This is an interview with Susan Goddard, a dynamic artist and master watercolorist. She’s also the mother of my closest friend, Ted. I’m grateful to have her answer a few questions about her work, watercolors, and the art life.
Q: When did you start painting?
Since I was knee-high to a grasshopper! I was interested in theatre set design in High School and started painting the sets for school musicals and other community theatre groups including the State Youth Theatre in Sydney.
After school, I attended Art School in Sydney painting on canvas in oils and acrylics. My love affair with watercolour on paper began when I had two young children and we were living in Brisbane, Queensland.
Q: Do you still have any of your early work?
I kept the good ones! I still have a couple of early works on paper which I kept as reference material for when I developed a new technique. I still have a habit of tearing up the disasters!
Q: Why watercolors?
There is something tactile and pure about a beautiful piece of paper. Drawing and painting on paper is intimate, delicate and challenging.
Q: What are the key challenges of watercolours and getting them to work?
Patience is a virtue! The biggest challenge is slowly working up the layers of a painting without losing the transparency of the white paper that is kept as the highlight. I am a purist and don’t use any gouache.
I use most techniques in each painting….wet on dry, wet on wet, granulation, and fine brushwork.
Q: Could you briefly outline your typical process for creating a watercolor painting from start to finish?
I thought this recent painting would be the most interesting for you.
This was a private commission of a walk my patrons take near their residence in Brisbane, Queensland. It was a very complicated composition and technically difficult! As you can see, it is a series of composite images on one piece of paper. I used Arches 640gsm Cold Pressed paper because I needed to be able to mix different techniques and work separate panels without the paper warping. There was no need to stretch the paper.
The first step was to work out my composition and then draw the images with a pencil.
My method is to work the background washes first, usually using a wet-on-wet technique. The sky in the righthand panel was painted first and then the background washes of the other two. The next stage is the first base wash of mixed colors down the painting and let it dry.
Then it is a matter of working up the overlaying washes and finally the details. I always leave the white of the paper and never use gouache on a pure watercolor. Details are painted with a very fine brush (00-000 usually) and the underlying layers must be dry.
Have a look at the image below and you can see the white of the paper before the final details are painted.
As you can imagine, it gets a bit nerve-wracking as I get towards the end of a complicated painting like this one! There is no room for error and I must constantly assess my balance and use of colors and lines.
It helps to be patient. You cannot rush and must wait for each stage to dry before you start on the next stage. Notice the different washes, some are granulated, some are transparent. The lines and colors are designed in this particular painting to take the viewer’s eye on the loop walk. For those of you who really notice details, the ‘patterns’ are parts of an heirloom carpet that is inside the Patron’s home and where the walk begins and ends.
Q: Do you have a preferred brand of brush, paint, and paper?
Kolinsky sable brushes and Raphael Petit Gris Pur, Winsor and Newton Artists’ Watercolor and Arches paper.
Q: What other art forms interest you?
Ceramics, textiles, sculpture, and printmaking.
Living on a rural property in the Australian bush, I have access to plants and varieties of eucalyptus trees for making natural dyes for textiles. When I am not painting, I enjoy spinning and textile crafts such as felting and weaving.
Q: What are you working on now?
A series of larger works on canvas using the Winsor and Newton range of water-soluble oil paints.
Q: What is your favorite from your own paintings?
That is impossible to answer. I love paintings for different reasons….the emotional connection or the mastery of technique. I suppose my favorites contain both elements and that mysterious innate energy that they hold within them.
Q: Which master artists inspire you?
Margaret Olley and John Caldwell.
Q: What do you look for in a subject?
I must have a connection to the subject. A place I know well, an emotional response, or something that has captured my eye with the color, light, and texture. When I am painting a commission, it is important that I use my intuition to capture those elements for the patron.
Q: Any advice for aspiring artists?
Keep going. The days when you feel nothing is working are the days when you are actually learning the most. It takes time and patience before you reach those magic moments when you are able to be completely ‘in the zone’ and painting without consciously thinking about the technique.
Q: Where can we see more of your work?
Thanks for Reading!
I appreciate you taking the time to read this post. And thanks Susan for doing this interview. Some wise words here for aspiring artists, particularly if you have an interest in watercolors.
Draw Paint Academy