Hello everyone! My name is Michele Clamp and, although originally from the UK, I’ve been living and working in Massachusetts for almost 20 years. My first love was science and I’ve been lucky enough to work on a number of very exciting and successful projects over my scientific career. I started off with a degree in physics from Oxford and followed that up with a PhD. Coming out from my PhD, I realized I wanted to apply myself to something a little more practical and, at the time, the science of genomics was in its infancy.
My analytical skills from physics were in demand and so biology it was! I had the wonderful opportunity to work on the human genome project (never worked so hard in my life) and be an integral part of many subsequent DNA sequencing projects involving human, but also, a lot of animal and bird genomes.
After a couple of decades my enthusiasm waned as the admin duties grew and I knew I had to find something else to feed my soul. Both my father and grandfather were talented amateur artists. Painting and drawing supplies were always in the house and it felt natural to rekindle that interest. And, being from the UK where watercolor has a great tradition, it was my first choice and, frankly, I’ve never looked back.
I’m a bit of a minimalist when painting (although the contents of my supply cupboard might make you think otherwise – I have one of everything). I really like the portability and ease of watercolor and like to work with a pretty small palette of 8 or 9 colors. I don’t really have a loyalty to any one brand though. I buy a lot of Da Vinci and Winsor & Newton paints. Partly because of the quality but also a practical reason – they come in big 37ml tubes!
Nothing worse than running out of ultramarine at an inopportune moment! And like many of us, I’ve experimented with all the watercolor papers. My go to paper is usually Fabriano Artistico cold press 140lb. It takes paint well but isn’t too absorbent and the colors retain their intensity. You can also buy large packs of multiple sheets which keeps costs down and lets me experiment without guilt.
The only things I won’t skimp on are brushes. I can make do with cheaper pan paints and paper when I’m traveling but cheap brushes are a dealbreaker. I’ve tried the cheap brushes but they are useless. Half the bristles end up shedding on the paper and then the other half are lost when you wash them. No more!
Having tried the Escoda Reserva kolinsky sable rounds I’m never going back. They’re not cheap (but not eye-waveringly expensive either) and are beautifully made and handle exquisitely. I’m always on the lookout for a synthetic alternative but they’re just not the same.
The only real rule I have when painting is ‘paint exactly what you want!’. One day it might be dolphins, another daffodils, and another might be a cement factory. In particular, I do like to paint local scenes when I can. They connect me to the place I live in and the people that live there and I like to make permanent some of the beauty that we might not register as we’re there.
I find that subjects for painting can rattle around in my brain for years sometimes before I paint them. A view I’ve seen or a subject gets tucked away in the memory and waits. The time just has to be right before it pops out. But once the decision has been made I don’t hang around. It’s rare that a painting takes more than a session although leaving it on the easel overnight can sometimes reveal ghastly things in the cold light of day.
I often start in a sketchbook with a value study and sometimes a color study. Getting the values and the color palette right ahead of time have saved many a painting. I mostly work on quarter sheets (11”x15”) as this size works well on a wall after framing and is a popular size for collectors.
One unexpected avenue that has been very rewarding has been teaching. Originally I started this when my local Art Center had an unexpected vacancy for a watercolor instructor and they asked me to fill in. At the time it was a little nerve-wracking. Although I’d done a lot of science teaching painting was a whole new thing. In hindsight, I was glad I started when I did.
I was close enough to the beginning of my painting career that I could clearly remember the obstacles and frustrations when you start. But I had enough chops to be useful to people. My main aim was to try and help people avoid the years of going around in circles not getting anywhere. Whether I succeed or not, you’d have to ask my students, but we all have a good time and they often surprise me with the great quality of their work.
The final thing that I love about watercolor is other artists and the communities that grow up around it. Doodlewash is a great example of this and Charlie is unfailingly upbeat and a great ambassador. When you talk to others about painting we all have the same frustrations and insecurities (with the occasional triumph). It’s great to feel you’re on your own path yet have others walking beside you.
Michele ClampRecommended3 recommendationsPublished in