GUEST ARTIST: “From Science to Watercolor” by Michele Clamp

Michele Clamp_Rockport MA Watercolor Painting

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.

Michele Clamp_Radishes Watercolor Painting

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!

Michele Clamp_Winter Barn Watercolor Painting

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.

Michele Clamp_Bamburgh Castle Watercolor Painting

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.

Michele Clamp_Danish Boats Watercolor Painting

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.

Michele Clamp_Penguins Watercolor Painting

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 Clamp

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25 Comments
  1. Sheila 1 month ago

    WOW! I LOVE your work, Michele, you are VERY talented.

    • meclamp 2 weeks ago

      Thank you so much Sheila!

  2. Sandra Strait 1 month ago

    Whether realistic or leaning toward the abstract, your work is beautiful! Thank you for sharing your artistic journey with us!

    • meclamp 2 weeks ago

      Thank you. I enjoyed putting it together!!

  3. Tracy Foster 1 month ago

    Looking at the first painting in this article I said, wow, that looks like home. Then erasing down I find it is ‘home’ to me. Because while I have lived in California since I was 12, I grew up in North Attleboro, MA and still identify as a New Englander! Still go there to visit my dear cousins.
    Thanks for this article, I have taken a fer notes that will help me going forward.
    Tracy Foster

    • meclamp 2 weeks ago

      Yes! There is a definite New England look. I like painting the towns around me very much. And thank you for your comment!

  4. Tracy Foster 1 month ago

    Wow Tracy, you forgot to proofread! Sorry!

  5. Chad S. 1 month ago

    Wow, your watercolors are stunning! Thank you for sharing your work and story.

    • meclamp 2 weeks ago

      My pleasure Chad. And thank you!

  6. Gary Middleton 1 month ago

    All your styles are fabulous, Michele.

    • meclamp 2 weeks ago

      Thank you! I know I do vary the style a lot. I keep thinking I should just stick to one but I like the variety.

  7. Magdalena French 1 month ago

    Your watercolours are beautiful and I loved reading your story.

    • meclamp 2 weeks ago

      Thank you. So nice to get so many lovely comments. Wasn’t expecting that 🙂

  8. Irene Hynes 1 month ago

    This was awesome! Thank you for introducing Michele Clamp to us! I love her work, and her philosophy of “paint anything”…I look forward to trying her classes!

    • meclamp 2 weeks ago

      I would love to see you! And I’m glad the ‘paint anything’ resonates. So often I get bogged down in what I ‘should’ paint. Feels really good to just go with the flow sometimes.

  9. Laura Hale 1 month ago

    Beautiful art and wonderful journey! Thank you for sharing both of them with us Michele.

    • meclamp 2 weeks ago

      My pleasure. Glad you enjoyed it!

  10. scrittoralinda 1 month ago

    Michele, I love the atmospheric touch — my own style as well. Your work is stunning! Imagine science and art — left brain and right brain active. Love it.

    • meclamp 2 weeks ago

      You know I’ve found there’s quite a lot of overlap. There’s a lot of problem solving in painting and a lot of creativity in science. I’ve found it more similar than you might think. Less statistics though 🙂

      • scrittoralinda 2 weeks ago

        Left brain for balance and right for creativity. I found too that writing and art inform each other. Enjoy!

  11. Yvonne Ryves 1 month ago

    I love the looser style of the two owls in particular.

    • meclamp 2 weeks ago

      I do like that style too. It’s a fairly recent experiment and seems to be paying off.

  12. Sally Fox 4 weeks ago

    I’m glad you made the scientific contributions when you did, but so glad you found watercolor to be so fulfilling. Your work is gorgeous, especially the very painterly birds. Thank you for sharing your work and your story.

    • meclamp 2 weeks ago

      Thank you. I was sad to leave science but it was time to move on. I find painting to be just as satisfying.

  13. meclamp 2 weeks ago

    Thanks everyone for the wonderful comments. Sorry for taking so long to reply – I didn’t even know there was a comment section!

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