Featured Artist

A World in Watercolour: Interview with John Haywood

John Haywood is a prolific painter of watercolor.  His website, Brushes with Watercolour is his way of sharing his adventures with this notoriously infuriating medium, and hopefully providing visitors  a glimpse into why it’s also one of the most magical and satisfying of pursuits.

His posts are inspiring for any watercolor artist.  His site is filled with educational aspects of watercolor painting including techniques, supplies, videos and books to name a few.  It’s also interesting to read his posts on his latest watercolor projects and how he ‘thinks’ through each step of his journey in the creation of a watercolor painting.

John, how did you actually get started in watercolor painting?

I’ve had a long affinity with watercolour painting, but so many false starts that it’s hard to pin my ‘getting started’ down! I do however recall a friend showing me a book of paintings by the great artist Edward Seago. The book featured his oils and watercolours which really knocked my socks off! The looseness, the directness and the sense of suggestion and expression really fired up my long dormant creative ambitions. That was about six or seven years ago and, while it did inspire me to pick up a paintbrush again, I didn’t really manage to pick up much momentum. In January 2016 though, all that changed. My birthday is in early January and my partner treated me with a surprise gift of a week’s painting course later on in July. From that January on, I tried to paint at least once a week. This was mainly so that when the time came to start the course, I wouldn’t make a complete fool of myself, and secondly so that I might make the most of the course. Everything else has really snowballed from there.

Can you tell us somethings about yourself and what you do besides painting? Do you paint for a living?

I’m not entirely sure if it’s for better or for worse, but I don’t paint for a living. I paint because I have a passion to paint and I find it endlessly engaging. I also find it a great antidote to all the other bits of life. I’m not so sure that would necessarily be the case if I was solely reliant upon it for my entire livelihood.

I’ve spent most of my career in marketing and communications. I’m currently a marketing manager at a leading university on the south coast of England. Historically, however, most of my career has been spent marketing in the arts and cultural sector. I’ve had the privilege to work on major arts festivals and to do the marketing for theatre producers, an opera company and art galleries, perhaps most notable, or well known of which is the National Portrait Gallery in London. It’s fair to say that the arts – in their broadest sense – have played a hugely significant part in my life and it feels great now to be pursuing my own artistic endeavours.

Did you have any formal training as a painter?

Not as a painter but, as a child – art was all I wanted to do (or was any good at for that matter!). I did follow this as far as art college, where I did a degree in three dimensional design and craftsmanship. After graduating, I did harbour ambitions to become a ‘maker’ but this gradually subsided. I eventually came to the realisation that that if I wasn’t good enough to be an artist, then I should try to carve out a career working in the arts in some capacity. This led me first into arts PR and then into arts marketing. Every step I took in this direction as my career progressed, took me another step further away from being any kind a practitioner.

Since I started painting again more recently, I’m pretty much self taught although I’m a voracious consumer of watercolour books and dvds. While I don’t think there’s any substitute or short cuts to actually spending time drawing, really observing and of course painting, I think there are so many talanted artists in the world that are willing to share their knowledge that it would be foolhardy not to take advantage their experiences and advice.

I love reading your weekly blog posts on the latest projects. How has blogging and writing about your projects influenced the overall content of your works. I notice you revise many of your projects. When do you feel like your project is complete?

I started my Brushes with Watercolour blog about five years ago, mainly with the hope that it would provide me with the motivation to paint, in order that I’d have something to write about. This didn’t really work at first, mainly because life became very busy with the arrival of our daughter and moving to a new flat that needed completely refurbishing. It’s only in the past 18 months or so that I’ve had the desire and time to pick up my brushes again, and the blog has played a large part. More than anything, it’s given me a discipline. I try to post once a week, which means I need to try to paint at least once a week. Without the blog, it would be really easy for me to just decide that I’m too busy or too tired to paint, and one week of not painting would easily turn to two, and then three.

It’s funny really because no-one would really miss me posting, but it’s now become quite integral to the rhythm of my life. The really unexpected bonus of the blog has been the exposure. It’s provided me with a platform to share my work and experiences and to meet lots of other painters too. I’ve discovered that there’s a very supportive and positive group watercolour painters out there all sharing their work too; their trials and tribulations, successes and frustrations. It means that I don’t feel quite so alone or isolated in my endeavours, and the positive feedback and reactions that my work has generated has been a wonderful boost to my confidence – especially during those times when it’s all too easy to be hard on oneself.

The ritual of painting, reflecting on my work and then writing about it has also been really positive too and I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed the writing. It’s not like I’m writing about me, or my opinions on world affairs – which I’d find really difficult. Writing about my watercolours feels easy. It’s also really been really gratifying to have twice been selected as an ‘Editor’s Pick’ on WordPress which has been really encouraging.

The only reason that I revise many of my paintings, or rather end up doing multiple versions of them, is purely because I think I can always do it again better! If I was happy with a painting on my first take I’d be delighted and would happily leave it at that. This is very rarely case though. I usually learn so much from every painting and I quite like trying to put into practice what I’ve learnt straight away. How this often works in practice is that my first effort has a particular sense of freedom about it, often quite loose and more spontaneous. My second versions by contrast, where I’m feeling much more conscious about trying to correct things, or do them differently, often feel quite ‘tight’ by comparison. Gradually, I’m trying to close the gap between these two sides and hope that one day, I’ll be producing work that I’m really happy with first time round, but I think I’ve got a long way to go yet!

What is your main inspiration when you set out to paint?

This is where I’d like to say that my main inspiration is usually to capture a particular sense of place, or time. While this it true, I think this follows closely on from my initial sense of, ‘I’m not at all sure how I’m going to do this but I really hope it works out and I don’t make a complete mess of it!’. I’m usually drawn to a view because of a play of light, or a strong composition. I’m less concerned with creating a photograph-like representation, but more capturing a fleeting sense or evocation of a mood, or time of day. Ideally, I’d like to paint more from life as I think this would hugely benefit my painting but while my current circumstances and commitments don’t permit this, most of my works are done in the studio from photographs.

Can you describe your process of painting or how you approach a new work?

I usually approach each new painting with a heady mix of excitement and anticipation mixed with fear and nervousness! The excitement and anticipation of what ‘might be’, the fear and nervousness is about my own abilities to rise to the challenge that every blank piece of paper presents.

One of the great joys of painting is that you never really feel you’ve cracked it. There’s always something new to learn or a new challenge to overcome. I can see it in my own trajectory. I started off with a complete fear of anything man made – I even had a particular fear of painting tarmac! I now love a good stretch of tarmac. For quite a while I copied the work of artists that I like, particularly Edward Seago, Edward Wesson and Rowland Hilder. I saw this as the equivalent of me serving some kind of watercolour apprenticeship. Now I paint from my own source material, and am developing my own visual language and way of applying paint and interpreting a scene. I still hark back to my artistic heroes, but it’s also great to be striking out on my own and finding my own voice.

Do you sell your works or are they strictly for pleasure?

Haha, well as I’ve mentioned my main income is from my job in marketing, so my paintings are primarily for pleasure. They are however also for sale and I find that my pleasure is significantly heightened when someone buys one! Most of my sales come from people making contact with me from the website. It really is the most tremendous complement – to know that someone is so taken with a painting that they want to buy it. The financial side is obviously a factor but more important is knowing that my work has really connected with someone – that’s what really matters.

John Haywood is a watercolour artist.



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