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Tichborne, Nancy


"Forget the techniques for a while, they should come naturally if not instinctively, and concentrate on the message. Your urge to communicate must be more dominant then the method used to get there."

Nancy Tichborne is one of the world's most inspirational watercolourists. She is perhaps best known for her annual calendars. For 25 years, being produced since 1985, these calendars have featured flowers, cats, fly fishing, vineyards and landscapes. Her originals for these calendars were usually sold well before going to print - such is her international and national adoring public.

In 2007 Nancy agreed to do Watercolour New Zealand the honour of becoming our patron. She is passionate about the unique and subtle light qualities that can only be achieved through watercolour.

Nancy currently lives on an 11 acre property in Banks Peninsula with her husband Bryan. She won a scholarship to train in England, studying at St Martin's School of Art in London and from there travelled around the world as an army wife with Bryan, until settling back in NewZealand. Here Nancy became established as a book illustrator and garden designer.

A commission for a New Zealand Forest Service poster sparked the idea for the original calendar. It featured a dragonfly, and Bryan, a fly fisherman, thought 'fishing flies' would make a good subject. Nancy had already had the idea (mooted by a Wellington bookseller) to produce a calendar following the success of a book, "The Cook's Garden", a joint project with her two sisters.

And so the NZ Trout Fly Calendar was born in 1985. In later calendars, it was Nancy's passion for her garden and love of nature and beautiful light effects that really came out in her subject matter.

As well as her famous calendars Nancy has put out several books, the most recent being "Nancy Tichborne's Watercolour World". She also has produced instructional DVDs and her work has featured on postage stamps - for Bhutan, Pitcairn Island and New Zealand. Over the years Nancy has taught over 500 students through her workshops. But she is now no longer running classes or putting out calendars - time for more gardening and painting!

A lovely quote from Nancy's latest book "Nancy Tichborne's Watercolour World" sums up her love of the watercolour medium and has a universal ring to all who are involved: "Watercolours, by their very nature, have fascinated both amateurs and professionals for centuries. But it is the very fluid and thus wayward characteristics of the medium that cause such ecstasy and anguish in those painters."

Interview with Nancy Tichborne


What are the main brushes you use to create your work?

I use the Robert Simmons (USA) "Series 86" RS brushes. These are a mix of sable and synthetic. I use a size 14 for 90% of my work - although this is a big brush, it has a fine point and a good reservoir (i.e. water holding capacity). I can paint anything from a cat's whisker up with this brush... I have had one brush for over ten years and still uses it..

Favorite brand of paints?

Watercolour paints - I uses mainly Maimeri (Italian) but want to stress that (whichever brand you get) that they must be Artists' Quality - any student range just doesn't have the strength of pigment.

The only pigments Maimeri don't do are Aureolin (I use Rowneys UK) and Permanent Alizerin (Winsor & Newton). The latter must have "Permanent" written on the label.

What brand and weight of paper do you prefer?
Arches (France) 300gsm - mainly hot pressed.

Where do you start when creating your paintings? Do you have an image in mind or create something to match a flower that catches your eye?

When I see a possible subject I (if possible) take lots of photos. It's often a fleeting moment of light showing through a flower/whatever & the moment has to be captured quickly. I definitely have "an eye" for a possible subject - this has come from experience.

How do you keep improving your work?

There comes a time when you have read every book on techniques, watched every video, been to lots of workshops and yet you are still not satisfied with your own paintings.

You want to explain something you have seen and, rather than using words, we reach for a brush rather than the pen.

Getting this message over it is natural to exaggerate. You do it when you are talking by putting more emphasis on certain words, by speaking more loudly or softly, it is the same with painting - you can exaggerate the colours and the tones, you can pick the right brush strokes and make them heavier or lighter and you can elongate or shorten a subject.

A large flower can be made even larger to a point where it overflows the border. So forget the techniques for a while, they should come naturally if not instinctively, and concentrate on the message. Your urge to communicate must be more dominant than the method used to get there. Losing yourself in this ambition is an exhausting process. I can often judge how successful a painting is by how drained I am by the end of it!

Any other thoughts you might want to pass on to aspiring artists?

What I want to say in my paintings is quite simple. There is no hidden meaning, no symbolism, no angst - just an abiding passion for the sensual nature of light showing up texture in nature. I try to draw attention to hairy bits, prickles, decay, wetness, crumpled petals, thick waxy petals and thin transparent petals. Dark mysterious holes in the undergrowth, brilliant light that bleaches all detail, reflected light that shows warmth and back lighting that forms halos. To show luminosity in natural settings I have become what can really only be described as a negative painter.

This sounds rather damning but all it means is that I paint around the subject as opposed to painting the subject itself. I paint the shapes between the shapes. Very rarely do I paint a subject with no background or with a white or light background.

Watercolours, considered a minor medium for decades, has gained much more respect in the last half century or so. It enjoys a following today that could be described as popular market taste or even fashionable. Despite this I am committed to this difficult medium. To reflect nature, living and breathing, to make paintings vibrate with energy, to enjoy a riot of light and colour - watercolours are my only choice.

To have a look at Nancy's work or any of her publications and DVDs visit her web site