Shed with Sunflowers by Helen Otter
MEET THE MEMBER – Helen Otter
Other art societies you belong to:
Role in the SEAW :
I have recently volunteered to be the Treasurer
When did you start painting?
As a child I loved painting, I would spend my Christmas money on poster paints and enter competitions in local newspapers. I still have the remains of my original paints and the prismalo watercolour pencils given as a prize. At school I was urged to drop art for more academic subjects which I regret. I stopped painting when I went to Art school, in the face of criticism for my work and the subjects I chose. Whilst I have been successful with installation artwork using sound, digital images and textiles I consider myself to be a developing painter and a novice at watercolours.
What led you to start painting AGAIN?:
After teaching Art and Design for a number of years and encouraging students, I realised that I was missing out on creating work myself, with the role consuming all my time and energy. When my husband’s employer changed, requiring frequent travel, I chose to leave education, paint and accompany my husband on his travels.
What subject matter do you like to paint?
Light is key to my work so where it falls and how it defines shape, provides contrast and colour is what excites me.
Do you have a preference for a painting style? If so, can you describe it?
That is a difficult question, I know it when I see it. If anything it would include colour planes, tonal contrast, effective composition. I love the Splash series of watercolour books by Rachel Rubin Wolf and would love to collect them all. I like to look through and choose my favourite. I also ask my family and friends to look through and put stickers on the ones that appeal to them, as I’m interested in understanding what appeals to others and it is also starts a good conversation
Where do you paint? At home? Studio? Outside?
I paint in my art room at home which is sunny and warm and I can hear the birds sing. I have had a studio in the past but prefer having a space that I can walk into at anytime, or leave at the last minute ( usually when I smell the burning from the kitchen)
Which artists inspire you and why?:
For watercolour I am inspired by John Sell Cotman for his use of value and shape to capture the light. I feel so lucky to live in Norwich where he was born and paint contemporary versions of the same scenes.
What galleries do you like to visit?:
I am a member of the Tate and do visit galleries as much as possible. I studied Fine Art and Norwich School of Art and Design, now the Norwich University College of the Arts. For research and inspiration I would often venture to London with fellow students to visit galleries. I think we managed thirty in one day. It taught me that other artists’ work is inspiring and that what you don’t like is often more informative than what you do.
In January this year before Covid-19 changed everything, I accompanied my husband on a business trip to Madrid. Whilst Martin was meeting his colleagues I visited the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza. It didn’t cost much as I visited when the entrance was free or a reduced price and it also meant I didn’t feel pressured to stay too long and linger only before paintings that inspired me. I was much encouraged by the Thyssen collection which featured many famous artists, but not their most famous or accomplished works. I recognised that every artist is on a journey and that every stage has value.
What is your favourite colour to paint with?
I would say that I am a rainbow painter with a spring palette and owe this categorisation to learning about Johannes Itten, a teacher at the Bauhaus school of painters who believed that individuals have sensitivity to colour contrasts and difficulty in working with others, a subjective preference that is not always obvious. He conducted experiments with his students and identified that there were four types of palette, akin to seasons. His work influenced the cinema, textile and the fashion industry as well as colour theory. Some years ago I attended a personal colour analysis session and took away my booklet identifying colours I should seek to wear. I had at the time painted a large canvas, a mosaic of colours and images. When I compared the palette to the painting I found a remarkable correlation.
Your favourite brush?
I’ve recently had a breakthrough with the brushes I am using. I was once advised to use the biggest brush possible … and have tried to do so with mixed results. It wasn’t until I watched a youtube clip and bought the same brush as the artist – a da Vinci Casaneo – that I was able to experience both flow and finesse in the same brush. The brush holds lots of water yet has a fine point, the combination has taken some of the stress out of keeping painting wet enough while creating detail.
What is the best piece of advice you were ever given about art?
I’ve had lots of “advice” over the years and found that both positive and negative comments have spurred me on. Most useful has been that when creating a piece of work what you leave out is as important as what you put in, similar to music where the gaps between the notes are as important as the notes themselves.
If you could give your teenage self one piece of advice, what would it be?
That it is okay to change your mind and opinion and that it can be liberating to do so.