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John’s Colourful Britain (artist John Kay)

January 28, 2012

Today we are interviewing one more Brittish artist.

John Kay

The second Decor-Art E-Exhibition this year presents beautiful watercolours by John Kay. Please have a look at the paintings, that hide under the exhibition title – My Colourful Britain – and then come back and meet John, who shared some advice on how to master this tricky medium – watercolour.

John is based in East Anglia. He not only paints, but also teaches Art, and runs his own printing company – “The Millrind Press” where he designs and prints small edition, hand made books, pamphlets and paperbacks. (Please click here to view John’s publications.)

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John, how did you start your path as an artist?

This is a difficult one, I have always been drawing and of course I have been teaching art, for most of my career. I studied to be an art teacher at Goldsmiths College London many years ago.

How did watercolour become your favourite medium?

I suppose I was forced into tackling watercolour by the requirements of my job, but what strengthened the intention was that most of the adults I came across needed help, guidance and instruction in that medium.

I’d agree that watercolour is the most difficult medium to master: too much water and the painting becomes blurry, too much colour and it can easily be smudged! Are there any tips for the beginners that you could share?

The first thing that occurs to me is that the best thing I can advise is, do not start in full watercolour, the best basis for watercolour is to make sure you have a good grounding in drawing and if possible get some experience in colour with another medium. I would definitely recommend acrylic to start off with. The one advantage is that you can’t easily mix on the support and this will give you the practice of not playing about with the medium, something that’s very easy to do with oil colour. After building up a little experience with another medium you may start with monochrome washes and finish up with line. Only when you can handle washes with some confidence should you start to extend to two colours.

What one should be aiming for, and the most difficult to achieve, is the self control to leave washes alone once they are put down. There is always the deeply held belief that it is possible, with a little more attention, to improve on what is laid down. This a complete fallacy, self-control is very necessary.

Wharfedale farm, North Yorkshire by John Kay

What inspires you the most? And how does it work on the whole – do you choose a day you are going to paint or is it just a spontaneous urge to grab a brush and find a perfect scene?

As a professional I have to get on with it, if I waited for inspiration it would take me days to complete a painting. Over the years one has to develop a more practical approach to the work. There is no such thing as a perfect scene, if you know about composition and you look hard enough, good pictures are everywhere.

You have mentioned that nowadays you do a lot of lecturing, is that as satisfying as painting?

I find that lecturing and demonstrating gives me a chance to demonstrate my skill, show off my work, sell my publications and in general bask in the feedback and hopefully appreciation.

What are the subjects you teach? And would you say it is possible to be taught how to paint? I’m of the opinion that you can only show some possible ways, examples and the rest will depend on the gift, which we either have or not. Would you contradict that?

The subjects I teach, well I don’t teach courses but I do help to run a group of Quakers who come to a painting group once a week and I am available to help when I am asked to. The best teaching comes about when a person is up against a particular problem and that is when the learning is most effective, when it is relative. Courses in aspects of art sacrifice this feature because they deal with a large body of knowledge and should be restricted to just enough know-how to get people started on an entirely new field of study. Real progress can only be achieved when put into practice. All the theory in the world is no substitute for practice.

Wells Next to the Sea II by John Kay

Please tell us more about The Millrind Press, your printing and publishing company specialising in small edition, hand made books, pamphlets and paperbacks. Is that just a hobby?

My publications give me a lot of opportunity to extend my skills as a graphic designer and offer a reasonably priced alternative to those people who only require a few printed copies of their work. If required I can produce up to prepress standard something which will satisfy the commercial printer. I suppose they’re not really a hobby as they do produce a small but steady income.

You are a busy man: artist, designer, printer and teacher. Would you add anything else? Also can you please rate these professions of yours in order of importance (I have simply put them in alphabetical order)?

They are all important, the most important thing in a practical subject is regular practice of all aspects. I always paint intensively at least once a week while with the group I mentioned. I have enough demonstrations and lectures to keep me sharp and up to date. The occasional book, leaflet or poster design commission for my design abilities and also enough in the way of book orders to keep my bookbinding skills alive.

Thank You very much John!

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If you would like to visit John’s E-Exhibition and to see more of his artwork please click here.

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