The Rewards of Taking Risks

“Sagamore Outlet” (watercolor, 20 x 18 in.)

“I love to paint, and as long as I don’t bore myself by using the same materials and techniques or by painting the same subjects over and over again, it doesn’t really matter whether every painting is an award winner or an instant seller,” says Janet Walsh, a former president of the American Watercolor Society. “I’ve been painting long enough to know that if I remain engaged by the process, I’ll create enough strong paintings to exhibit and sell.

“Falling Branches” (watercolor, 20 x 14 in.)

“As an artist I have always tried to stretch and try new things. None of us wants to keep painting the same picture, teaching the same students, exhibiting in the same galleries, or talking to the same friends about the good old days. Painting is about being challenged by new subjects, excited by new materials and techniques, and anxious to explore fresh ideas. If some of our experiments fail, we can learn from them and either salvage the paintings or start over. I sometimes apply acrylic paint over watercolors that don’t turn out as well as I expect, and that gives me a chance to try a completely new approach.”

“Daydreaming” (watercolor, 21 x 14 in.)

Walsh has also been interested in returning to figure painting, something she did much earlier in her career. She says, “Years ago, I studied with Burton Silverman, one of the most superb figure painters in the country. I always enjoyed painting from live models or photographs of people, and I’ve recently gotten back into that. The area where we live in South Carolina affords so many more opportunities to walk around and sketch or photograph people on the beach or on the interconnecting streets. Our house in Pennsylvania was located in an isolated area and I could only paint outdoors in my backyard, and when Jim and I spent time in the Adirondack Mountains, the location was most conducive to painting landscapes.”

“Colorful Summer Flowers” (watercolor, 15 x 22 in.)

Walsh is probably best known for painting floral still lifes, and she still enjoys creating her fluid, energetic, and tightly organized compositions with fresh flowers. But the human form is populating her watercolors more frequently now that she is out walking and socializing with her new neighbors. “A certain part of my work is done in the studio, without any evidence of the season of the year or the location where I am painting,” she says. “However, like most artists I’m influenced by my immediate surroundings and daily activities, so part of what I see and feel each day works its way into my watercolors. Jim and I are really enjoying the opportunity to meet new people and discover new painting locations, and my pictures are beginning to reflect our new situation.“I do a fair amount of sketching and painting outdoors, but since people are always on the move, I frequently rely on photographs to either create a figure painting or add people to my pictures. It all keeps changing, and I like it that way. Sometimes a new brush doesn’t work well for me, a new paper might prove to be too much of a struggle, or a figure painting may wind up being covered over with acrylics. But often enough, there are some nice surprises that result from risking a new set of materials or ideas, and that makes everything more stimulating and fun.”

Janet Walsh was featured in the April-May 2013 issue of PleinAir Magazine.

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