Pigment, Water and Artist – a Creative Team

Auckland artist Amanda Brett has an innovative approach to painting. She takes simple objects, shuffles and twists them, playing with shape and line, then flows on pigment in water. She trusts watercolour to work with her in creating beautiful art. She shares her inspiring techniques.

I don’t remember a time of not sketching or painting. I’m completely committed to watercolour. Watercolour creates effects that are simply not possible in any other medium. I love the luminosity I can achieve and the way I can leave the pigments to do their thing – I love watching paint dry! I paint in several styles and will attempt just about any subject. I love painting en plein air and itch to get outside. During winter months (oh so many winter months!) in New Zealand I paint mostly pastiche still life. My goal is to create works that are quirky and fun while painting colour and light.

In studio still life work, I typically paint the background wet-in-wet charging in patches of analogous colour and spattering more colour and water. I let the background washes run through mid and foreground, working around whites wherever they fall and allowing the colours to bleed into each other. My favourite loosening up tool is my little squirty bottle – brush in one hand, squirter in t’other!! At this stage, everything is low-key, with a
sense of restraint (while I’m wearing every piece of jewelry in my possession and as much makeup as I
can possibly slap on!) my aim is to create a work that is beautiful and in good taste.

While the underpainting is still damp I launch in with increasingly deeper value marks strategically placed to create a foundation of chiaroscuro and the groundwork for rich, deep colour. I continue to charge in colour, sometimes straight from the tube, blasting with my squirter as soon as the shine leaves the paper encouraging the colours to bleed and run.

While the paper is damp, edges are diffused. It is not until my final masterstrokes of creamy paint directly onto dry paper that some hard edges appear. This is the time for adding complementary impasto colour.
Remember, there is only one watercolour rule “less is more”! One brush mark will do!

I’m not particularly interested in reality. I love the challenge of creating shapes that are unique and
interesting – NO straight lines and NO round circles! Everything is more interesting with a wrong angle or an accidental arc. It gets my viewers wondering – why did Amanda use that angle there? Everything has a notch or a buckle, or maybe a curve ending in an oblique line or a circle that is more ovoid with a partially straight edge. If I do inadvertently create a long straight line, I soften part of it at a strategic point – my brain says “there”. I can’t always articulate why but I follow my intuition. My favourite patterns are
spots and stripes. They are never parallel nor straight nor round, nor are they clean and nice. The colours
collide and bleed, sometimes creating gorgeous neutrals, sometimes amazing new combinations.
One of my favourite elements in my Singer series is painting buttons in jars. Starting with a wet-in-wet underpainting, I build up a series of negatively painted shapes, finally adding calligraphic marks that create
detail and completeness.

Remind yourself continually – there are no mistakes in watercolour! Yes, you will get a shock from time to
time. If you are worried by a passage or a shape, unless it is still very wet, try to keep yourself from “fixing” it. Accept you have an unexpected result to play with. The best way to improve your watercolour painting is to us as few brush strokes as possible and allow the paint to settle and dry by itself.

My painting philosophy:

1. Have fun brainstorming your concept, listing
possible elements that support your idea.
2. Sketch lots of value thumbnail designs.
3. Often my concept will start with a gorgeous piece of
fabric, a beautiful button or a vision (at 2am).
4. I’m addicted to pattern. This is the only element that
might not follow “less is more” – sometimes “more
is more” is lots of fun!
5. NO straight lines – EVER!!
6. There are NO mistakes in watercolour!
7. The world needs more beautiful of everything.
There’s enough ugly, sadness and madness. It’s our
job as artists to provide something new for the world
to think about.

"Singer and Trelise Stripes" by Amanda Brett



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