Last weekend I attended a watercolour workshop with Jean Haines in Vancouver, BC. I was excited to meet Jean and spend some time in a new city. Vancouver seems awfully far from Dawson Creek, even though they are both in British Columbia, that 1200 km distance makes it feel like we are in two separate countries sometimes! But when I heard Jean Haines was coming to my province, I was determined to go, since Jean’s work and writing has inspired me in so many ways.
I remember working on a painting and as I completed the first layer of paint, I thought, “This is so beautiful! I wish I could stop painting and leave it just like this!” But I felt like “no one will understand it” and so I kept painting and what resulted was overworked and ineffective. When I saw Jean’s work for the first time I recognized that “Here is someone who trusts her viewers to understand her painting without spelling out every detail.” Her paintings are an expression of sheer love for watercolour and an emotional connection to the subject, and viewers feel that connection and respond to it. My paintings changed as I learned to listen more to myself and paint what I consider beautiful and inspiring instead of worrying about what people will understand or want from my art. And through this metamorphosis in my work, I have seen how important the “spirit” of a painting is and how that emotional connection is more important than accuracy or even technical skill.
After discovering Jean’s work, I had to buy her book. “Atmospheric Watercolours” came out at that time, and when I opened it I found myself connecting again, but not to the watercolour demonstrations as I had expected, but to the beautiful and encouraging words on each page. Jean’s gentle voice spoke from every page, “You can paint anything you want,” and “You are in control of your painting.” Her attitude celebrates the process of painting while giving confidence and hope to struggling painters. Not only did this help me to focus more on my own painting process, but it has influenced the way I teach watercolour. I love giving my watercolour students the gift of trust, telling them that “You CAN do this!”
Attending the workshop was a bit like meeting a good friend. Jean Haines was exactly like she comes across in her book and blog; warm and kind, gracious and patient. Her love for watercolour is contagious and inspiring. She worked hard in the workshop, starting us off with her warm up washes, and then moving us into painting roses, then eyes using techniques to keep our paintings loose and fresh. Many of her processes echo what I do in my own painting sessions, and I loved hearing about her schedule for painting, how she starts the day with washes, and knowing her own moods and tendencies, she will paint on paintings at different stages during different times of the day. When she’s energetic and wants to splash paint around, she will start a first layer of a painting, rather than working on critical detail areas that require focus and control. And she loves to have a painting waiting for her in the studio every morning that she just can’t wait to get back into! I like working with paintings at different stages as well, but hearing her structure for when she works on the different stages was very helpful to consider.
I had to laugh as Jean showed us her favourite colours of Daniel Smith paints. When I was packing my paints for the workshop, I was disgusted with myself as I pulled out TWO full tubes of my least favourite green, Cascade Green. It has a bluish murky tone that I just don’t love, and I had accidentally double ordered it when I first tried it out. I hate being stuck with paint I don’t like! And here at the workshop, Jean showed us her favourite green; Cascade Green! So I gave it another chance, and after hearing why she loves it (it has a beautiful turquoise undertone), I think it might end up finding a place in my palette once in awhile too. Although I still love green gold and Undersea Green the most.
My priority for the workshop was a little different from most of the other students. I don’t really paint wildlife and florals don’t excite me the way they used to. I really wanted Jean’s input on using loose techniques for landscape painting. I am so connected to and inspired by the landscape and yet I feel like I have so much to learn when it comes to interpreting landscape paintings without being restricted by “it has to look realistic.” Jean was very helpful in demonstrating how she might approach a landscape painting, and giving me input. One thing she likes to do for a landscape is to turn the reference image sideways and paint the whole thing as an abstract in a way. Turning the image is one way to block the realistic brain from taking over the details.
My last painting during the workshop had the feeling of everything coming together. I pulled out a half sheet of watercolour paper and started painting a reference photo I’ve used before. I decided to just go for it and paint with abandon, and when a brush stroke loaded with burnt orange beside a rich purple gave me a little thrill, I let that guide me into going totally nuts with those two colours. That led to more colour and brush stroke inspirations, and as I threw myself more and more into being guided by the what was happening on the paper, I started to feel a little odd. My heart was racing and I felt breathless – kind of like a shot of espresso on an empty stomach – but this time, it wasn’t caffeine, it was all connected with what was happening on the paper, and it was so exciting! Jean says, “I’ve never taken drugs, but in painting I think this must be what it feels like,” and while I thought I enjoyed painting, it was nothing like the rush I felt in that moment. Totally addictive and absolutely worth it.
Jean’s workshop in Vancouver was organized and hosted by Janice Blore of Artescapes YVR and Janice was a gracious and generous host. She has brought in some of the finest watercolour instructors in the world, and how I wish I lived a little closer so I could attend more often. Learning from artists who paint in different styles using different techniques is a great way to expand one’s body of knowledge and be open to growing and experimenting, so I think next time I take a workshop it will have to be from a very structured realistic painter!