What’s your background and inspiration? When did you start painting?
I LOVED painting and drawing as a child. I did it throughout school, but then when it came to decisions about careers, I was ‘sensible’ and ended up studying history at uni.
By my mid twenties I was working in local government management and hadn’t picked up a brush for 8 years.
So when I was 26 (10 years ago now) I was getting keen on gardening and I discovered ‘botanical art’ from some random googling.
It brought together my love of nature (I grew up in the countryside) , gardening and COLOUR.
I’ve since ventured into birds, animals and even food, but I always come back to botanicals.
And I always work larger than life.
The bigger I paint (I work from around 12″ up to about 30″ square) the more detail I can paint and the more impact the painting has.
I was hooked. I HAD to paint.
And my results were good. It took me about 3 months to ‘get my eye in’ to seeing all the detail and hone my technique.
I’m certain it only took that short amount of time because of the thousands of hours of painting I’d already done as a child.
18 months later, I entered and won Gold in a Royal Horticultural Society competition.
And within 2 years I made the scary/brave move to quit my ‘sensible’ job to pursue my painting full time.
What’s your painting process?
My watercolours are all about realism.
To that end I need complete control of where I put the paint.
Instead of allowing any wet-in-wet effects, I work wet-on-dry – using wet paint but in tiny quantities (using really small brushes) to build up layers of paint – allowing each layer to dry first,
Working this way allows me to correct my values and hues as I work to get a really realistic result.
It sounds really controlled, and it is. But I work quite quickly and with a loose wrist. There’s a real flow and a freedom in the process to me.
Do you sketch?
I do love sketching – but these days it’s always as part of my preparation for a major painting.
So I might sketch a petal and play around with my colour mixing as I sit with the flower.
But for the main painting, I’ll always take photos. I see that as part of the creative process. I’ll set up compositions with my camera and play around that way.
Then when I come to paint – and a painting can take me a week or even 2 to do – I can work from a combination of the photos I’ve taken and any supporting sketches.
I begin the painting with a super detailed and accurate drawing (with measurements and/or use of a projector).
The accuracy of the drawing makes the painting process really ‘flow’ as I can then look back and forth from my photo to my painting without there being any drawing errors to interrupt that flow and I’m free to paint exactly what I see.
What materials do you use?
I use professional quality watercolours – the most transparent and bright I can find.
I have at the moment 20 colours in my palette. I LOVE vibrant colours that can match what I see in nature with the minimum of mixing, to keep them as transparent as possible (crucial for my layering technique).
Then I work on hotpressed (smooth) watercolour paper or even illustration board. This way I can achieve really smooth results with my paint – much smoother than would be possible when working on a rough textured paper.
And I use small, spotter style brushes.
What do you do now?
At these workshops, I met people who were struggling to get back to painting after often 30+ years of not doing it.
I could relate.
But they were often so focused on wanting to get great results straight away that it undermined the confidence they needed to experiment and relax into their painting.
So, although I still exhibit my own work, helping adults to realize their painting dreams has now become a major focus for me.
It’s been really satisfying using the analytical left-brain skills I had from my previous jobs to break down the right-brain seeing/ painting process and explain it in a way that demystifies it.
In 2014, I had a book published and I launched my online school where I offer step-by-step tutorials via video.
It’s been a huge success and I feel massively privileged to have helped thousands of people paint the way they’ve always wanted to.
I offer a free video tutorial via my website here so give it a go if you think this style of watercolour might be for you!