Well, it’s Jarnie Godwin really, originally from North-East London, now working in Hampshire, and ever since I could hold a pencil and a brush I have loved drawing and painting (follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and visit my website!)
On leaving school, college didn’t follow, but I went straight into a job on a building site as a trainee Architectural Technician in the architect’s office, using the strict disciplines of technical drawing to prepare elevations and plans for new buildings. The job and college course I nearly completed gave me a wonderful grounding for proportion and the appreciation of structural beauty, but fate intervened and the company folded.
Following the creative path this time, I ended up on a college course studying Graphic Design, with a stint working at several advertising agencies in London. Here I was introduced to the heart of creative design, with everything from packaging to posters coming my way.
Somehow, later along the path, I ended up in teaching, and had some wonderful times during my years in the classroom. A promising career beckoned before fate once more played her hand, (dashed unfair I reckon) and I had to make the painful decision between my health and my job, so I had to quit. Or, one might say, it was the opening door of a new beginning.
Needing something to do in between hospital stays, my mum suggested the SBA Distance Learning Course in Botanical Painting to keep me out of boredom. And so on a wet afternoon, I put brush to paper to produce my submission. The wrong brush and the wrong paper as it turned out to be, but I was accepted, and with no knowledge of botanical painting, I felt like a fish out of water. With no fine art background and only my graphics and technical drawing skills to guide me, but with an absolute desire to do it, I gave it my best shot. With a lot of hard work, I gained their Distinction. Happy days.
What I Do Now
Working professionally, my paintings still have a technical feel, drawing on my love of structural proportions and form, but many compositions also reflect the more fun and quirky side of my nature. Looking at a subject, I don’t always see its perfection, but rather its imperfection, with the belief that beauty can be found in all things.
Dying tulip blooms, dried seed-heads, and nibbled bramble leaves have all appealed in recent years, along with the perfect blooms of dahlias and clematis. Generally, subjects are portrayed life-sized, but sometimes I will also scale up a bit, by two or three times.
Teaching still plays a very important part in what I do, and along with the Sketchbook Squirrel Blog which started while I was still on the SBA course, I continue to teach one and two day workshops, and hold studio days at my Hampshire garden studio.
My latest venture has been to launch my new online learning website Botanical so Beautiful, where students can subscribe to view, and work along with video tutorials, practical sketchbook exercises, and the Technique Tool Box of technical advice. This came about through the volume of requests I continued to receive from overseas artists really wanting to learn with me. So, it’s all thanks to their support really.
Although the teaching is my real focus now, helping others to achieve their own goals and ambitions with their painting, and introducing beginners to the joys of painting in the botanical style, I still paint myself, and continue to exhibit as much as I can. For me, we are all still learning, evolving our style, and breaking old habits. The day I feel I have learnt it all, I’ll hang up my brush.
What’s in my kit?
Well, not as much as some might think. Being someone who started with a very small budget, I have maintained my spendthrift ways, and only spend money where I need to. General studio gear such as china palettes, boards etc. are bought from charity shops and homeware stores as cheaply as possible.
Watercolours though must be Artist’s quality, never the student range. Artist’s quality colours always have finer pigments and better translucency, maintaining their vibrancy and clarity. On that point, I only use transparent paints, with only one or two semi-transparent colours making it into the box. These are mainly used as a final over-glaze. I never use opaque or semi-opaque colours, and ditched the cadmiums a long time ago in favour of the beautifully transparent substitutes.
Brushes are the next thing I do like to spend good money on, and although I have tried many of the superb brands available now, I always return to my favourite sable, da Vinci Maestro 35. The longer, finer point on these brushes often lead to them being called a ‘designer’ brush, and I guess as I used to use the very long ‘rigger’ brushes during my design days, I like the feel of these and the control I get by using them. For my paintings, I use nothing larger than a size 4 brush.
Quality Hot Pressed Paper is the very best surface for botanical paintings. The very smooth surface gives the best medium to receive wet-in-wet paint, while maintaining crisp edges and vibrancy in the colours. With so much variation between the brands, paper I find, is a very personal choice, so it’s always best to sample a few to find your own favourite.
How do I Paint?
Before starting a painting, I always complete some sketches and accurate drawings. It’s important to study a subject from all angles, to really get a feel for it, and how it grows and forms. My sketchbook contains loads of thumbnail sketches and little compositions, some with colour, to get down what I want to do, and how I want it to look when it’s finished. If it doesn’t look good or work out at 4cm, it’s never going to look fabulous at 40!
Once the drawings are done, I transfer the composition to the watercolour paper using a lightbox. This prevents any mistakes having to be erased, which can damage the fragile surface of HP paper, but also allows me to use a very light pencil line. Next comes the colour. My method includes some initial wet-in-wet washes followed by dryer brush techniques, and lots of blending to keep a smooth finish and to focus on the finer details and form. The technique sounds complex, but the way I have put it all into a workable, and structured method, actually makes it quite straightforward. To help decide if it’s a method they like, I have produced a free package including a free to access tutorial via the website for anyone who would like to give it a go.
What’s my Motivation?
Crikey! That’s actually quite a hard one to answer. I guess for myself, to be the very best that I can be would be a place to start. When you have a passion for something, it’s difficult to say where it comes from, and what drives it, you just know it’s there, and whatever it is, you want to immerse yourself in it.
I mean, I was drawing everything and anything when I was young, and I mean anything, including my mum’s iron! I just had to do it, everything else just didn’t really matter. Even in the staffroom at school, my colleagues would joke about my ‘exceptional board drawings’ to help my students, rendered in chalk or board markers!
Finding botanical art has made total sense for me, and how I want to paint. My biggest goal now is to get as many people as possible who have that same need to paint, to discover botanical painting, and even on days when it’s just not working, to love it. Oh, and for me to actually get my series of paintings for the RHS into the exhibition before my allocated 5 years are up. That’ll be 2019!