12 November 2023

How to PAINT with Mary Woodin

Posted in: Artists, Illustration, Meet the artist, Nature, Publishing, Talks and exhibitions

I like to remind people that they almost certainly drew before they could write.

Mary Woodin

Mary Woodin has released her latest book, ‘Paint: A Year of Nature in Words and Colour’, detailing her relationship with nature throughout the seasons. Following its release, we caught up with her for a deeper dive into the project and asked her for advice and tips for budding artists. Want to learn to paint as well as Mary? Read on…

How did the project come about?

I live in the country and have always been entranced by the changing seasons, but it was during Lockdown that I began to record those transformations in a sketchbook. It seemed the natural progression to carry on until I had a whole book’s worth!

Incredibly this isn’t your first book – what’s special about this one?

I was commissioned to paint a garden diary and subsequent cookbook nearly 30 years ago for Running Press. In a sense this new book has the same structure, in that it charts nature through the seasons. I think what makes it special is that my painting skills have hopefully been honed in the intervening years, and the fact that I was in complete control of the content from start to finish which makes it a very personal artist’s monograph.

How do you start your paintings? What stages does it go through from start to finish?

I’m still always daunted by the white sheet of paper in front of me! After several coffees I will decide on my composition and make a few very faint guidelines… simply a rough circle and a stem for a flower for example. I don’t draw every petal, I prefer to dive in with my brush and let the paint dictate.

What’s a tip you wish you’d known when you first started painting?

I’m not sure this answers the question but let me throw in a little known, fun fact here… when I was at the Royal College of Art I used to paint solely in gouache, until I worked on a project in conjunction with the then Prince of Wales, now King Charles. He suggested I tried his favoured medium, watercolours… and that was the start! I loved the transparency and freshness I could achieve by letting the paint do it’s own thing.

Would you recommend people start painting from life or from a photograph?

Oh, life if at all possible. It allows you to inspect every nook and cranny, to feel the textures and choose your own angle and lighting.

Do people need to be careful about what mediums they choose? What’s useful about each one you use?

Paper, paints and brushes vary so much, it’s really a personal thing, so try out loads of different ones. Quality is however crucial, buy the best quality you can afford.
I now have my favourites, Saunders Waterford and Japanese Sumi-E for paper, Sennelier and Old Holland tubes for watercolours and Kolinsky sable for brushes, but am always on the search. Recently I’ve been mixing my media too, adding gouache, ink or coloured pencil… I love a Faber Castell Polychromos! At the other end of the scale, it’s always fun to take time to experiment and try making brushes out of old feathers or twigs. One of my treasured brushes for painting landscapes is a poor old, hog-hair flat brush that is worn down to a stump. The fact that it’s pretty useless makes me work in a much looser style. So anything goes really!

What’s your biggest piece of advice for people starting to paint?

I like to remind people that they almost certainly drew before they could write. Sadly when most people leave school they never draw again. The biggest hurdle is starting again. Choose a subject that really excites you, don’t be over ambitious or too critical of the results and just practise, practise, practise. But remember, watercolour is a very unforgiving medium so go gently… you can always add but you can’t easily take away.

Paint: A Year of Nature in Words and Colour by Mary Woodin is available now.