Hello, I’m Kathleen M. Ward, from Goshen, Indiana, and I’m 68 years old. I was an unremarkable student or artist until events interceded, and I realized what I’d been missing. At the age of 36, I attended an art Fair in the Chicago Suburb of Oak Brook. While there with my husband, I saw a number of paintings that made me stop, go closer to inspect, and eventually engage the artist in conversation.
That exchange was my first introduction to the medium of watercolor and the possibilities that went far beyond the soft, delicate, pastel colored paintings that I had until then thought of as watercolor. My life had just shifted.
My career had been in the field of professional, commercial photography where I developed a keen eye for composition, values, contrasts and colors. As I began to learn more about watercolor through reading, videos, and occasional local workshops, I called upon those skills. I never stopped wanting to make beautiful paintings, but it would be many years before I made that desire a priority. It was about 20 years after that first art show, but that is exactly what I did.
We found a dedicated space for a drawing board and I painted daily whether I really felt like it or not. I was always fearful of failure. I believe this to be quite common and not just for beginners.
Eventually that fear has been replaced with an anticipation and total emergence into the lush explosion of colors that intentionally (or sometimes accidentally) happen in this most difficult, most rewarding of mediums.
Through the next few years, I challenged myself by constantly changing my subject matter. Still life, portraits, animals, it didn’t really matter as my approach was to look at my subject in terms of shapes within shapes, and again, values, and colors.
I have also been fortunate enough to study in workshops with some of todays most exciting and recognized watercolorists.
Today, I carry my little “point and shoot” camera (no phone) with me almost always. I love taking pics of outdoor activities in the warmer months, as well as nature that surrounds me in northern Indiana.
I still feel my pulse quicken when I see what I know will be a great “photo-op.” Then again, when reviewing for painting, as well as drawing it out. Bringing to life through exaggerating or emphasizing something about the man in the hat, or the fruit on the counter, sales clerk bagging bread, or simply the way a couple pair of shoes overlap when kicked off by the door.
I believe as artists we can and should do whatever makes our art answer to ourselves, look finished, and just work. I draw directly on watercolor paper, or tissue, but also feel comfortable projecting my images onto paper tacked to a wall and tracing them.
I use professional tube paints from all manufacturers, but my go-tos are Holbein and M. Graham with some Daniel Smith thrown in. Fave paper is cold press, Arches, Fabriano and Saunders Waterford. I’ve used all of these materials enough to feel comfortable with them, and often switch from one to another.
I love the power we artists have to make whatever changes we feel are needed to make our painting work. Change the color and or the lighting and the entire mood of a painting will be altered. Crop a vertical image and make it horizontal. Or, use a limited palette, no more than 4 colors for harmony and fresh clean colors. But most importantly, paint, enjoy yourself, have fun and you will be rewarded with something uniquely you.
However you choose to portray your subject or express yourself, all the power is in your hands. This will come from practice, practice and then more. Measure your growth, not by painting to painting. Look at your body of work year to year. But what fun, what challenge and what rewards! Paint to make yourself happy, and you will soon find others will be pleased with what you paint also.
Kathleen M Ward