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Jeremy's Watercolour Adventures...

Updated: Oct 16, 2018

Learn more about artist and Brightlife presenter Jeremy Ford, where he gets his inspiration and where it all started!

Where it all began...

At school I was only really interested in Art which was generally thought of only as a hobby and not really proper work!

After leaving school I went to the local Art College in Southport where a whole new world of possibilities opened up to me. Here I could see that someone, somewhere had to design the packets of what we buy; someone designed the visual instructions and someone printed the leaflet. It was actually someone’s job to take the photograph, make the jewelry, design the dress, the wallpaper, make the pot, conceive the stage set or illustrate the book.

After a wonderful year's Foundation Course then two good years studying Graphic Design and a North-West Regional Certificate in Art & Design after my name, I went to study Illustration at Harrow College of Art which was brilliant. Here were teachers who were practicing artists, illustrators and print makers who were very knowledgeable and passionate about their subjects which they managed to convey well and pass on to us. The emphasis was on drawing, drawing, drawing, and we drew everything from people to animals, machinery to buildings. Drawing was the framework upon which painting then built.

After gaining my diploma with distinction I illustrated books, magazines, advertising and greetings cards as a freelance illustrator. I maintained a steady workload through agents who found me wide and varied work, in exchange for a considerable percentage!

The teaching commences...

After several years I decided to start a private painting class, and soon that class had expanded into four more classes! That was in 1984 and although I moved to Yorkshire in 1988 I still taught those five classes in Southport in the North-West up until 2013. Each class had twenty people and with my local class in Ackworth I was teaching a hundred and twenty people on a weekly basis between September and Easter. In between all this I did demonstrations and workshops and I went to a number of places to teach painting holidays at home and abroad.

In the early 1990’s I thought I’d better learn more about teaching as mine was fairly chaotic at times so I took a hugely beneficial two-year part-time Certificate of Education (post 16) which has made my teaching slightly less chaotic now! On average half of my week was spent teaching and the rest painting either commissions, planning my teaching or doing new paintings for exhibition and/or classes.

Nowadays I do very little illustration work, preferring the way my working life has developed as a teacher and artist. Between Easter and Summer I do more workshops, demo’s and painting holidays, as well as trying to find some time to relax!

Creating the perfect environment

My favourite kind of painting is working en plein air, or “outdoor painting” which for me is the biggest challenge and the main reason why I like teaching painting holidays. When I go on my own holidays I take my sketchbooks with me as I get twitchy if I don’t paint after a while! I enjoy the process of trying to capture the essence of a particular time and a place, and conveying the atmosphere and the feeling of the day. I don’t find painting relaxing but I do find it totally absorbing and tremendously exciting and fun. It’s hard work as you need to concentrate for long periods which can make you physically and mentally tense as well as being tiring.

My work environment was until several years ago a room in the house, but now I have a purpose-built studio which I LOVE. It’s only down the drive but at least I go out to work now! There’s lots of space to spread out either at my desk or at my easel and it’s my place of calm creation which helps separate work from home. I listen to the radio or cd’s when I’m working and I like all kinds of music depending upon the mood I’m in, but if it’s not music then it’s Radio 4 (being an Archers fan!) I usually work at my draughtsman’s desk which is perfect for most of my work but for larger pieces I use an easel which is better for viewing standing back.

Although I work in all mediums, my work is mainly watercolour as most people I teach want to learn watercolour more than any other medium. My palette of colours is the same whatever the medium (except pastels which require more subtle shades) and I have become familiar with the colours I use and what I can achieve with them. I’m “old-school” in this respect, disliking the overwhelming vast range of unnecessary colours which can easily be mixed from a carefully chosen few.

I don’t generally exhibit paintings on my own very often but I do put work into open exhibitions from time to time. Most of my work I sell privately although I do now exhibit on a permanent basis in the Artworld Gallery in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

Techniques & Challenges

I’m no photographer but I take a lot of photographs for reference and inspiration. I then use these with sketchbooks to work out the paintings I’m going to do. I do a lot of preparatory work prior to producing a “finished” painting and when working on a watercolour painting I usually do one or two simultaneously. While one is drying I can work on another, giving me freedom to experiment with composition and colours and reinforcing my technique. I do have good days and bad days, and sometimes I’ll have spent all day trying to work out a painting which all goes wrong. I try and think of these setbacks positively in that I’ve learnt something, even if it’s what doesn’t work rather than what does work. Mistakes are learning opportunities and fortunately most of mine are done in the studio rather than in public!

Demonstration paintings have usually been worked out and honed over and over again until they become very familiar, limiting the possibility of public mistakes! Having said that, people do like to see artists make mistakes so they can see that they are human after all!

When I started giving demonstrations to art clubs I was relatively naive in my preparation and research for what I was supposed to be doing but each one helped me to learn more and more. I also watched others at work; picked their brains and read their books. In the 1990's I was asked to demonstrate at the Ilkley British Watercolour Shows four times a year, and these were big demonstrations in front of large crowds on a big stage under hot lights! This was a hard apprenticeship but a useful one because if you could do a good demo there, you can do them anywhere!

Over time, with exposure and publicity these led to more demo requests, later being asked by Art materials manufacturers to demonstrate their products at Art materials events. At one of these I met and then joined the SAA and from then on I’ve never looked back. I particularly enjoy teaching people and seeing new and familiar faces, all wanting to pursue their passion for Art.

To be able to pursue my own artistic interests at the same time as helping people achieve this is a most wonderfully challenging and rewarding experience.


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