Material Matters: Artist Ann-Marie James on using Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolour

AMJ Overhead image

Ann-Marie James is an artist who works with various mediums including: painting, drawing, printmaking and collage. James’s work explores two main themes: the idea of change and metamorphosis and the idea of connection or dialogue with art history, through the use of found imagery and texts. She exhibits internationally, and lives and works in Suffolk. She talks us through her experience and experimentation using Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolour.

Last year my daughter and I spent a month recovering from Covid, most of which was spent in deckchairs in our garden. I had never experienced post viral fatigue before, it was intense. The blossom on our cherry tree was just beginning to bloom. I was thinking a lot about trees, and our symbiotic relationship with them, and the breath. How their structure mirrors that of our lungs, and how good they are at doing what we all seemed to be struggling with at the time – living slowly. I was looking in great detail at the trees surrounding me and thinking about famous trees from art history.

Artist Ann-Marie James

I decided to make a watercolour every day for a month, using rubber stamps that I had made based on Hokusai’s woodblock prints of cherry blossom, along with white and black ink. I shared images of the watercolours each day on my Instagram, the project helped me through that difficult time in lots of different ways. It gave structure to the days that never seemed to end. It helped financially. It connected me to friends and collectors and fellow artists via social media. It offered my daughter and I a chance to sit down together to paint and draw for an hour or two every day. It connected everything together.

I think there’s a slight misconception of watercolour as an easy medium or a hobbyists choice. Challenging this perception of the medium feels like exciting territory for contemporary artists. Whilst it is true that it’s a very accessible way to get started as a painter (it’s how I got started) it can also be a really challenging medium, much more so than oil paint, in my opinion, which I think is much more forgiving.

Artist Ann-Marie James

There’s an immediacy to watercolour that seems to reveal the skill of the artist using it, and there’s nowhere to hide. The more you work with it, the more techniques and tools you discover, and the more you appreciate good paint, strong pigment saturation, smooth texture. That summer I got through a whole bottle of Winsor and Newton’s Colourless Art Masking Fluid, which you apply to areas that you don’t want to paint. I liked to make a drawing, then flick this fluid at the paper, or use it to draw into my composition, before covering the pages with multiple washes of colour. Once the work was complete, I rubbed the masking fluid away to reveal tiny luminous dots of bright white paper underneath. As lockdown continued, I noticed many of my peers also embracing the physical restraints imposed by the necessity of working from home and diving into the creative and conceptual potential of more modest media, smaller works on paper in watercolour, pencil, pen and ink.

It’s now a year on, and I’m now working on a new series of letterpress prints, based on trees from Albrecht Dürer’s ‘Hercules At The Crossroads’ (1498) with a nod to Andy Warhol’s ‘Do it Yourself’ series of paintings by numbers (1962). The unique colour scheme for each print is shown in a key in the bottom right-hand corner. Each print is identical, but each is uniquely hand coloured in watercolour. As an artist who for years worked only in monochrome, this series is an opportunity for me to explore my relationship to colour, the relationships of colours to one another, and my relationships with the people I share these paintings with, online and offline.