My name is Hazel Soan, I am based in London and Cape Town, and I was one of those lucky people who knew what they wanted to do before leaving school: I wanted to make a living through art. I went to Art College and upon graduation immediately launched into painting as a career.
Watercolour became my main painting medium, principally because it was easy to combine with travel, but eventually because I found it such a pure way of using the properties of pigments in paintings. This has given me a wonderful life and is one of the reasons I became eager to share my love of painting through writing books and presenting films (see tutorials below).
To me, to make an image appear on a blank sheet of paper is almost magical – it is a chance for an earthbound human to taste what it is to create, from nothing, something that did not previously exist and yet now does. Of course, it is not from nothing, because we have a wonderful array of pigments in our palette, exquisitely tapered brushes and creamy white papers, but I still think painting in watercolour is a miracle of sorts. My best watercolours are often those I feel happened despite me, rather than because of me, and I stare in wonder at the way the pigment dries and settles on the paper in an array of exquisite blends.
In my book, “The Essence of Watercolour”, which is now available in paperback, I try to explain, in words and through paintings, the lively essential nature of watercolour. It is a love affair with pigment, colour, clean water and textured paper, with sable brushes, watching paint dry, patience, adrenalin, angst and wonder. The book is a practical guide to making fresh lively watercolours, it is very much about the medium itself, how to keep the paint happy, not overworked or pushed into muddy clumps, or dulled by too many layers.
The greatest transparency in watercolour lies in the initial layers, thereafter maintaining transparency means using the right pigments for the task – recognising the natural characteristics and attributes is paramount. There are so many magnificent colours in every manufacturer’s range but it is important to get to know a set of colours really well so you have some idea what is going to happen when you mix, blend and layer them on the palette or on paper.
Watercolour is transparent in more ways than one: it is easy to see the spirit in which a watercolour is made, far more than in any other painting medium! It is also more forgiving than many people think, but this means knowing which colours can lift, rather than stain, which are opaque and which transparent, which are warm and which are cool.
Putting together books and films is a wonderful way of passing on my passion and encouraging people to paint, and while they take some time away from ‘proper’ painting, they have an added advantage – finding ways to be succinct in writing, and straightforward in film, clarifies the mind and feeds into the painting. The maxim that you learn 90% of what you teach is very true, by explaining what I have learned from practice, I find myself thinking more decisively when I paint.
There comes a point though, after a few days of explanatory painting, when analysis takes over from synthesis and spontaneity starts to suffer, now, when I feel that time coming on, I make sure I return to painting just for myself!
Although a lot of my work is done while travelling, I also have a studio base in London and Cape Town, where I complete my larger works and paint the oils and acrylics. In London, my studio combines as a gallery, which is a wonderful space to show paintings and on occasion acts as a good location for a workshop.
With each passing day, painting thrills me more than ever. Mastering watercolour is a journey without end. The beauty is that painting has no age limit, takes very little space, and requires few materials, oh what a wonderful journey!
Watercolour Tutorials by Hazel Soan
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