As someone who is notorious for poor decision-making, for my overuse of hyperbole, and for my fickle tendencies, it is always hard to come up with a list of favourites. However, there are a few talented watercolourists who I’ll always appreciate so I thought I’d share them. Given that watercolours lend themselves to a such a broad range of subjects and painting styles, I have selected four contemporary Australian artists, each representing a different artistic focus.
Whimsical & quirky: Marianna Marx
Watercolours are often said to be ideal for creating whimsical, dreamy imagery, and that is exactly what Marianna Marx has mastered so beautifully. I was introduced to the Melbourne-based artist last Christmas, when my sister gave us two of her prints that she had picked up at a local market. She chose “I’ll Follow Your Lead” for my eldest daughter, which suits her perfectly, as she loves pink, dancing, and copying her mum! My younger daughter (a newborn at the time) received “You’re a Big Part of Me”, which not only looks sweet in her nursery, but holds a lot of meaning and symbolism.
The finesse and intricacy of the detail in Marianna’s illustrations fascinates me, and she applies the same delicacy to her use of pretty pastel hues. Not only are her pictures beautiful but they also have a surrealist, dream-like complexity to them. Her imaginative characters and the places they find themselves make wonderful wall art for children’s rooms but could be inspiring anywhere.
Check out her portfolio here: http://www.mariannamarx.com/
Quaint children’s book illustrator: Tamsin Ainslie
I’ve always been a fan of illustrations in children’s books, especially the really intricate ones that you can stare at forever and still find yourself discovering cute little details that make you smile. Growing up, it was all about fantasy worlds, like in Shirley Barber’s tales of fairies, pixies, and friendly woodlands, or stories of young girls doing great things, like everybody’s favourite little Parisian, Madeline (Ludwig Bemelmans).
Now that I have daughters of my own, I am revisiting these magical places but also discovering wonderful new worlds and creatures, like the five little French mice in “The Sisters Saint-Claire” (Carlie Gibson and Tamsin Ainslie). The whimsical imagery in this book so perfectly and colourfully captures the French market scene and makes you want to dive right in and pluck out one of the delectable little treats the mice bake.
The illustrations in this beautiful, heart-warming story are not dissimilar to those found in the popular Ruby Red Shoes books by Kate Knapp, which I also adore. The UK-born illustrator, Tamsin Ainslie, has clearly put so much thought into the details, from each of the mice’ outfits to the variety of pastries in the pastel-coloured store fronts. We end up analysing each page forever (not one to read when in a hurry to put kids to bed!)
I’m so thrilled that this book made the Children’s Book Council of Australia 2017 Notables list for Picture Book of the Year – it certainly deserves it!
To see more of Tamsin’s work, take a look at her website: http://www.tamsinainslie.com.au
Classic landscapes: Ben Shearer
Ben Shearer’s large-scale landscapes showcase the arid Australian outback in all its rich vibrancy. The carpet and textiles designer turned self-taught painter and art teacher has become well known for his ability to paint landscapes that depict the vivid colours, vast open spaces, harsh terrains and dramatic skylines of the Australian environment. He also manages to inject real depth and texture into his works by highlighting long shadows and unique lighting.
I think what makes Shearer stand out from other landscape watercolourists, is the balance he achieves between capturing the harsh reality of these isolated places but also the peaceful softness of distance and space. He is also the master of that classic bleeding of colours for which watercolours are so well suited. Shearer has been painting in watercolour since the 1970’s, has exhibited around Australia and overseas, and has artworks in a long list of public and private art collections.
For more on Ben Shearer, see: http://www.benshearer.com
Vibrant plein air scenes: Jennifer Tyers
In contrast to the more fluid, painterly style of landscape watercolourists, Jennifer Tyers’ work exudes strength, definition, and meticulous precision. The Tasmanian-born artist paints botanical settings in vibrant colours, achieving a beautiful mix between transparent tones and starker, more opaque detailing of tree trunks and foliage. While Shearer’s landscapes provide a long distance view over vast open spaces, Tyers puts you right in the thick of the tropical Singapore gardens or lush forests of Western Victoria. The imagery she creates is busy, with no negative space.
Her stylised landscapes are one of my favourite styles of painting, especially when the palette is as bright and cheerful as hers clearly is. Having lived in so many places already, from Thailand to Borneo, we can only hope she doesn’t tire of travelling so that we can be transported to more stunning places with this talented artist.
For more on Jennifer Tyers, see: http://www.jennifertyers.com