The expression “moonlighting watercolourist” comes from the fact I almost always paint at night, after coming home from work. Of course, it would be so much more romantic if it was truly by the light of the moon, but I do so with the aid of lights set up over my desk. I work at a hospital by day and am a painter by night. I am enamored with watercolours, even though I have only been using them for just over a year (the last time I used them was as a child). I still have a lot to learn about watercolours, but I am loving the journey!
When not painting, I enjoy reading, camping, canoeing, hiking, crocheting, writing in my journal and graphics/website design. I am also a self-taught bookbinder, making handmade leather journals since 2007 – it keeps me well stocked with sketchbooks! I’m married to my best friend and we have 4 indoor cats, although the latter would prefer that I had mentioned them formerly.
I am a self-taught artist and have never taken a formal art course or lesson. I guess you could say my childhood spent drawing and painting was my education in art.
Growing up, I was most contented to be alone either painting, drawing, reading and writing in my journals – one of those quiet types. My father taught me about colour combinations and how to use watercolours when I was a little girl. He was a natural artist, also self-taught, but rarely had a chance to paint due to the demands of raising and supporting a family.
I have fond memories of Dad entertaining my two sisters and I with quick little paintings with whatever was at hand (usually just general store watercolour paints for kids and plain paper). They often included landscapes from his childhood in Hong Kong. We would watch the paint swirl and come together in a lovely work of art. Having lost Dad to cancer in September 2016, only 5 years after losing Mom, those memories are very cherished ones.
I painted a bit with acrylics throughout junior/high school and dabbled in pencil and ink, and even sold some pieces. After I graduated, I just stopped painting and drawing, as I let the practicalities of life get in the way and allowed other things to whittle away my rare leisure time. I had convinced myself that I had “no time” to draw or paint. Of course, I could kick myself now, but you know what they say about hindsight!
It was in my Dad’s memory over a year ago that I finally picked up my paintbrushes again, after a long hiatus from art in general. Initially, I think it was part of my grieving process and a way for me to unwind, but it gradually blossomed into something much more. On a camping trip with hubby, I made myself a watercolour journal and bought my first set of watercolours.
I spent 4 lovely days painting for the first time in years and re-acquainting myself with the beauty of watercolours. It felt like coming home! The plethora of hours I spent drawing and painting in my youth came flooding back. It was like meeting up with a dear friend with whom you share such a close connection that you can just pick up where you left off. I enjoyed it so much that I asked myself “WHY am I not doing this more often?” It was truly an ‘aha!’ moment for me. After that, I was determined to start painting more regularly, even if for only minutes at a time. Now, when I take a break and paint, it is a place that I can go where I find peace, quiet and rest.
TIPS FOR WATERCOLOUR
I have just one = there are NO RULES! Enjoy watercolours the way YOU like. Too many times I’ve been told that watercolour has to be this or that. Balderdash! There is no one set style. Enjoy painting in a realistic style, a loose style or somewhere in between? Just do it.
Creating art is an extension of yourself – so do not measure yourself by someone else’s ruler, nor compare your work to others. Comparison is the killer of joy. Just paint and paint often, enjoy the moment… it’s your moment, all yours.
Most of my watercolours are inspired by the beauty of Canada’s flora and fauna, still life, as well as ‘salty’ landscapes and townscapes of the Maritimes (especially my home province of Nova Scotia, aptly known as “Canada’s ocean playground”).
Painting local wildlife, especially bird life, is my particular happy place! I am drawn to painting realism, but at times attempt a more loose style which I find more challenging, as it does not come naturally to me. I’ll be the first to admit I have a persnickety/perfectionistic streak, which is often how I approach painting; it’s my comfort zone, I guess.
Favourite artists include the work of René Magritte (love his cheekiness), M.C. Escher (mathematical brilliance), as well as the atmospheric and stirring Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper. Favourite references in my art book library include Edith Holden’s “Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady“, John Muir Laws and Gordon MacKenzie. I credit Everyday Matters for cheering on daily art time back in the early days.
Liz Steele’s blog and her sketchbooks full of lovely loose architecture and tea-cup watercolours showed me that I should not be timid with painting even in public and to have fun with my sketchbooks. Of course Doodlewash®, created and founded by the very talented Charlie O’Shields, has also become a great encouragement to paint on a daily basis and an awesome resource for like minds.
MATERIALS & TOOLS
I primarily paint in sketchbooks. I use a combination of my own refillable leather sketchbooks which I fill with inexpensive 140 lb. cold-press paper, or Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbooks. In studio, I generally use Arches hot-press paper which I like for detail painting. I haven’t yet really had the opportunity to try too many different papers. Though the majority of my paints are Daniel Smith and Winsor & Newton, I’ve recently tried Da Vinci watercolours and I am very impressed; they’ll have a permanent place in my palette.
As for brushes, in studio I tend to reach for small inexpensive synthetics with good snap – as I don’t use a lot of water when I paint in detail, these are ideal. My travel brushes include some from Rosemary & Co. (I especially love the travel dagger and travel mop), Da Vinci Cosmotop Spin 488 series and Escoda Versatil travel brushes. My favorite pens include Lamy Joy and rOtring Isograph technical pens.
Most of my non-sketchbook painting is done at home, usually after dark, in my …um… “studio”. I hesitate to call it that because it’s really just a corner of our small study which I’ve set aside for my painting. I have LED lights set up overhead so I do not have to rely on natural light for my painting sessions. I usually don’t get home from work until dark. I’m still trying to strike a balance, trying not working too late into the night; that can be difficult when you enjoy doing something so much, but one does require sleep! (Reminder to self, ad infinitum.)
I always begin any of my paintings with a sketch as lightly as possible with a 4H pencil and sometimes a first layer of neutral tint to get the values right if it’s a larger picture. I’ve tried to improve on my drawing over the years; this has proved helpful in proportion, perspective, etc. I do my larger paintings slowly over several days; it may even take weeks if I’m working on a larger piece. While it may sound monotonous to some, it’s something I take pleasure in. I settle in with multiple cups of tea and enjoy. For me, it is like a comfortable ‘old worn shoe’ and is definitely my comfort zone.
When I’m doing a larger piece, I will often do small-scale studies in a sketchbook initially to decide on the best shades to use, evaluate tones, value, etc. I know, it sounds very circumspect and at times I wish I could be more spontaneous with my painting, but I suppose it stems from my personality.
While in my teens, I was always too focused on the end result – so much so that I didn’t allow myself to enjoy the actual process of painting, pressuring myself (feverishly so!) to complete a “polished” finished work in one long and arduous sitting. Of course, now my sketchbook paintings are usually done in 30-minutes or less, on break time at work. Personally speaking, having a short amount of time to paint is a challenge for me, but keeping a sketchbook in particular has helped me recapture the fun of painting, even in short sessions.
I am continuously finding that art is an experience of DOING and that it’s not all about the final result. Since I’ve resumed painting, I find myself more aware of my surroundings and have formed a deeper appreciation for the wonder of creation that we have around us. Painting for the sheer joy of it, not expecting masterpieces and being okay with that, has become my happy place.