On 31st May, as part of the new artists interview series, WallSauce Gallery interviewed Derbyshire based watercolour artist Jenny Oldknow.
Watercolour is traditionally a difficult medium to work with. Why did you choose watercolour as your medium?
Probably because I like a challenge! I think you either love or hate working with watercolour. The only way to succeed as a watercolourist is to practice and paint as often as possible so you have to like it to have the motivation to put the hours in. If you don’t like it when you first try it, it is then that you dismiss it as ‘difficult’ and don’t persevere. I have used just about every medium, but just love the fluid flowing nature of watercolour that you just don’t get with oils or acrylics, for example.
What is the most challenging part of working with watercolour?
The hardest thing is knowing when to stop painting, and keeping the painting looking fresh and lively but still resolved. The thing I love most about watercolour is the transparency of the medium and the way it blends itself on the paper, but it is easy to lose this by adding too many layers in an attempt to fiddle!
Do you have any special techniques?
I love to experiment with techniques and painting methods, so I don’t really continually use a tried and tested method of painting each picture. My personal style is quite loose, so I often use a very wet-in-wet technique that allows the pigments to flow readily across the paper. I don’t really mix colours on a palette, but I prefer to allow colours to mix on the paper instead, allowing the beautiful effects to form that are unique in watercolour. As I mentioned above, the real special technique is the ability to stop painting early enough to reserve the spontaneity that makes watercolour what it is - and I am still learning that one!
What is your creative process like?
I work from photographs when painting animals (as they never stay still, and I want to get a bit of accuracy in the painting), but I never aim to capture the image photographically in paint, but instead study the photo for some time, stripping the details down and squinting at it through half-closed eyes (this is where having a degenerative eye condition has its’ benefits!). When I paint flowers I usually paint from life, and I paint the landscape from my own quick pencil sketches or memories of a place. Whatever the subject, my creative process is the same, pushing something real into a looser interpretation that can be semi-abstract, or even pure abstract when finished. I work around what I can leave out of a painting in order to create an interesting interpretation, rather than how much detail I can include. I always find that the longer I spend planning a painting the more successful it is! Creating a painting is 80% planning, thinking and waiting for paint to dry, and 20% with the brush on the paper!
Your favoured subject seems to be animals, do you have any other subjects?
Yes! All my work is inspired by the natural world. I am a real country-girl at heart and live on the doorstep of the beautiful Peak District National Park in Derbyshire, so I am surrounded by lots of inspiration. I don’t really paint things like buildings or people, but focus on animals, flowers and the rural landscape - the things I love!
There’s a lot of animal art on the market. What differentiates your artwork from the rest?
I don’t really set out to intentionally make my work different from everyone else. I just paint what interests and excites me as an artist, and try and paint in a way that is personal to me. I focus on the things in a subject that attract me the most, whether that is the big bulgy eyes of a hare, the bright colours and strutting action of a cockerel or the soft adoring gaze of a labrador, and work from there. These things become the focus points of my painting. I hope what marks my work is my passion for both the medium of watercolour, and my experimentations with it, and my love of the subjects I choose to paint.
Is there anything you consistently draw inspiration from?
My daily walks with my chocolate labrador give me more than enough inspiration! The changing seasons of the landscape, the wild flowers within it, pets I meet on a daily basis, and I am asked to paint through commissions.
Describe your studio space?
I have three young children, so I work within the house, so I can snatch a few minutes painting or other work during the day, and keep an eye on everyone! I prefer to work with the paper unfixed to a board and sat at a table, so I can easily move the painting around to create paint flows and runs. I have a large table at one end of a room, next to north-facing patio doors, so it is light and lovely in summer. I have a couple of shelves above the desk where I keep my equipment, supplies and paperwork. Working within our home, I have had to learn to effectively use a smaller space, and keep it reasonably tidy! I do sometimes spread out work onto the dining table at times, especially when painting larger works.
What advice would you give to painters new to watercolour?
Practice, practice, practice! Expect to make lots of ‘failed’ paintings, but don’t let it put you off. Look and learn from lots of paintings by artists you admire, preferably in real-life but in books or on the internet if not. I find DVD’s useful too, as you can see the artist actually moving the brush, which is more useful than reading a book. Always remember the best thing about watercolour is the spontaneity of the finished painting, so it is important to learn how to think about how you are going to approach the painting, even before you pick up the brush, and then learn when to stop early enough to preserve the spontaneity of those first brushstrokes.