Serena trained at the Ruskin School of Drawing & Fine Art in Oxford, studying drawing, painting and printmaking there. In the 1970s she moved to Sussex and began to concentrate on watercolours, inspired by the landscape of the South Downs. Encouraged by winning various prizes for her paintings (including the Royal Watercolour Society’s travel award) she has continued to exhibit and sell work locally and in London. Serena has watercolours in several public collections, including (in Sussex) the Towner Gallery, Eastbourne and Hove Museum & Art Gallery. Much of her work is done for commission. Since the 1980s she has taught classes in drawing and painting and run numerous watercolour courses in different parts of Sussex.
Serena’s Thoughts on Watercolour
Watercolour is a medium of astonishing properties: a tiny quantity of paint, diluted in water, will cover an entire sheet of paper. But it is far more versatile than that. Applied in widely different ways, it can create an enormous range of effects (as well as a full tonal range – its ‘wishy-washy’ reputation is quite undeserved). Many of its effects are famously unpredictable, and learning to control or exploit surprises that occur as a wash dries or bleeds into another, is a challenge unique to the medium. Others effects can be produced only by using specific techniques, almost always unlike the techniques used to get similar effects in other paint media.
Watercolour’s hallmark properties of fresh, translucent colours, economically applied, are a consequence of the transparency of the paint. This is its essential difference from every other paint medium – oil, acrylic, gouache, pastels – all of which are opaque. A watercolour always progresses from lighter to darker, never the other way round, and the paper is its only white; so the order in which marks are made tends to matter more. A mark once made is likely to remain visible, despite subsequent layers, making second thoughts and major revisions less of an option. More planning and forethought can be required than for other kinds of painting.
But watercolour encourages spontaneity as well as the practice of aiming to get things right first time, and watercolour painters respond to its constraints in a variety of ways. Some like to adopt a strategic approach, planning a series of overlaid washes and applying them in the most economical order, wet on dry, very much as is done with colour printmaking. Others prefer to allow the peculiarities of the medium and decisions made spontaneously during the painting process to determine the picture’s final appearance. But both approaches benefit from a sure grasp of essential techniques and a knowledge of how watercolours behave under different conditions. Confident draughtsmanship, too, and a good understanding of colour mixing, are invaluable assets to the watercolourist, even more than for other kinds of painter.