop by my blog and say hello!