Jenny Wheatley RWS NEAC talks about her ‘charmed life’ and wonderful watercolours!

I cannot remember a time when I didn’t paint and draw. My family were hugely supportive of me from an early age, and there were always art materials aplenty ready for me to try out at any opportunity. My family often visited galleries and collected paintings and by the time I went to art school I was firmly hooked.

Having said that, I never really expected to become a professional painter and to live from painting – exactly what I wanted! I suppose that, along with tenacity and hard work, I was lucky enough to be painting at a time when the works I produced were the type of painting that the galleries wanted to show and clients wanted to acquire. A couple of early successes and scholarships, and early election to both the RWS (Royal Watercolour Society) and the NEAC (New English Art Club), set me well on my way. I travelled to paint and returned with works that made the basis of exhibitions, and again some early opportunities to travel with an expedition to northern India and a sponsored trip to the South Pacific led me further into the world of picture-making. It was only recently that someone asked me “when did you decide to be a painter” and I realised that I never really had, but anything else had just fallen away and painting was just a full time occupation.

So now, 35 years after leaving art school, I have been showing on the gallery circuit for all those years, without having to compromise what I produce, but hopefully always moving on, one painting leading to discoveries in the next piece I produce. Our family have been involved in the arts in one form or another for many years, from film to theatre, literature to painting, with my grandmother even being one of the founder members of the Camberwell School of Arts in the very early 20th century.

Even before I could draw and paint I used to get great pleasure from arranging boxes of crayons into new colour combinations, and colour and composition have been the leading interest in my work. With a keen interest in theatre and having been trained in fine art printmaking, I like layers of stage space and layers of colour, trying to make what seems initially a simple and arresting painting, but one that keeps delivering greater depths and subtleties on closer inspection over a longer period time.

My interests historically are hugely varied, from pre-Renaissance to mid 20th century, and currently I am particularly intrigued by painters from Derain, Picasso and Matisse through to Grant, Bell, Nicholson, Rae and Redpath, to name but a few. The main thing that all my idols have is an underlying strength of structure and deep knowledge of drawing that they use in their own individual ways.

One of the great joys of painting is that it gives me a reason to travel and to immerse myself for long periods of time in new countries and cultures. Whereas most “tourists” view sites and pass through, I have a reason to sit in a small area for long periods, drawing, painting and observing. Every culture responds to the drawn and painted image, so there is a natural interest and acceptance of what I do with no sense of threat that maybe a camera might bring. After a while I seem to just disappear into my surroundings and am able to then start drawing on the subject. My studies in situ are my starting point and initial understanding of the subject and then I return home to the studio to try to recreate the distilled essence and taste from my travels.

I must be one of the most fortunate people ever as I can produce what I wish and travel where I want, collecting material for paintings to assemble in the comfort of my studio, and pay the bills at the same time! Now my daughter has started along a similar road in architecture and design and I hope her life will be as charmed as mine.