My artistic roots lie in watercolour. When I started out I thought the only proper way to create a painting was to be a materials purist. So my watercolour paintings had minimal pencil lines, the finest transparent pigments, the white of the paper, and nothing else. My favourite thing to paint was different skies and clouds, from a summer day to a storm. I would read about the different composition of various colours and worry that some might not be lightfast enough for selling originals. Even using a drawing gum to help preserve white areas was frowned upon in those watercolour communities!
Blooms, and other ‘accidents’ were also seen as bad, but I’ve always found them beautiful and purposefully add them in 🙂
I think I started to change when I became more interested in the work of John Singer Sargent. If you look closely at his watercolours you’ll see he uses all sorts of opaque media for highlights and things like wax resists between layers. Scandalous! I found his work to be so beautiful and captivating and of course had to try out some of his techniques. White ink and opaque pigments became part of my everyday sketching materials. This was followed by a transition to much more prominent pencil linework and the addition of coloured pencils and inks.
When I shifted to illustration that would be printed, rather than originals to be displayed and bought, then this really opened up the possibilities. I didn’t have to worry about longevity of materials, lightfastness, any of that stuff. It only needed to survive long enough to be scanned and saved. I started to play with found objects and collage, with mixing all types of paint – acrylic, kids paint sets, wall paint. Why not!
And finally, digital drawing tools like Photoshop, Affinity Photo, and Procreate, opened up a whole extra world of possibilities!
Watercolour is still my favourite material. I like both the experience of painting with it and the end result. The texture, happy accidents, blooms, and colour separation of granulation is something that is so effortless to achieve with real paint but would take ages to painstakingly fake digitally. Scanning the building blocks of an image and then finishing it digitally is my preferred way to work just now. It allows me to experiment and play to begin with and then to refine and finish in a controlled way. Character expressions are something I like to endlessly tweak until they’re just right and digital is the best way to do that.
When I’m out and about sketching from life then I try to mix it up and experiment with new materials, but if I had to quickly grab something for a week away it would be a 0.9mm mechanical pencil and a small travel watercolour palette. I still use the high quality pigments, but because of their fantastic intensity and vibrancy, rather than any concerns about preserving original paintings.
What are some of your favourite materials? Have they evolved over time?
What I’m Reading
Recently, the toddler and I have both been loving The Boy With Flowers In His Hair by Jarvis. He talked about his inspiration for this book and development of the idea in the Good Ship Illustration Picture Book course, which I saw before it was published and was on the look out for it ever since.
David is the boy with flowers in his hair. He’s sweet and gentle, just like his petals. But when David’s flowers begin to fall – a single petal at first, then every last blossom – his best friend never leaves his side. And through kindness and creativity, he even finds a way to give David his colour back … Beautifully illustrated, this story is about being there for someone when they’re at their most vulnerable.
My two year old calls it “the tree book” and her favourite part is when they hold hands to run away from the bees. I also love the bees. It’s a beautiful book and story and I wasn’t surprised when it recently won lots of awards.