My name is Ian Probert, and I was born in Burnley, raised in Bristol, and now living in London since 1987. I first began seriously painting in watercolour when I was about 16. It was a little bit of an obsession for me. These, however, are my first watercolours in a very, very long time.
I only resumed painting again early in 2017 after a 25-year gap. I’d given up on watercolour at the tail end of the ’80s, when I pursued a career in journalism. Since that time, I have written for numerous magazines and newspapers on a variety of subjects (not art). At one stage I was the editor of a boxing magazine, which I still find a bit unbelievable. I’m also the author of eight books: including teenage fiction, children’s fiction, adult fiction, autobiographical works, sport and photography. One of my books was even made into a low-budget TV movie.
I’ve always had a great love of watercolours: I enjoy the technical aspects of the medium, the fact that a considerable amount of pre-planning goes into a painting and that patience is required. When you choose watercolour as your medium there is an awful lot of waiting around drumming your fingers watching paint dry. I admire a wide range of painters: from highly technical watercolorists such as John Sell Cotman and Turner, to more figurative painters such as Peter Blake and Ali Cavanagh.
Conversely, I also like the immediacy of watercolour; I try to avoid hiding the fact that I’m using paint; by this I mean that I try to stay true to medium. In my opinion, the imperfections inherent to watercolour are also its greatest strength. Stains and watermarks and cauliflowers can be very exciting. Some of the most satisfying things can come from total accidents.
In my opinion, to achieve the best results you need the best equipment. For this reason, I use Saunders Waterford paper, a combination of Winsor & Newton and Daniel Smith artist’s watercolours, and Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky brushes, which are eye-wateringly expensive.
I usually begin with the faintest of sketches and generally lay down about a dozen or so washes, although the temptation is always to over-paint, which tends to destroy a watercolour. If additional highlights are needed I will use Chinese White or gouache; occasionally, I will use a scalpel blade to scrape away the pigment.
With watercolour, I believe you are always learning. You can paint the same subject three times but the result is always different.
Years ago, I went to art college in Exeter but abandoned painting in favour of photography and film. My return to watercolour came about after somebody bought me some artist materials for Christmas. I’d quite forgotten how much I enjoy the discipline.
In January, I began posting some of my work on to social media. I was surprised and delighted at the reaction: already I’ve received two portrait commissions and been asked to paint a national magazine cover. I suppose it shows that it’s never too late to pick the brush back up.