As I write this, I marvel at all of the things that simply fell into place, beginning with losing my job as an urban developer almost three years ago in Brazil, just three months after my husband also lost his. Yes, unfortunately, my birth country has been facing a political and economic crisis and still has around 12 million unemployed.
My name is Mila Renault, and I am a joyful Brazilian ex-pat now living in New Zealand. We moved to a sprawled green city of not even 200,000 people in the middle of the Pacific ocean after living for 38 years in a metropolis of 21.5 million inhabitants in an almost continental country.
Circumstances were pushing us! Adventures and risk takers, me and my husband, were also concerned with the quality of life we were giving to our children in Sao Paulo. We decided to achieve our old dream of living abroad.
After a solo first trip, he got a job! While waiting for the Visa we only had a month for clearing down and renting our apartment, preparing all documents and saying goodbye to our dog, closest friends and parents. During, the process of giving away, packing or either choosing what to bring, I also had to decide what to do with my art supplies and folders of old drawings and paintings that had been hidden in my wardrobes. Along with that, in my deepest memories, I also found my childhood dream of being an artist.
I grew up in a family of amateur artists. I learned to love watercolour as I saw my grand auntie and grand uncle painting, there were the framed pieces on the wall and my first watercolours sets, books, and heritage. One of my great grandfathers who was a surveyor trained in France and even participated in those recognition expeditions throughout the Amazonian rain forest that had painters do the accurate visual records as at that time they didn’t have photographs. I, fortunately, got this piece as a heritage.
From 8 to 12 years old, I had art studio classes with an artist and teacher and, though I used to work with mixed media, my passion was already watercolour. I won the first art prize in a Children’s Contest with a painting about global warming. After that, at 13, I was looking for the stronger backbones for my skills and by good chance, my parents offered me to attend two years on Classical Drawing in a Lyceum of Arts and Crafts and finally, one year on watercolour.
After entering University, I kept painting and even teaching watercolour. I thought I would always keep practicing. However, slowly, I had to give up to become an architect and urban designer, a wife and mother.
We arrived in New Zealand in April 2017 with a few suitcases, empty minds, and the desire to live a different lifestyle with more work/life balance. But, in the very beginning, I was still missing my old routine. Everything seemed so different, landscape, habits and even a brief talk was different. And, of course, English and Latin cultural influence set two completely different moods.
Eventually, I had already settled the house, the kids were at school and I said goodbye to my mother who came to help us. I had the choice to either continue mourning my old life at home or get out to explore the new. It was early May, my first autumn in an orange and yellow landscape! Changing the environment and having free time while the kids were at school was the perfect pretext for me to start over.
Nonetheless, the mindset was the main point. I had already given up everything and fortunately, I also got rid of the fear of failure! With a little box of coloured pencils and watercolour, a backpack, and my bike, I started to sketch and paint around town. That, was not an easy process.
Although I had those classical drawing backbones such as perspective, tones, colour and composition packed in some untouched drawer of my brain, my hands were rusty and my eyes untrained. With fierce determination and passion, I put myself in a routine of painting almost every day for two years now. In January 2018, I was at my first art fair and in April my first paintings were accepted in the Art Posts Gallery in Hamilton.
I consider it essential to invest in professional grade watercolours. I have made the transition from Winsor & Newton Cotman student grade paints to M. Graham professional watercolours the end of 2017. My initial pallet was Prussian Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Indian Yellow, Quinacridone rose, Transparent Iron Oxide, Sepia and I have added something new that was having a dark neutral (Paynes Grey) and my first green, that now is essential which is the Azo Green. Lately, I have added Cobalt Teal that I use a lot for my seascapes.
I am going to do a workshop with Mr. Alvaro Castagnet in March so I have been making some experiments with his set of colours from Daniel Smith.
I can’t live without my round Silver Brush black velvet set and a stripper I also use some goat hake Japanese for my clear water washes and lately I have added Cat tongue that is a bit stiffer (so I use it for lifting details) and a large Casaneo flat brush both (for architectural washes) from Da Vinci.
My favourite paper is Artistico Fabriano cotton paper, 300gsm and cold press. For sketches and training purposes, I use either Canson Montval (cotton) Watercolour paper or Winsor & Newton sketchbook (cotton). Recently, I have bought a cheaper option of cotton paper that comes from China called Baohong paper that I’ve noticed to be very good, especially for plein air paintings because the wetness stays longer on the paper.
I often carry my supplies everywhere as you never know when you will capture a good story to feel and paint.
I force myself to draw daily, using exercises to exercise the right side of the brain. For instance, blind sketching or 30 or 60’’ observation drawings of passing people or even drawing what is showing on the TV very quickly and randomly. For drawing, I use common ballpen, 8B Jumbo pencil, or ink pen (UniPen) with coloured pencils using spare paper or either a Kraft sketchbook from Hahnemühle especially when I use the coloured pencils. I love to draw in my sketchbook or on loose cartridge paper too!
My watercolours have been improving during 2017 and 2018 throughout practice, challenges and workshops. First and foremost, I would say the 30×30 Direct Watercolor Challenge 2018 promoted by Marc Taro Holmes was an amazing and life changing experience and my confidence has rocketed.
Secondly, I have done an online workshop with Angela Fehr who is an amazing teacher and artistic coach. With her Watercolour Mastery Online Course, I gained the confidence to rework previous watercolours that I was afraid to try in new approaches and in different sizes.
I am very glad that my painting Mana (2018, shown at the beginning of this post) has been selected to be in Fabriano In Watercolour in April 2019 with other outstanding artists from the Brazilian delegation. The painting is named after the Maori word Mana that, for me, means the power of my reconnection to my ancestral pathway with art and my own connection to nature.
Goals for 2019
I am working on some studies from my last trip to Sao Paulo and also some small and larger ones (56×38) inspired in my new home in New Zealand. This year, I want to improve my composition and atmosphere in larger paintings especially urban scenes that are more difficult and rich in details.
Nevertheless, certainly, I still have many brush miles to paint to establish my own style and I know I have to walk slowly and steadily to progress further. Fortunately, I have a stunning backyard to paint and still the memories of my joyful birthplace fresh in my memories.
I got lost and found myself again!
I invite you to travel to my discoveries.Recommended6 recommendationsPublished in