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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tony Smibert - Interview

Tony Smibert's art  includes watercolours inspired by ‘The Golden Age of English Watercolour' (c. 1750 - 1850) and others reflecting the minimalism of Japanese Zen. Smibert’s unusual approach to watercolour actually grew out of the study of Japanese martial art. From the study of Aikido he realised that the best way to learn a traditional art form is to apprentice yourself to the best teachers. In the case of watercolour, this meant the great masters and led to his focus on the 19th Century English school - particularly the water colours of JMW Turner (1775 - 1851).

Can you describe the advantages of watercolor medium for those who
appreciate oil painting?
Watercolour is a great medium for sketching, colour studies, experiments, developing ideas and fully resolving ideas. However, it’s not a medium I would compare with oil but, rather, an entirely different experience. Although I also paint in oils and acrylics, watercolour is still my primary mode of expression because I love the fact that each painting is an adventure into the unknown.  A journey towards the possible…  There are no ‘advantages’ or ‘disadvantages’, simply that watercolour offers a chance to let the medium itself play a role in the creation of your work. Many of the most beautiful qualities of watercolour only occur when you learn to work in harmony with it, rather than trying to ‘master it’ or push it around.

Tony Smibert

Do you need a model or life observation for painting?
I paint from imagination.  In watercolour I just start with an empty sheet of paper and start painting.

What is more exiting for you – a process or a finished work?
Absolutely, the process.  Painting in watercolour is like surfing.  You can’t wait to catch another wave and do it again! So I usually lay out another sheet of paper and start another painting.

Tony Smibert

Where do you find your inspiration?Watercolour itself is inspiring, along with Life, Nature and just about everything. I love mountain scenery, storms, sunrises, sunset, mists, waves and the way that eagles ride the thermals above our farm.  It’s all pretty inspiring.  Then, in the art world, when I see a great painting, or even something that was simply well painted, they can be inspiring.  But real inspiration is something that occurs while painting: that’s when you can almost feel it – in the same way that you can feel hunger and love or thrilling excitement – as a palpable flow of energy.  Having studied Aikido I would call this a form of ‘ki’ or spiritual energy.  When its there, I paint, but if I’m trying to paint but can’t feel it then I’ll stop and go do something else for a day or two.  Alhough creative energy is something you can cultivate, it not something that you can switch on and off at will.

Tony Smibert

Do you make some sketches or some research work when you paint on a large size?
When working on a commission for a client I always do sketches and smaller studies first.  The client needs to know what you have in mind and it’s an important part of the business side of art to ensure you get paid.  They need to see some sketches so they know what they are going to be paying for.  As far as my other work is concerned, small studies are a regular part of my regular process so I’m doing them all the time.  But when it comes to the larger paintings, I seldom refer to any studies.  The painting comes from the process.  I mind have some idea, or be working on a theme, but even so I can truly say that every painting is a surprise.  As for research, the answer is yes, absolutely, and lots of it: location sketches, colour studies, small paintings and so on.

Tony Smibert

Why minimalistic painting looks better in a large canvas and a smaller
painting sometimes requires more detailed approach?
Actually, although its an interesting observation, I can’t agree with this statement.  I’ll need to think about it…

Should a watercolour painting tell a story or it can be self-valued?
Paintings don’t have to tell a story.  They ARE a story.  The story IS the painting and each person will read it differently. I guess there are stories behind most paintings - the life of the artist, their dreams, processes, subject matter and so on – but there’s no need for a painting to be an illustration.  Paintings are about themselves.

Tony Smibert

Do you consider watercolour more graphical or painting medium? 
I consider watercolour to be a very liquid and inherently creative painting medium.

Do you consider black a colour?
It depends who’s writing the dictionary, I guess.  For myself, I’d say that black is not a colour, but rather the absence of light and, consequently, colour.

  Tony Smibert

What is a stronger expressive means – a stroke or a colour? 
Tough question, to which I don’t think there can be a firm answer.  I always loved the power of gesture as revealed in brush-strokes and didn’t think of myself as a colourist at all until I studied Turner.  Now, I’m starting to understand a little about colour and to love it almost as much as gesture.

Tony Smibert

Why JMW Turner is the greatest? 
Its often said that JMW Turner is the greatest watercolourist the west has yet produced.  Not simply because he was a wonderful painter – there have been many of them – but because he was a groundbreaker, so thoroughly immersed in his medium, art and life that we can confidently know that his work on any given day was at the forefront of watercolour being done anywhere in the world, on that day.  I think he was the greatest watercolour researcher of his time – setting a model for practise and progress that we can all follow.  Beyond that, I see Turner as a watercolourist in complete harmony with his medium.  And that’s the thing I most admire…


  1. your blog is amazing!!!

    -fashion illustrator-

  2. WOW this is some watercolor blog! Wealth of info and great artists to explore ,
    many thanks!

  3. Beautifully written article. Love the painting process with watercolor. It is always exciting.