We held our most successful exhibition ever at Wells Maltings in Norfolk in February. Late in November, we got the opportunity to stage a Festival of Watercolour at this prestigious gallery. Despite many reasons to shy away from this challenge: (lack of lead time, winter exhibition, travel distance, Christmas!), the committee of the SEAW decide to take a leap of faith. We put the opportunity to our members and launched an open call in order to be able to hang watercolours from other excellent artists in the region.
The response was exceptional. 128 paintings were hung on the walls of the beautiful Handa Gallery with a further 84 in the browsers. Forty-four watercolourists of East Anglia celebrated their appreciation of the medium through their works on show.
As usual, we invited visitors to vote for their favourite painting. 937 votes were received over the course of the exhibition and the visitors’ favourite was Looking Out to Sea by Anthony Mashman. In second and third positions respectively were Behind the Eyes by Stephie Butler and Votes ‘Four’ Women by Mel Collins.
The winning card was completed by Viv Henderson.
A Festival of Watercolour for everyone
In addition to providing a show of some of the best watercolours in the region, we wanted to give visitors the chance to take an active role. The members of the SEAW tutored a series of workshops for artists of all levels of experience. Watercolour taster sessions allowed those who were interested in having a go at painting in the medium to come along and try their hand. We decided to stage these inside the gallery rather than in a separate room. This allowed visitors to witness the process of creating watercolours before they reach the walls.
The taster sessions and full day workshops proved highly popular. We are grateful for the support of our workshop sponsors, St Cuthbert’s Mill.
What made this our most successful exhibition?
Naturally this is a subjective judgement. In my view it is the fact that over 2800 people enjoyed the exhibition. Many people made a point of coming back to a second visit. A high proportion of visitors took the time to tell us how much they appreciated the standard of work on the walls. There were great conversations. There were requests for information about becoming a member, and there were a good number of red dots on the walls.
The Society of East Anglian Watercolourists was given a warm welcome by Wells Maltings and the people of the Wells-next-the-Sea area. SEAW members were enthusiastic about the experience of stewarding and chatting to visitors.
Next year we will be staging Awash2: A Festival of Watercolour. Sign up for our news if you want to stay in touch.
In the meantime, why not visit our Members’ Exhibition at Long Melford, open to the public from 18th to 28th April.
Current President, Society of Graphic Fine Art (the drawing society)
What led you to start painting:
I have been painting and drawing all my adult life, exhibiting seriously in the ‘70’s when in my twenties.
Do you have a preference for painting style? If so, can you describe it?
I have a very open mind with regards to what I am attracted to, and with regards to my own practice, I have always been drawn to creating minimalistic contemporary work – strong composition, colour and space.
Describe your perfect weekend
Taking a gentle walk with sketchbook – drawing whatever presents itself, plus rummaging in antique stores or charity shops for bargain props for my still life paintings.
The best thing ever invented was:
In my mind the ‘travelling squirrel head brush’
A person who changed my life is:
In real time it has to be my husband, retired Industrial Photographer, Barry Devereux – we have travelled the world together, recording everything that moved (or not!), exhibited together and ‘laughed out loud’………what more could one wish!
With reference to other artists it would have to be J.M.W.Turner from the past, but an artist sadly now deceased, is Amelia Shaw-Hastings. Amelia and I travelled to the States in the early ‘80’s, exhibited together, laughed and drew together. Her keen eye and swift, eloquent drawing skills were a constant inspiration.
If you could give your teenage self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Always keep an eye on the horizon!
My favourite place to paint is (and why):
I love to paint alone in my studio – working from sketchbooks compiled over the years, I can transport myself anywhere I wish. What is more, I can create a world unique to me.
Is there somewhere on your wish list of places to go and paint? If so, where and why
I should like to explore the wild parts of Canada preferably by train.
I have grown to love wide open spaces – taking in the dead centre of Australia, to Antarctica – stark contrasts.
Artists who inspire you:
Cezanne and Turner from the past, as well as Hockney for his masterly line!
Your favourite colour to paint with?
Pthalo blue (green shade)
Best piece of advice you were ever given about art
Composition, composition, composition…….oh, and negative space awareness!
Whatever jottings and ramblings I put down here can either be attributed to ideas and advice I have gleaned over time from numerous books in my studio, (How to Paint like Turner by Tate Publishing in particular), or from studying the works of other artists or to the accidents and magic of watercolour that occurs whilst messing about with the medium. And if messing about equates to having fun then that is what it should be – fun.
To my mind, watercolour is the greatest and most perfect medium of all, it is certainly one of the oldest. Cave paintings in central Europe show silhouettes apparently applied by spraying a mouthful of raw sienna solution over a human hand. I am not advocating that – but whatever turns you on! Watercolour doesn’t smell much, it doesn’t stick to everything, doesn’t cover everything with dust and if (like me), you are untidy, doesn’t take up a lot of room and is easy to carry about – the perfect medium.
My preferences aside, I suppose the first question is “what is watercolour” and, at a very basic scientific and mundane level, the colour part could be described as a mixture of natural or man made materials held together with a binding agent such as gum arabic, awaiting the addition of water to provide a solution which can be applied to a surface, usually by brush, resulting in a dried translucent film allowing light to reflect from the supporting surface – and how boring is that – a definition designed to send you off to learn bee keeping or macramé.
Where does the magic happen?
But at the ‘awaiting the addition of water’ stage is just where we come in. We are the magicians who conjure up the magic in what is certainly a very magical process.
Just by the addition of water we can release the magic of watercolour. Those beautiful flowing and swirling tones, those misty, mystic washes that combine to form a masterpiece of brilliant, iridescent and transparent colour.
Simple isn’t it – just add water.
Those of us who practice this aggravating art of watercolour know that simple, it is not.
Watercolour is a headstrong mistress with a very definite mind of her own and success as a painter in this medium relies on recognising that fact and practice, practice, practice.
PRACTICE – to understand the limitations of the medium
PRACTICE – to understand its boundless possibilities and finally,
PRACTICE – to put the two together in a successful finished work – but the real secret ingredient to success comes when you realise that watercolour knows what it is doing almost by itself. You are but an aid to the final result, a mere manual labourer and the more you try to interfere in the process the more stubborn the mistress becomes to a point where she just gives up and turns to mud.
Try a little magic watercolour experiment
Fill a jam jar with clean water.
Mix, in separate pots, fairly strong solutions of the three primaries, red, yellow and blue.
Using a full brush or dropper, drop the three colours individually into the water and watch the result.
Undisturbed the three pigments retain their individuality, tumbling about each other.
Now give the water a quick stir and see what happens. Magic to mud in a second.
This is an extreme illustration of what happens when we overwork a watercolour, scrubbing and pushing at the paper, the translucence and brilliance of the pigment disappear and we begin to lose heart – wash it out, tear it up, start again.
The real magic of watercolour
But how lucky are we, we 21st century watercolourists. Bear a thought for those who came before – Turner, Constable, Cotman, the founders of The Norwich School and their predecessors. Not for them the on line art store, the local art shop, paint in tubes. Although William Reeves produced small hard cakes of watercolour towards the end of the 18th century, most artists ground their own pigments from coarse materials prepared by colourmen. So the next time, when things are not going right or you run out of blue, don’t chuck your brushes in the air – just be thankful you don’t have to reach for your muller and grind your own.