April 14, 2023

Today in this Art Rituals exploration we're traveling to UK to meet Emily Wassell, an amazingly talented watercolour artist who so lovingly shared with us her process of making art.

My rituals and process for making art

My process for making art is incredibly intuitive, rather than planned. I'm very influenced by external factors like the weather, where I am and what colours are around me. I find that I paint very seasonally with cooler colours in winter and warmer sunny colours in summer. I take my inspiration from the natural world as much of my art is focused on floral, botanical or natural subjects like fruit, leaves, flowers and vegetables.

My style is loose and expressive, with rapid brush strokes and natural, uncontrolled blends and bleeds that can show the energy of the piece. I'm not somebody who likes to be bent over putting tiny details into a painting with a delicate little brush. I'd rather be moving through the paper and allowing the watercolour to mix and blend on its own. It’s partly stylistic, and partly just that I'm impatient! I don’t like fiddly things or waiting for layers to dry.

All this means that I don't want sketches or pencil outlines that restrict my movement as I paint. I do focus on composition though – I like to divide my paper up into thirds in my head and decide in advance where I want the main elements. For example if the subject is a vase of flowers, I’ll know in advance how big the vase is, and where the largest flower heads will sit. The other fillers and details come later.

I have a desk but I also love to paint on the floor – I think it creates a better space for moving your body and helps create freer brushstrokes.

Because I paint around my full-time corporate job, I don't have lots of time to paint and I think that makes the process much more decisive – I don’t have time to overthink or tie myself in knots.

My everyday rituals for inspiration

I find inspiration everywhere I go but it helps to make notes as ideas pop up. Otherwise, when you first face that blank page, all the ideas can disappear out of your head, and it feels very daunting.

I try and spend time outside regularly whether it's walks or going to museums or gardens I find it really helps to clear my mind and make space for creativity.

I love to paint from observation by having objects in front of me, even if I only use them as a loose suggestion! I might have bought fresh flowers or have fruit cut open in front of me. I also take a lot of my own photos while I'm out, perhaps on walks or in botanical gardens, and prefer to print them off rather than looking at them on a screen.

I also try to limit my use of social media. It's so easy to get drawn into the comparison trap where you're always looking at other people’s great work, and then looking down at your empty page and feeling bad. Sometimes the best thing to do is focus on yourself.


How I get started with painting

I keep all my art materials open and on my desk. I find that if I tidy everything away, it becomes a chore to get them back out again, and I end up putting it off. This way, everything is ready for me to start.

I know this sounds boring, but I love to paint in silence, especially after a busy day. Music or podcasts can be distracting, though I do love a good 80s playlist! I also love rain and thunderstorm sounds, but that’s probably from growing up in rainy England.

I also like to create an inspirational space to paint in. It could be having paintings, photographs, and postcards up on the wall or having jars of fresh flowers and fruit to snack on in between layers. It could be mementos from holidays, colourful ribbons or antique jars – anything I love, basically.

Finally, I almost always use loose sheets of paper rather than sketchbooks – I can’t be waiting for a piece to dry before I can turn over the page and paint some more!

How to reach the ‘flow state’

For me, flow state is relatively elusive. Sometimes it's there almost immediately another times I can paint and paint and get myself frustrated – there are days when I’m just not ‘feeling’ it.

I think that flow state is about an absence of goals or targets. I am simply here with my paints and my paper creating something. I'm not thinking about what the results will look like, I'm just enjoying the process, the brightness of the colours the feel of the brush on the paper.

Watercolours are quite useful for getting into the flow state because they're so unpredictable and they do their own thing on the paper. They’re great if you struggle to let go of control which is what first drew me to the medium.

When I started my creative journey, I used to set myself targets like painting every day for a week or painting for just 15 minutes and seeing how the piece turned out. It's a great way to spark your creativity but I find that as my practice grows, I don't want or need to paint every day. My life is so full of pressure already, I can't push myself be creative even when I don't feel like it.

Besides, when I force myself to paint, the work looks static and flat. It just doesn't have the life and energy that art has when it come from a flow state. I think ultimately, creative practice is a balancing act between discipline and freedom.

About me

My name is Emily Wassell, and I’m a watercolour artist and educator from the UK. I started painting watercolours a few years ago to find creativity around my corporate job, and I fell in love with the process immediately! I specialise in painting floral and natural subjects and now have a creative business teaching other people about the magic of watercolours.

I share my work on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/emilywassellart/ and create tutorials, guides and advice on my website: https://www.emilywassell.co.uk/

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