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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Shirley Trevena - Interview

Shirley Trevena has always tried to break the rules of conventional watercolour painting and over the years she has developed a wonderfully loose way of painting using a dynamic palette of colours. She has an international reputation and is regarded as one of Britain’s most innovative artists in the medium. She has been a member of the Royal institute of Painters in Watercolours since 1994 and is author of 3 best selling books: Taking Risks with watercolour, Vibrant Watercolours and Breaking the Rules of watercolour.
Shirley Trevena. 2-clocks-the-pea-pod-man.

How and when did you discover that you are an artist?
When I was very young all I wanted to do was draw, but somehow my parents did not agree with me going to art school to get a formal art education and so I ended up working in an office.

Was it a long way to watercolor medium or it was the love from the first sight?
In the 1980’s my husband brought me a small watercolour paint box and I took to it straight away.

Shirley Trevena. Blue China.

Is your painting process completely intuitive? 
Having had no formal art training, when I first started painting it definitely was all about intuition, but the more I have learnt about putting paint down the less intuitive the work becomes. I love to work hard at experimenting and moving on to save the work from becoming stale.

Shirley Trevena. Black-Gloves-Goldfish

Do you use certain rules or you only “break” them?
It’s hard not to hang on to your own rules, but I do like to work out of my comfort zone at times.

Shirley Trevena. Dilemma Of What To Paint

What is more important attitude for the artist: to know how to do or to feel that it won`t work this way?
You can learn so much from your mistakes. Even though you know something may not work, it’s good to try it.

Is your painting more interpretation than copying the model?
The model is just information for me to interpret into my own colour and form.

Shirley Trevena. Dark Vase Of Lilies

What is your alarm to stop working at the painting? 
When do you know it is ready? When my eyes can roam around the composition and feel each part is balanced. If my eye jumps to one small part I know something is wrong.

Shirley Trevena. Chateau De Castelnaud Dordogne

Does your inspiration comes from a model or you get into the right mood and arrange the model for your painting?
Inspiration can start anywhere. Just seeing a friend in a purple jacket sit next to a yellow cushion can make me want to use those colours in the next painting.

Is there a connection between your painting approach and music? 
Not generally. Sometimes i get too involved in both and find it hard to separate the emotions.

Shirley Trevena. Disguises In Small Houses

Is there a special significance of white space always left in your painting? 
I love the sparkle of small white spaces. It leaves the viewer with a feeling of the picture not quite finished, rather like a drawing, a direct link to the artist.

Shirley Trevena. Four Bunches Of Anemones

You don`t have much of figurative painting. Do you feel more comfortable in still life?
For the first 3 years of my painting life I did figure painting and then moved on to still life. I have just recently completed a few new figurative pieces.

Shirley Trevena. Still Llife On C Check Cloth

How do you work on composition? 
I do not draw out a composition on my paper before putting paint down. Sometimes I do a very small sketch. The composition just evolves.

Shirley Trevena in her studio.

What is more important for the artist while painting: concentration or relaxation? 
 For me there is no such thing as relaxation. When it comes to creating a painting the concentration is intense.

Shirley Trevena. Three Friends

Do you teach your students some concrete rules or your aim is to make them paint how they feel? 
I have recently given up teaching, but when I did teach I always wanted the students to express themselves and find their own mark.

You can read an article about Shirley Trevena as well as a big publication about Thomas W. Schaller inApril issue of Watercolor Artist magazine.


  1. your work is absolutely beautiful! Congratulations. I hope some day I can be as half good as you are.