What Follows in this M’s Notes is reprinted from Sandra Walker’s website and provides a window into her world more thoroughly than any words I could craft. The First section is her biography, the second excerpted from A+I Artists and Illustration and the third from a 2003 issue of Watercolor Magazine. Enjoy! M
Sandra Walker’s watercolors are represented in numerous public and private collections and embassies throughout the world. Her work is included in the collections of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Senator George McGovern, author John LeCarré, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and many others. She has won many international competitions, including the Singer and Friedlander/Sunday Times award for the best British Watercolor and the Grand Prix at the Tregastal Salon International de la Peinture á L Eau inFrance. While living inAmerica, she was commissioned by the United States Mint to design a Congressional medal honoring Simon Wiesenthal. Sandra was also commissioned by Prime Minister Thatcher to paint the Houses of Parliament, copies of which have been sold worldwide to benefit the Thatcher Foundation. She has had solo shows inIndia,Sri Lanka,Egypt,France, ItalyandMongolia. In 1999, Sandra was elected a member of the prestigious Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour, an exclusive membership of 60 of the most important British watercolorists.
Member: Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour
Who’s Who in American Art
Walker Sandra International Artist Magazine November 2000 illustrated pp. 84-91
Harrison Hazel Shapes and Edges, Sanstone Books 1996, illustrated pp. 107-113
Dunce Brian Make Your Paintings Look Three Dimensional Aurum Press,London1994
illustrated pp 78-84
Harrison Hazel Watercolour Step-by-Step,Harper CollinsPublishers,London,1993,illustrated p9
Davidson Martin How to Draw & Paint Texture, Harper Collins Publisher,London, 1993 illustrated pp 51,70, 75
Simpson Ian Collins Complete Painting Course, Harper Collins Publishers, 1993, illustrated pp 100
Clausen C. “Coming toAmerica,” US ART, March 1992, illustrated
Harrison Hazel, Houses and Buildings, Cassells Press, November, 1991, illustrated
Walker Sandra, The Artist and Illustrator Magazine July 1991 pp. 26-29
McKinley Nigel The Revival of Invention, Watercolour Drawing and Prints, Vol. 5 No. 4 Winter 1990 issue p. 30
Harrison Hazel The Encyclopedia of Watercolour Techniques, Headline Press, June 1990 illustrated p. 88
Veazey, Marina “Art that Catches the English Heart” The Sunday Times, April 23, 1989 p C8
McEwan John “Winning in Paint and Watercolour,” The Sunday Times, April 23, 1989 p 72
Hughes Graham Arts Review, May 5, 1989 p 324
Forgey, Benjamin. “On Paper, Maturing Freshness,” The Washington Star, September 19, 1980 illustrated p. G-1
Richard Paul “Paper Pleasures” The Washington Post, June 21, 1977 illustrated p. D-1
Tannous David TheWashingtonStar July 24, 1977 p G-20
Walker, Sandra “The Watercolour Page,” American Artist Magazine, January 1977 illustrated illustrated pp. 68-72
Secrest Meryle “Exhuberant and Overwhelming,” TheWashingtonPost, June 21, 1977 p. G-20
Forgey, Benjamin, “Galleries, The World of One City,” The Washington Post, September 18, 1977 p.H-1
Goldfine, Gil “The Best of American Art,” TheJerusalemPost, September 14, 1976
Richard Paul “Art Traditions Renewed,” The Washington Post, October 12, 1974 illustrated pp. B-7
Exhibitions (Partial List)
RoyalInstituteofPaintersin Watercolour, Mall Galleries,London
Laing Exhibition, Mall Galleries,London
Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
Galerie Atelier Mensch,Hamburg
Royal Society of British Artist,London
Royal Watercolour Society, Bankside Gallery,London
Linda Blackstone Gallery
Manor House Gallery
World of Watercolours,ParkLaneHotel,London
20th Century British Art Fair, RoyalCollegeofArt,London
Waterman’s Fine Arts,London
Henry Wyndham Fine Art.London
FerensArtGallery& Museum, Hull
Bourne Gallery,Reigate, Surry
Hunting/Observer Exhibition Mall Gallery,London
Tregastel Salon International de la Peinture a L ‘cau (Grand Prix)
Duncan Miller Fine Arts, Hampstead,London
RoyalBirminghamSociety of Art,Birmingham
Singer and Friedlander/Sunday Times Exhibition, Mall Gallery,London
Barbizon Gallery, Hampshire
Doncaster Museum & Art Gallery,Yorkshire
Grant, Pollock-Krasner Foundation,New York
Franz Bader Gallery,Washington, DC
Zenith Gallery,Washington, DC
National Water Colour Society,Long Beach,California
Galerie de Art,Honduras
Allied Artist ofAmerica,New York(Silver Medal)
Corcoran Gallery of Art,Washington,DC
Grant, H Lester Cooke Foundation,Washington,DC
United StatesGovernment –Designer of President’s Medal of Freedom
Collections: Partial List
FerensArtGallery& Museum, Hull
Bank ofAmerica,New York,NY
National League of Cities,Washington,DC
American Embassy,Colombo,Sri Lanka
Wall Street Journal,New York,NY
National Geographic Society,Washington,DC
U.S. Senator George McGovern
U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy
The Chase Collection,Denver,Colorado
Singer & Friedlander Merchant Bank,London
Count Alastair von Laubach
John Le Carre
U.S. Senator Fred Thompson
Henry (“The Fonz”) Winkler
The Rt. Hon. Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven (Margaret Thatcher)
Sandra Walker is an American, but she married an Englishman and has lived outside ofLondonfor the past 14 years. Soon after her arrival she saw a notice for the Singer & Friedlander/Sunday Times Watercolor Competition. Deciding she has nothing to lose, she entered. To her amazement, she took First Prize. With a laugh, she explains her win by saying her painting was probably the only one that wasn’t of hillsides and pastures. Her work stood out, she says, because Photo Realism is unusual inBritain. As much asWalkerconsiders herself an artistic oddity inEngland, she is an elected member of the prestigious Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolor, an honor she finds surprising because she is a woman and an American – and because membership is limited.
Architectural city scenes areWalker’s passion; the older and more decayed the better. “There are enough other people who do pastoral scenes, especially inEngland,” she says. “I don’t have to get in on their act.” Because the scenes she prefers are intricate, she takes many photos, draws loose sketches, and makes color notes rather than working on site. Then she lays out her photos and studies them. “Something will emerge, and I’ll say, ‘Yes, this is the view I want to paint.’ I know it when I see it.” She explains. “Usually it has a lot it do with shadows.” By arranging her prints in a collage, she creates exactly the scene she wants. First she decides on the focal point, then how much of the surrounding area she intends to include. She also edits out trees or traces of greenery. Photos, she says, are a good guideline but should never be slavishly copied.
If the angles in the scene are particularly tricky, she lays out a grid on the photo and paper first. But she always sketches very carefully, pointing out that “if something is out of kilter in an architectural subject, you are in trouble.”Walkerdraws using a triangle and does a great deal of measuring, but she’s never been tempted to do this tedious work on a computer. After deciding the dominant color mood of the work, she begins painting in whatever area interests her most, laying in washes lightly. “Sometimes,” she notes, “I don’t know until the end if the painting will work because shadows are everything, and they go in last. I also never know when to stop. I keep wanting to add other things or splatter more.”
Splattering, in fact, isWalker’s secret to creating the look of old bricks and stone. Whereas layers of paint would appear flat, she creates texture to give the painting a three-dimensional look. She taps a fan brush – a large one heavily laden with wet paint for big splatters, a smaller, drier brush for smaller ones – against the handle of another sturdy brush. Many of he splatters are multicolor; for instance she splatters red, blue, and green, to produce the convincing look of old bricks. For the basic color of old bricks, she mixes burnt sienna and raw umber with a touch of Payne’s gray. At times she splatters on white or uses white to create graffiti on the bricks. OccasionallyWalkeris commissioned to portray brand new buildings but claims “there’s no thrill, no heart, no soul in new buildings until I get there and splatter.”
Besides splattering, the artist uses razor blades, sandpaper, crayons, old credit cards and medical syringes to create the look of old brick. Or, she plays with Windsor & Newton Aquapasto gel to achieve the required texture. As for isolating certain area during the process, she says, “I have a love-hate relationship with masking fluid. I hate it but will use it for a length of wire along a building, for instance. Usually it’s not worth the effort of masking out whole sections. It looks contrived. I can paint around almost anything.”
Walkeris adamant about the quality of her supplies, “Never use cheap paper, paint, or brushes,” she advises. “They undermine your work.” She uses one kind of paper – 140-lb Arches hot pressed – explaining that even though she paints old buildings with a lot of texture, she still likes the smooth, hot-pressed surface, which she roughs up. She insists on Nos. 3 and 4 sable brushes for most of her work, and a No. 10 for larger areas. Her palette consists mainly of burnt sienna, raw sienna, yellow ochre, Payne’s gray, raw umber and lamp black.
Normally she has two or three paintings going at once. It takes weeks to complete one painting, althoughWalkeradmits that she is painting smaller now for practical reasons: Rooms in English houses tend to be smaller, and there isn’t an active market for large paintings. Certainly she need not worry about her place in the British art world. It seems she is well established, considering former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher commissioned a scene depicting the Houses of Parliament.
Bring realism to
Sandra Walker shows how your photographs can be the first step towards a Photo realist painting:
“Whether artists think about it or not, every one of their works falls at some point on an imaginary scale that ranges from complete abstraction to I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-a-photograph Photorealism. While I may not be in the vanguard of the latter, a great joy for me as a painter lies in the magic that occurs when pigments applied to a two-dimensional surface suddenly look like a particular landscape, still life, or individual. This, it seems, makes me a Photorealist.
Photorealism is an extreme form of naturalist paining that had its beginnings in theUnited Statesin the late 1960s and relied on the use of photos to achieve extraordinary realistic images. Also known as Superrealism, it evolved partly in response to abstract art, Minimalism, and other non-representational styles.
What made the Photorealist different from other realistic painters working at the time was that they didn’t attempt to hide their reliance on the camera. Instead the declared its use to be a virtue. One popular technique of these early Photorealist involved projecting photographic images onto large canvasses, and then reproducing them in minute detail.
Subject matter for these artist could be just about anything – except, perhaps, traditional views that, when rendered photorealistically, might have seemed too boring, pretty , or sentimental. Such proponents of Photorealism as Richard Estes and Chuck Close worked from colour photographs of storefronts, neon signs, petrol pumps, traffic lights, and in Close’s case, close-ups of his own head.
From the beginning, Photorealism was embraced by the public, which found it easier to understand than, say, abstract expressionism. But the art world itself was divided about what some regarded as little more than ‘living room art’. Indeed, as American journalist Tom Wolfe observed in his 1975 book, The Painted Word, one of the accomplishments of Photorealism “was to drive orthodox critic bananas.” That was then. In the last two decades, representational painters have quietly established an alternative tradition to the mainstream of late modernism.
To those of us who follow the alternative tradition, it’s acceptable to regard as artistic input the choice of a subject; the way it’s composed, edited, rearranged; the altering of colors and shapes to emphasize or de-emphasize certain characteristics; and the use of skills to apply paints to paper or canvas in order to achieve desired effects – even if, somewhere along the line, photographs were involved.
Also, I have found that working from life, in cities in particular, is often impossible – and thus the use of photographs, for certain paintings, is virtually necessary. Wherever you are, inevitably a car will pull up and block your view; and in certain neighborhoods personal safety is a concern. (if you want to attract attention, one of the best ways – as most artists know only too well – is to set yourself up in a public place with a tin of paints.) Then too, shadows are constantly moving.
Like most realistic painters, I paint what’s around me. Because I live inEngland, this often means British scenes. But no chocolate box landscapes. I prefer city views, in the long tradition of such artists as Canaletto, Utrillo and Hopper. And in the category, even though I now live in a small Buckinghamshire village, the streets ofNew York Cityintrigue me perhaps most of all.
Thus when I begin a painting, my first step is often to seek inspiration in the bustling streets and brick tenements ofManhattan’sLowerEast Side. (This is the site of the demonstration paintingDelancey Street.) Here I wander the streets at random, taking hundreds of photographs of anything that catches my fancy.
Many of these will find their way into my bulging files back home of as-yet-unused photos. Because of the way I work, however, every one of these images could potentially feature in one of my future paintings, since I borrow images from one photograph and include them in a painting that is based mainly on photos of a different scene entirely. For example, my painting Harvey Milk Lives, incorporates a storefront I photographed years ago on what was otherwise a boring building.
“Working from life, in
Cities in particular, is often
impossible – and thus the
use of photographs for
certain paintings is a
After developing and printing my photographs, my next step is to consider composition. For me, the image I have chosen doesn’t necessarily dictate the size of the finished painting. In the past, I have compressed whole city blocks into a quarter sheet of watercolor paper, just as I’ve devoted an entire 56x76cm sheet to a relatively small detail I particularly liked, such as an intriguing window or doorway. And sometimes, I simply feel in the mood to paint something big.
The next thing I do as I look at the photographs I’ve assembled of the images I want to paint, is to take a sentimentality check – that is, make sure that there’s no danger my final painting will end up formulaic or banal. For the Photorealist, falling into the sentimentality trap can be surprisingly easy. My advice: stay as far as possible away from anything that smacks remotely of Norman Rockwell, and, avoid ‘cute’.
As I work out my painting’s final composition, I am sometimes obliged to rearrange seemingly commonplace details to bring about need, order and clarity. The shifting in position of a lamp post or the removal or addition of an automobile or a rubbish bin, for example, are among myriad intuitive decisions that ultimately make a painting done from a photograph into a work of art, and not just a slavish reproduction of a photograph image.
The last – but not least – of these intuitive decisions is knowing when to stop, with respect to the wealth of information most photographs provide. There is no hard and fast formula for this. It is simply a subjective judgment that must be borne in mind as the blank areas of paper begin to disappear.
My last word of advice is this. If you like to paint realistically, and you find that photos help you to do this, go ahead. Many representational artists do – even many who work from life, such as portrait artists.
If it helps, remember that David Hockney, in his book Secret Knowledge, suggested that such old masters as Caravaggio, Velazquez, Van Eyck and Vermeer used optical aids to assist them. And that Thomas Eakins, one of American’s foremost realists – whose works are currently being shown at the Metropolitan Museum in New York – often painted from projected photographs, a fact he never tried to hide (though after his death, his wife did).
There may be critics out there who would rather have root canal work than say a kind word about Photorealism. But I say, ignore them. Ignore them, get out your camera, take photographs… and paint.” –Sandra Walker,RI