Anna Mason’s highly detailed paintings of the natural world have earned the artist an international reputation. Her online school has over 2600 members from 70 countries! And she has inspired budding artists the world over to engage with the beauty of birds, fruit, flowers and plants. Her newest book, ‘Watercolour World‘ is packed full of inspiring photos and challenging projects that can help anyone kick-start or continue to refine their intricate watercolour techniques.
Lisa: How would you describe your book ‘Watercolour World‘; and how does it differ from your previous publication ‘The Modern Flower Painter‘?
Anna: The new book is really personal. I bring you into my garden to show you my own inspiration and creative process whilst providing practical tips for you to enhance your own creativity. Like the Modern Flower Painter, there’s plenty of rich content explaining my painting method in a super-clear way. And there are 4 step-by-step painting projects which this time include a bird, fruit and leaves as well as a flower.
Lisa: Do you think it’s important that people who pick up your new book have had some experience with watercolour, or do you think absolute beginners could try out some of the projects here?
Anna: Absolute beginners could certainly give them a go. If you’re motivated to try, then it’s really likely that you’ve got an artist lurking inside you and you just need to be helped with the tools to begin painting in this way.
Lisa: Do you have a favourite project in the book?
Anna: It’s got to be the garden bird. Watching and listening to birds is such a joy, it’s lovely to capture one in paint.
Lisa: How does painting from life differ from painting from photographs, do you find it easy to transition from one to the other?
Anna: While my painting method works just the same whether you’re working from life or from photos, I find that painting in a realistic, detailed style is made a whole lot easier when working from photos. Painting like this tends to take a long time, and your focus is really on painting exactly what you see, which can be relaxing and get you into a flow state – so long as what you’re looking at doesn’t keep changing! So for this, photographs work so well because the subject stays completely still, and the way light was falling on it is captured perfectly and doesn’t keep changing. Because the subject and the light do keep changing when you work from life, I prefer quicker sketchbook sketching when out and about.
Lisa: You seem to be quite loyal to Winsor and Newton and Schmincke in the book when recommending colours. What is it about those brands in particular that you love?
Anna: My method relies on the watercolour paints being as transparent and vibrant as possible. You might think all watercolours are transparent, but actually some are far more opaque than others, often containing lots of fillers. Having read good reviews of them, I invested in a Winsor & Newton set when I started out in 2006, and I’ve slowly evolved it over the years to focus on just the most transparent and vibrant colours within their Artist’s range (the Artist’s range contains the most pigment for the richest colours). They’re great quality paints. The Schmincke colour I use is their Transparent Orange which also has a useful , wide tonal range. I’m also a fan of Daniel Smith paints which are of a similar really high quality and offer some excellent transparent and vibrant colours like their Quinacridone Purple which has also made it into my palette. I even got to visit their factory in Seattle a couple of years ago to see all that gorgeous colour being made.
Lisa: Can you describe what it is about painting detail that you love so much?
Anna: There’s two things – the way you can get lost in the process, painting to recreate what you see. It’s can be very relaxing and enjoyable. Then there’s the pleasure to be had from viewing the final painting with all that detail. It not only looks realistic from afar, but there’s always more to see when you’re viewing a detailed painting.
Lisa: What advice would you give to someone who feels repeatedly disappointed by their detailed paintings – how do you avoid the feeling of wanting to give up completely?
Anna: This feeling is often part of the learning process so the first thing is to relax and know that while it’s really normal to have those feelings, they don’t have to be acted on! Crucially, it can be helpful to get some instruction and guidance so that you can be working to a method, while you’re still learning, that you know will achieve great results if you follow it. I often find there are a few key things people can change in their painting process to dramatically improve their results; whether that’s the equipment they’re using, the layering process itself or even correcting themselves if they’re stopping work on their painting before they’ve actually finished (this is often the case with detailed work!).
Lisa: Your enjoyment of gardening goes hand in and hand with your painting, and this summer has been a great one for growing plants! Is there anything in particular that you have grown this summer that has really inspired you?
Anna: What I love about my garden is the way it constantly changes. I have a theme of cooler pastel shades in the late spring/early summer in the form of peonies, roses, irises. Then by the later, lazier and hotter part of the summer I have the hot colours out in force – red hot pokers, crocosmia, day lilies. And this year especially, it feels like it’s reflected the changing seasons perfectly. I had a baby last autumn so this summer has been different for me as I’ve mostly been admiring my flowers from the edge of the paddling pool rather than up-close with my sketchbook!
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Anna: Currently I’m working on a blue hydrangea flower. I actually find painting with cooler colours in this heat has a cooling effect on me. The reverse is true in the winter when I love to work with hot colours. I highly recommend it!
Lisa: You offer a fantastic resource online for those wanting to paint, please give us the information for those wanting to learn with you.
Anna: My online School has been open since 2014 and now has over 2600 members from over 70 countries and a library of over 60 video classes that I add to all the time. If you’d like to try one of my video classes for free please visit: https://www.annamasonart.com/free-class-sign-up/
Header Image: Anna Mason at work in her Garden
Anna Mason’s ‘Watercolour World’ is available at Jacksonsart.com price £15.90 (RRP £19.99) – click here to view