My name is Di White and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to introduce myself and share some of my thoughts on painting in general and watercolours in particular. So huge thanks to Charlie O’Shields for this!
It all started back in Salford, England, where as a young girl I was fortunate to study art under Harold Riley, one of England’s top artists, who in turn had studied under the great L. S. Lowry. A few years later, newly married, I moved to South Africa and settled in Somerset West, near Cape Town, where I worked as an architectural draughtswoman for many years. After I had raised my family, I took up painting again. This was in the mid-1990s.
I have painted almost every day for many years. The way I work has changed and grown over time and I have tried out different techniques, styles and media during my ‘artistic journey’. But now I feel that I have reached a defining moment in my journey where I have found the art I love to paint.
I love to paint ideas and impressions rather than from reality. My work is loose – this took me a long time to master – and I love strong bright colours and bold brush strokes. I always paint standing up so I can achieve the full flowing movements with my brushwork which characterise my work.
Although now, I mostly work in acrylics and acrylic inks, I paint with them in ‘a watercolour way’ by using lots of water into which I drop pure colour and ink to achieve the intensity I want. This past year or so, I have really enjoyed painting my quirky animals using this technique. You can see this in my painting ‘Hillary’: she’s a very bossy little ostrich!
My first love was watercolours and this medium was especially important to me when I started painting again here in South Africa. It was here that I gained the nickname ‘loose goose’ from my art teacher, as she saw my painting style develop to become satisfyingly loose. When I use watercolours I love the way in which the paint moves and the colours run. I love the unpredictability and the satisfying surprise when something turns out even better than expected!
I begin my watercolours with very loose washes, using a big flat brush and plenty of water. Brushes are important but they don’t have to be expensive ones. I’ve found that all I really need are two flat brushes, one 2 inch and one 6 inch, and the all-important (for me) rigger.
I never use anything less than 240gsm paper (otherwise you must stretch it before you start painting). Mostly I use 300gsm. I don’t have a particular favourite make of paper, I’ll use basically whatever I can get hold of which is of reasonable quality.
I believe it’s important to be generous in the amount of paint you use. I’ve often seen paintings ruined because the artist hasn’t mixed enough paint at the outset. I always have a selection of different palettes to hand. Then if the colours start looking muddy on the palette I can quickly grab a fresh one. I have no time to wash things out once I start painting as I become so totally involved in what I’m doing.
After my first application, I allow the paint to dry, then I come back and apply more to achieve rich bold colours. I keep a small piece of paper handy to test the colours before committing them to my painting. Some of my favourite colours are lemon yellow, cadmium orange and cadmium yellow. For contrast I’ll use Prussian blue either as is, or mixed with yellow or orange to make rich and interesting greens. I use my rigger brush for detail and use a very dark colour like sepia or even black.
I use lots of water so the paint can move and run. Big containers are best and I change the water frequently. It’s the only way to keep the colours clean and pure. For greater transparency, I use more water, then while the paper is still damp, drop in more colour for the darker areas and let it mix by itself. It’s important to resist the temptation to mess with it or try to mix it in as this leads to muddy work. But I’ll always have paper towels or toilet roll to hand to mop up or lift off some of the paint if need be.
If the paper does buckle, because I wet it so much, once the painting has dried, I damp the back of the painting slightly, cover with a towel and weigh it down with some heavy books while it dries out. This does the trick for me.
Sometimes, I make mistakes which aren’t ‘happy accidents’. For example, I might lose some of the white areas. To fix this I will use opaque white or even white acrylic ink – not strictly for the purists perhaps, but a little amount of acrylic is not unacceptable in my book.
There is something very special about painting in watercolours. It’s not the easiest of media to work in, but that is part of the interest and challenge for me. I paint in bright, vibrant colours, rich hues and deep contrasts. Wishy-washy’ watercolours do not appeal to me. Above all, I enjoy the unpredictability of the medium and the surprise that comes when the colours run. It is this which makes every watercolour unique.