Voices of Experience
On Wormit Beach 16 x 16.5″ Watercolor
Angus McEwan’s watercolors suggest deep, rich evocative stories. Their subjects, often architectural details and beautifully worn patinas, are rendered skillfully with great technical adroitness. Their rich, layered colors are a delight to the eye and invite the viewer in to linger and to consider the history and stories of the objects portrayed. He writes that he is painting “the relationship of time and its effect on material objects.”
McEwan has been dedicated to drawing and painting since childhood. His work is now represented internationally in collections in China, Russia, Italy, Turkey, Australia, Netherlands, Norway and North America and his native Scotland. He has won top awards across the globe and has been elected to prestigious art societies, such as the Royal Watercolour Society (RWS); the Australian Watercolour Society (AWI); the National Watercolor Society, USA (NWS); The Royal Scottish Society of Watercolours (RSW); the International Masters of Watercolour Association, China (IMWA); the Royal Glasgow Institute (RGI); and the San Diego Watercolor Society (SDWS).
He wrote to us about his education in the arts, his immersion in the medium of watercolor and his world travels. In addition to letting us in on his palette and materials, he included a ten-step demonstration for his painting, Shadow Play. McEwan is in the forefront of the NFT world as well, making some of his paintings available as Non-Fungible Tokens and he graciously explained to us the details of the process.
Farm Window 15 x 11″ Watercolor
Tea Break Watercolor
When I was five years old, I knew I wanted to be an artist and my parents encouraged me to draw any time I had free time on my hands. I used to take a sketchbook with me everywhere I went, and I spent a great deal of time exploring ideas in it, drawing, and letting my imagination roam freely. This basically helped me to improve my drawing and imaginative skills.
My school life was dedicated to working towards getting into art school. That was my main ambition when I was younger which drove me to concentrate on my education and make sure that I had enough grades to get to art school. I didn’t go directly to art school initially but instead went to a further education college to do a two-year graphics course. That graphics course allowed me to understand the fundamentals of being an artist in terms of working with a lot of materials, including gouache, which at the time I used very thinly like watercolour. This was my first proper introduction to watercolour and water-based media not withstanding my previous efforts within the school system which were childlike.
Once I had completed two years of the graphics course, I applied directly to my local art school, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee. I spent five years there doing a B.A degree with honours in fine art and a postgraduate degree in fine art. It was while I was within the art school system that I was really inspired and applied myself fully to learn how to be a better artist. I got as much as I could out of the system and spent a great deal of time working to improve myself and to improve my drawing abilities and my painting abilities. What art school really provided was a platform on which you took responsibility for your own learning. Nothing was handed to you.
Paint Splash Watercolor
Sacred and Profane 20 x 14.5″ Watercolor
When I was at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, there were a number of lecturers who inspired me, one of those was Peter Collins, a very kind and sensitive artist, very cerebral, someone who would provide inspirational words of encouragement and who was very enthusiastic about renaissance art and good sound drawing skills. Another artist who I respected hugely was Will McLean, who had an international reputation for his artwork. His art could be described as low-relief box constructions which included painterly elements very similar to the work of American artist Joseph Cornell, but with a lot more freedom.
Originally, when I was at art school, I spent four years painting with oils and devoted my time to learning everything I could about oils—the positive and negative aspects of that medium. When I was in my postgraduate year, I started using acrylics and spent a year learning how to use them.
When I left art school and began working on my own, I started to explore working with acrylics as an underpainting and then working with oils on top. I developed a style that works with the best of both worlds—the crispness of the acrylics against the softness and richness of the colours with the oils.
When I was out of art school about eight years, I won a scholarship to go to China. I decided to take some acrylics, but I also decided to take some watercolours because I was backpacking and was going away for three months and therefore didn’t have an awful lot of room to play with. When I initially went out to do some plein air work in China, I found it very challenging—I hadn’t done an awful a lot of that type of painting and didn’t understand the medium particularly well at that point. I found it quite frustrating when I first started working with it. It wasn’t until I remembered that I had worked with gouache before, in a very thin manner, that I started to understand there was a way of working with watercolour that that would potentially work for me.
Things came to a head one day when I was working in Beijing, struggling with a painting. I completely lost the plot with this one particular painting, and I covered the picture with white gouache to obliterate the image. As I watched it dry, I started to see the picture come through the paint, but it was a soft, out-of-focus, muted version of the painting. I thought that was really interesting. I then started to use clean water to lift out some parts of the painting. It was at that point that I realised the potential of watercolour.
The Beating Heart of China 22 x 22.5″ Watercolor
Shanghai Street Life Watercolor
It wasn’t the medium that I had been thinking it was in that I was very constrained before,—I was using it in a very traditional way, the way everyone else had used it. I had now found my own voice with the medium and I realised it was actually a very versatile medium and I could work with it in lots of different ways. I then started to truly explore watercolour. I found that when I started to experiment and investigate it further, I began to enjoy its potential. It was quite calligraphic which meant I could draw on top of it or I could use pastels or inks or potentially other media with it.
So, watercolour provided me with more of an opportunity to change the image if I wanted to, which I couldn’t really do that well with oils. Once you start working with oils, you’ve got to kind of go down that route and finish it off with oils. I found watercolour was a much more intuitive medium—it’s been a revelation for me. Now it’s not something I’ve done consciously—I’ve basically spent my time working with watercolour for no other reason than it just feels naturally right for me.
My subject matter comes from my observation of my surroundings. I travel a lot and have done so for many years, combining painting with my travel. So often when I go out, I’m looking for absolutely anything that I find interesting. I’m using sunlight to create the sense of volume and looking at faded colours, looking at interesting textures on the surface of doors or walls or any kind of architectural features that I find fascinating—and I quite like depicting that in watercolour.
I’m particularly drawn to looking at objects that are macroscopic in nature, close-ups of doors or windows or any architectural features. I quite enjoy really paying attention to the surface texture of objects. my subject matter tends to often come from my trips abroad, mainly because the sunlight is so strong.
You can come across old doors or windows or buildings that are left in disrepair in Scotland, but a lot of these types of buildings or architectural features tend to be painted or taken care of quite quickly, so there’s less opportunity to find interesting subject matter to paint. You might find subject matter in old barns or dilapidated farm buildings, but the lighting is particularly important to me, and I find that strong light from the southern hemisphere is much more interesting than the harsher light that you find in the north and in Scotland.
Ties that Bind 14 x 19.5″ Watercolor
Verdigris 15.5 x 15.5″ Watercolor
There are many places abroad where I’ve found inspiration. One of these has been Malta. Another place that I enjoy visiting for subject matter is Italy, in particular Venice. I particularly like visiting places that have a bit of history like Cuba which has lots of potential subject matter and lots of interesting places to paint. Morocco is another place that I have enjoyed visiting and found a great deal of inspiration from. Quite a lot of these places I have visited on more than one occasion and I continue to go back to the same spot multiple times over the years because I find them so inspirational
My process has evolved over the years and is really dependent on how long I can spend in a particular spot or place. I will often go out with a sketchbook and a camera. If I don’t have very much time, I will just take some photographs. If I have enough time, I will take some photographs and do some sketches to build up an impression of an area, usually through very fast drawings with just quick indications of colour, maybe using watercolour, colour pencils or perhaps even some pastels.
These sketches are just to inform me so when I get back to the studio, I can look at the photographs and the sketches and I can remember the occasion and remember why I was interested in doing that as a subject matter. Once I have an idea and I have a photograph that I would like to work from, then I will do some compositional studies in my sketchbook and sometimes value studies, but quite often it’s very much about a quick impression of the idea before I embark on the painting.
I normally square up a photograph and draw it out to get the essence of the composition fairly accurately. I will then start off by blocking in my darks. Using this as an anchor I will work the rest of the painting around that, working from the back of the image to the front so that the very last thing I’m thinking about is the surface texture and the detailing which is built on top of a foundation of lots and lots of washes. I will spend a long time on my painting, sometimes many months depending on how large it is and how detailed it might be.
The Wee Tin Watercolor
The Prince and the Pauper 22 x 22″ Watercolor
I tend to use Daniel Smith watercolours and the occasional Old Holland watercolour tube. I use Daniel Smith watercolour paints because I find that the strength of colour and the consistency is perfect for my needs. I like the fact that they use Gum Arabic as a binder which means that the paint, in general, tends to be fairly matte. I like to be able to control the surface of the paint and I find that Daniel Smith allows me to do that.
All the colours below are in my basic palette and are the main ones I use. However I use a lot more than this depending on what each painting requires.
Cool Palette Colours
Old Holland Violet Grey
Cobalt Blue Violet
Cobalt Violet Deep
Cobalt Teal Blue
Manganese Blue Hue
Deep Sap Green
Warm Palette Colours
Cadmium Orange Hue
Van Dyck Brown
Quinacridone Burnt Orange
Italian Deep Ochre
Burgundy Yellow Ochre
I use a variety of different brushes—some of them are really old and very worn. I also have a range of small detail brushes which I’ve designed, and I find very useful. I prefer to use Kolinsky sable with a mix of synthetic hair to give it a little bit of spring.
I tend to use handmade paper for most of my paintings. I will often use Fabriano Artistico, extra white. If I find it useful, I will explore other handmade papers such as Two Rivers depending on what my requirements are, but I much prefer handmade paper with a deckle-edge. When I exhibit my paintings, I like to show that deckle-edge. I won’t have a window mount covering the edge of the painting. I will try and show the picture with that broken ragged edge. I find it suits the subject matter.
McEwan provided us with this ten-step demonstration of his painting, Shadow Play.
Step One – Sketching tones and colours to help with planning my idea.
Step Two – Continuing with the drawing until the essence of the image
has been mapped out. Shadow lines are a little lighter than lines for real objects.
Step 3 – Adding the tones/darks to create an anchor to work around.
Step 4 – Developing the painting by adding rust areas with Italian Deep Ochre and a touch of Quinacridone Burnt Orange and Violet Grey into the lighter areas of the metal plates.
Step 5 – Continuing with a smallish brush adding stronger colour to the painting, slowly reducing the number of white patches on the surface to those that count as the lightest areas.
Step 6 – Splatting a thin wash of Burnt Umber across some areas of the image where there is a need for a granular presence.
Step 7 – Adding detail with a small brush and the black mix. Going over edges to sharpen them up.
Step 8 – Working into the flat shadow shapes with dark and light colours to suggest a lumpy broken surface.
Step 9 – Adding more cracks and details with a small brush and black mix.
Shadow Play Watercolor
What words of wisdom would you like to impart to artists just starting out?
I remember Peter Collins on the first day of art school telling all of us bright shiny new art students to above all “be true to ourselves”. This, of course, came from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but it is something I continually remind myself of. When I am swayed by a style or technique, subject matter or method that is not in keeping with my core beliefs or ideals I have to remember that that is not who I am, and this keeps me on the path.
The other thing that I have noticed is that if you keep working and keep developing your work, eventually everything will open up for you. You should never give up. This can be difficult, but I truly believe if you continue to create and strive to be the best version of yourself, that your opportunity will present itself to you, but you must be aware enough to see it. So, “never give up” would be my advice.
And, who would you like to sit down with to have a dinner conversation?
This is an extremely difficult question as there are so many throughout history that I admire and would love to chat to but for me it would have to be Andrew Wyeth—an immensely private person but so single-minded and ferociously creative—I would love to have spent a few hours chatting to him about life and art.
McEwan is one of the first artists we have interviewed to embrace Non-Fungible Tokens, NFTs. We asked him is he would write to us about the process and why he thinks it is a good new opportunity.
The process of creating an NFT is rather convoluted as can be the purchasing of these assets and this for the foreseeable future will possibly curtail buyers who are not completely tech savvy. Things are changing and will get more accessible which will open the market up to mainstream buyers.
I would recommend looking at this website which breaks down the process of creating an NFT. However, even this can look overly complicated.
I have sold quite a number of NFTs but to really maximise your selling you need to shill your wares on Twitter. This, in my case, is a drawback as I don’t have a large audience on this platform which is the result of years of neglect on my behalf. However, if you do have a large following, you should find this part relatively easy. For me, it’s the one aspect that I found objectionable. I have never been that great at promoting my artwork, especially when it feels like you are shouting into the void.
I see the NFT marketplace as an opportunity. I also see a lot of artists doing very well in this space, most especially if their work appeals to a younger audience. So, cartoons, space or science fiction, nudes, abstracts with spirals and moving gifs are all doing wonderfully well at the moment in this arena.
–From my website:
I made a few of my paintings available as NFTs. This now allows you to own the digital asset as well as the original or a giclée of my work. Some of the NFTs are sold as assets in their own right, some will be in an edition and will come with a giclée to frame and hang on the wall, and a few will be sold with the original painting. The value of an NFT can increase just like physicals but they are much more accessible than physical art pieces. NFTs, however, won’t replace the original art piece, but will allow the buyer to have ownership of the work in the digital realm. They are separate entities, but it will be possible to own both. That’s why I am making some of my work available for NFTs as the digital realm is increasingly intertwined with the physical and going forward this appears to be our future.
Angus McEwan currently teaches workshops online and has done for the past two years. He has some workshops coming up with French Escapade and one or two other workshops planned for later this year. For the moment he hasn’t any “in person” workshops planned for 2022. He is primarily sticking to classes online for the foreseeable future until things settle down and become a little bit clearer as regards the virus and lockdowns.
For more information: https://www.angusmcewan.com/workshops
To see more of Angus McEwan’s work,
go to: https://www.angusmcewan.com
All artwork copyright Angus McEwan
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