Susan Goddard: Advice on Watercolors and the Art Life

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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.

Susan Goddard, Bush Ballad
Susan Goddard, Bush Ballad

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.

Susan Goddard, Bush Dance
Susan Goddard, Bush Dance

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!

Susan Goddard, Early Painting

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.

Susan Goddard, Flow
Susan Goddard, Flow

(See the supplies page for details about what I use and recommend.)

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.

Susan Goddard, Tannin
Susan Goddard, Tannin

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.

Susan Goddard, Serenity, Now!, 2022
Susan Goddard, Serenity, Now!, 2022

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.

1. Drawing
2. Progress

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.

4. Susan Goddard, Serenity Now
Susan Goddard, Serenity, Now!, 2022, Detail

Have a look at the image below and you can see the white of the paper before the final details are painted.

5. Susan Goddard, Nearly Finished

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.

Susan Goddard, Books That Bite (art book series)
Susan Goddard, Books That Bite (art book series)
Susan Goddard, Books That Bite (art book series) 2
Susan Goddard, Books That Bite (art book series)
Susan Goddard, In the Race (book) 1
Susan Goddard, In the Race (book)

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.

Susan Goddard, Current Works
Susan Goddard, Current Works
Susan Goddard, Buddina Beach Series, (left to right, Buddina Beach, Dune Bean and Pandanus)
Susan Goddard, Buddina Beach Series, (left to right, Buddina Beach, Dune Bean, and Pandanus)
Susan Goddard, Dune Bean, Buddina Beach
Susan Goddard, Pandanus

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.

Susan Goddard, No Hat, All Cattle

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.

Susan Goddard, Still Life With Pots
Susan Goddard, Still Life With Pots

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.

Susan Goddard, The Cows Last Tango
Susan Goddard, The Cows Last Tango

Q: Where can we see more of your work?

Buy Art Now

Instagram

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.

Happy painting!

Dan Scott

Draw Paint Academy

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65 comments on “Susan Goddard: Advice on Watercolors and the Art Life”

    • I am so glad to see water colour methods at last. I have tried oils and acrylic, they always seemed too heavy for my liking. Have used water colours for 80 years. Because I like to do much of my work out in the woods and fields pencils are the base of most work. Often slyly touched up with water colour when I get home. My work usually converts to greetings cards. (Tip: a little income to buy new brushes).

      Reply
  1. Wow! She is an amazing artist! I wonder if she uses masking fluid? I realize that I need to slow down and plan a detailed painting more than I do. Thank you for this interview!

    Reply
    • Hi Marion, I certainly do use Masking Fluid! Especially useful for keeping the white of the paper when doing the initial washes. I remove it as soon as the under layers are dry.
      Thanks for your lovely comments,
      Susan

      Reply
  2. Oh these were more than amazing. Her patience is extraordinary! The painting of the couples walk is beautiful. I am just in awe of her work. Would love to see her work in person.

    Reply
  3. Lovely ointrrview – and Susan points out exactly one of my weaknesses – PATIENCE – still trying to
    Improve on this weakness – cheers

    Reply
    • Hi Judy, I work on paper with water colour because I don’t manage to get the same delicate marks and transparency on the water colour canvas.
      The works on canvas are painted using the Winsor and Newton water based OIL paints….the Artisan range.
      I use some similar techniques however the oil paintings are more opaque.

      Reply
  4. Wow ! I love these interviews with different artists and different mediums, very inspiring.

    Her work is fabulous !

    Thank you Dan for sharing,
    Carole Dubé

    Reply
  5. Definitely inspiring to never give up and go large in size! Experiment, be in the moment and take your time, especially with working with layers, and placing the white: something I must work on.
    Dan, thank you for this interview and congrats to the artist

    Reply
  6. Definitely inspiring to never give up and go large in size! Experiment, be in the moment and take your time, especially with working with layers, and placing the white: something I must work on.
    Dan, thank you for this interview and congrats to the artist

    Reply
  7. Wow! The colors, the design, the exquisite execution! What struck me is the power of a collection! One painting may be good, but placed next to two others- and the artist’s vision just pops out! Thank you for this article and the introduction to this artist. Love going on this journey with you, Dan.

    Reply
  8. Thanks, good to be taken into Susan’s studio and see stages in her process – and most generous of her to give her time for this…thank you Dan for setting it up.

    It’s an odd thing, but unlike some…I only use watercolour, ‘fearing’ the mess I’d make with oils and acrylics more; with watercolour there is so much to learn – I like that it has a habit of taking over and ‘doing its thing’!

    I’m still early on in discovering the fun you can have with the medium, people like you and Susan are an encouragement & inspiring,

    Keep up the excellent work,

    Laurence

    Reply
  9. Thanks Dan. I loved this interview on Susan. Such beautiful works. The works on canvas, was watercolour used or another medium.

    Reply
    • Hi Sandra, I used the Winsor and Newton ARTISAN water based oil paints on canvas. These are brilliant and wash up in warm, soapy water.

      Reply
  10. She is amazing and the portrait of the old man wow, fabulous. Thanks Dan, I’m rather isolated and so much appreciate seeing other artists work, tips and viewpoints from a country outside my own.

    Reply
    • Hi D,
      Thank you. That portrait is very dear to me. Errol was our old neighbour on the farm next door and he taught me so much about the bush and our environment. He was a real hermit and preferred animals to humans!

      Reply
  11. Thank you. That was terrific. I only paint in watercolor though I do enjoy your posts Dan and learn from them. I’m also interested if Susan uses Friskit

    Reply
    • Hi Anita,
      I’m not familiar with the brand name Friskit….but I imagine it is a masking fluid product? Couldn’t live without masking fluid!
      We share a love of watercolor

      Reply
  12. Thank you for this presentation. I have learned so much from your articles but this was especially helpful as I only work in watercolor. Such an inspiration so my appreciation to both you and Susan. Her work is exquisite!

    Reply
  13. Thank you Dan for this amazing interview and giving me the opportunity to discover this wonderful artist! Love her beautiful paintings, such talent. I love the way she explains her process. I will definitely follow her works. Dan, thank you for your very informative emails, they are always a joy to read!

    Reply
  14. Thank you for this interview. She is an amazing artist, her creativity in composition is stellar. I am also interested in whether she uses Friskit to preserve the white, I don’t know how else you would do it.

    Reply
  15. Thank you all for taking the time to leave such kind feedback.
    So nice to share my work with people with a passion to create.
    Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Hi Carol,
      a granulated wash is a fluid wash using pigments that are ‘heavy’ and they settle into the texture on the paper leaving a more mottled effect. This can be done with some single colours but is most interesting when two colours are mixed together. A more ‘textured’ effect is achieved on rough paper and with overlaying different washes.

      Reply
  16. Hi Susan, I am very impressed by your words and paintings. I have been attending a small art group and the idea of water colour painting is: fast, very wet and plenty of gouache. You have given me hope so find the way to painting my style again. Plenty of colours and taking plenty of time. I will be following you online when I can. Thank you.

    Reply
  17. Hi, I am the beginner in watercolour and your work is great to me , amazing. My fav is the portrait. His face showing feelings , character maybe bit stubborn but ehes of a good person. Great work.
    I would ask you where around Melbourne I can buy waterclour paper? Currently I buy cheap one 300 gsm by mt mart or simmilar . I am looking forward for your advise .
    Regards.
    Ewa Skup

    Reply
    • Hi Ewa, try either Eckersleys or Seniors art supplies in Melbourne. If you are just starting out, the watercolour blocks are easy to use because you don’t have to stretch the paper. The 600gsm paper is expensive and I would practise on 300 first!

      Reply
  18. Susan, your paintings are extraordinary in both technique and feeling. In particular, an ordinary observation of trees becomes a warm and special moment. It has given me inspiration to paint the forest that is behind my house which Makes me feel well protected and cared for.
    I’ve tried to paint the trees many times, but the feeling has not come thru. You have made me want to keep trying.
    The bookcase and flowers and the man are my other favorites. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    Dan, you are a master at sharing and I appreciate all that you give to us. Your kindness and caring are much appreciated.
    Susan May

    Reply
  19. I had thought if giving up but seeing your amazing work is illuminating and thanks for very generous kindly help. (Also great you are left handed!) That bookcase was just alive. Will try and try again!! Thank you so much. Sue

    Reply
  20. Hi Susan it was amazing to see your work I particularly loved the piece titled Bush Dance. It brought me back to my visit to Australia and a picnic I had in a forest just like that. I’m also attracted to the ethereal nature of watercolor and to the textile arts. I also spin! I hadn’t thought about the importance of the white of the paper. I am really a newbie in the use of watercolor and your interview was helpful in my thinking about how I’m going to frame my subject. Thank you for the wonderful advice and truly amazing work.

    Reply
  21. Susan and Dan, thank you for presenting this interview. I paint with oil, so this is an eye-opener to the extraordinary complexity of water color painting. It’s an inspiration to realize the challenges accomplished artists take on. I may never get there, but it is still gratifying to see what is possible.

    Reply
  22. I was so in awe of your work. It’s inspiring to see the debts of art work in watercolor…yes I have a lot to learn but am so enjoying starting painting and art school at 75! Of course I’m addicted! Best years of my life!

    Reply
  23. Thank you both for this insightful interview! As a beginner both in drawing and watercolour I thank you Susan for sharing your beautiful work, thoughts and techniques, it is very much appreciated. I love love love the cow :). Thanks again Dan & Susan

    Reply
  24. Thank you for this interview. Very beautiful works of art and varied subjects. As an emerging watercolourist, it was really helpful to read the step by step of technique. Great to see work by an Aussie woman working in Watercolour. I loved Serenity, it reminded me of a tapestry or a quilt and is an approach I hadn’t seen in watercolour before

    Reply
  25. Susan’s work is amazing. Thanks so much for sharing. I love the “no hat” painting. Looks so real! Thanks so much for sharing.

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  26. Thank for the interview!! Your paintings are beautiful. I am a beginner and discovering that I really like watercolors. I am wondering how to keep the paper from warping.

    Reply
  27. Your work is magnificent. I have never seen watercolor done in such detail. I definitely appreciate the amount of time, patience, and love, that is put into your artwork. How do you keep the white untouched? Masking fluid? I always have a hard time applying it. The commission painting of the Brisbane walks it has a combination of all the things that are extremely difficult. All your paintings are extraordinary, however, the favor for me is the No hat, All Cattle you capture the soul of the man in his eyes.

    I have only been doing watercolors for the past 5-6 years, I started painting with zero experience in drawing, about 17 years ago, when I lost my husband. I needed something to get my mind to relax to be able to sleep, and I still learning.

    Thank you again for letting me enjoy your art.

    Marlene

    Reply
  28. Hello Dan and Susan
    I put this interview aside until I had “time” to read it. (I was also looking for inspiration and motivation.) I’m so glad I did. Taking the time to view Susan’s work and to hear some of her practice has provided both for me. Getting lost in the detail that only the building of water colour washes and fine point brush work can provide, has been therapeutic and absorbing. Remembering the quiet space of water colour painting has given me the impetus I need to continue. So much is said and written about other media, but the challenge and reward of water colour will always hold me in painting.
    Thank you both for the generosity of your time and advice.
    Best wishes for the season.
    Ann

    Reply
  29. Hello Susan from sunny South Africa.
    Evening time in a beautiful small tourist town, called Clarens, in the Maluti Mountains in the Eastern Free State.
    Thank you for sharing your amazing talent with Dan and us.
    The W&N Artisan water-based oils… is the drying time faster than “normal” oils?
    You are an inspiration to many.
    Warm Regards
    Marlene

    Reply
    • Hi Marlene,
      I have just started using the Artisan range. Seems to be ‘touch dry’ in a few weeks, but the advice is that it does take 6 months to dry through all layers. Probably depends on humidity and your climate in the Maluti Mountains!
      Love that I can clean up with soap and water.

      So lovely of you all to respond with such beautiful energy and to know there are kindred spirits out there!

      Susan

      Reply
  30. Dan thank you for such good inspirational teaching and interviews which are hard to find. Susan your work is so cohesive, much detail but gives a big picture feel to the overall work. Unity is the word I am looking for! Your depth of colour in watercolour is amazing as well as the thoughtfulness with which you plan your work. Thanks for new ideas on how to achieve a larger work made up of several smaller works in watercolour —a new idea to me! I too work in watercolour (none of which is so complex or detailed) as well as WN watermixable oils. The soap and water clean up is highly recommended :). All the best in your future endeavours of 2023! Thanks for this interview!

    Reply
  31. Watercolour works like that are definitely very inspiring!
    But I am so afraid of watercolour and consider it the most difficult media ever (although I have never tried oil).
    Having read that Susan Goddard never uses goache I do adore her paintings even more and even more confused. “How?!” will be the question I will go to bed tonight with.

    Reply

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