When I was first living on an island and wanted to learn paint in watercolour, I had no teacher and even finding subject matter was tough. Whatever it was had to remain stock still and be small enough to lug back to the cabin, for it rained off and on all the time. That ruled out everything but flowers, that favourite subject of beginning painters. I bought a pot of primroses at the market and painted them from every direction but Sunday. Gradually I worked up the courage to try portraits and poor Jon was commandeered into sitting, not a position he prefers. Who knew that you didn't have to paint the whole thing at a go? Stumbling totally by accident into the concept of letting the painting dry and then glazing with transparencies certainly helped but I still longed for a broader scope.
I began to experiment with the suggestions of context: I placed one multi-talented friend with a wild sky behind her, for she was always testing the limits; a law society learned that when the sculpture they had commissioned for the annual dinner turned out to be a rat in court robes. Her equally-talented husband was, among other things, a nature photographer, so I placed him in front of a large sycamore (though as far as I know he remained on excellent terms with trees). This watercolour is of a friend who is noticeably nurturing at her highly-skilled job as well as being a brilliant gardener. I took this picture when standing under her pear tree because it seemed to me that she is always reaching out in a caring way.
But there was a limit to the backgrounds I was prepared to tackle in watercolour, that unforgiving medium. It was hard enough to get the face right; add to that a complex background, and the odds against completing the painting without screwing up somewhere sky-rocketed. (Case in point: our Amazon parrot once flew off my shoulder onto the palette, took a beakful of every colour and then hopped triumphantly onto an almost finished painting. I had to grab him by the neck and rinse him out under the tap. Neither of us was feeling affectionate.)
I also longed for much juicier colour.
And then I met Kathy Marlene Bailey.