Artist Q+A with Deborah Walker RI


Deborah Walker is a landscape painter with an emphasis on painting water.  She holds a First Class Honours Degree in Fine Art from De Montfort University and is a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours (RI) and an Associate Member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists (ARSMA).  Deborah exhibited in the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016 and has been a regular exhibitor over the past five years, appearing in the 2011, 2013 and 2015 exhibitions.  Working mainly in watercolour, Deborah depicts landscapes in both broad expanse and close-up detail and aims to develop ‘a language of drawing and painting that can express feelings and emotional responses‘.

Tell us a little about Tidal Rhythms, the painting selected for the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016 Exhibition.

'Tidal Rhythms', Deborah Walker RI, Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016 Exhibitor

‘Tidal Rhythms’, Deborah Walker RI, Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016 Exhibitor

Tidal Rhythms is a study of the kelp beds in Stackhouse Bay, Cornwall. From the viewer’s standing position, you are separated from the sea and the rest of the world by a giant bank of rock with gullies running across it that have been eroded by the tide over thousands of years. You become aware of being both exposed to the elements and yet protected at the same time. There is a quiet solitude about the place. The painting is about the cyclical nature of the tide, the ebb and flow, the rise and fall; and the filling and emptying of the gullies. There is a microcosm of plant and animal species that rely on the tidal rhythm cleansing and nourishing their world.

A recurring theme in your work is the depiction of water. A notoriously tricky subject! How do you tackle it?

Water ‘is’ the recurring theme through all of my work and has been for about 30 years! It may be a notoriously tricky subject but I approach it like any other, to try to paint what I see without revision. After years of study I have, I hope, developed the technical language using watercolour to describe its transparency, movement, reflectivity, light, depth and colour. I have, perhaps, lost the fear of its complexity!

'Corners of the Evening', Deborah Walker RI

‘Corners of the Evening’, Deborah Walker RI

Though you work mainly in watercolour, occasionally you also work in oils. How would you respond to Doug Mays’ comment that ‘Where oils lumber…watercolours prance’?

Oh so true! Whilst there are subjects that are perhaps easier in oils, watercolour makes so many more things possible. For me, working in oils involves moving the paint around until you have it where you want it. Working in watercolour is far more exciting! You have so many more considerations to work with. Once liberated in water, colours have a life of their own. There is an alchemy working between pigments that you have to understand before you can predict. You can apply it in so many ways; lift it, layer it or wash it away again. There is always something new to discover or a new technique to develop, that continuously allows my work to progress. I suppose, simply put, it sustains me as an artist.

Of your painterly style you say that you ‘push the character of the paint to extremes’. Tell us a little more about this.

For me, watercolour is a medium with infinite possibilities. It throws up questions of ‘what if’ continuously. The only way to find out ‘what if’ is to try it, so I spend many hours playing with colour combinations, methods of application and removal, pushing my own boundaries of what I can make it do. The trick is remembering what you did!

'Reveal', Deborah Walker RI

‘Reveal’, Deborah Walker RI

To paint a successful watercolour it seems one must know what the finished result will look like before the first stroke of blossoming colour is applied to the paper.’ (Dianne Middleton) Do you agree?

Watercolour, to me, is a journey and a lot of people would agree that in order to begin a journey you need a destination at least in mind. I would certainly say this is true of my larger paintings that are subject specific, but the route taken can vary considerably. Whilst I may have a finished result in mind, the devil is in the detail; individual textures or patterns sometimes arrive spontaneously. Tonal values and colour hues may change in the painting process that subtly alters the final destination from the original inspiration, in order to convey a whole sense of place and not merely a description of it.

Tell us about what the process of creating a painting – from inspiration to finished piece – involves for you.

By far the biggest part of the process is ‘time’ and the ‘knowing’ of a subject. It’s the being there, seeing, feeling and referencing it with a sketchbook, notebook and camera, before returning to the studio to develop a language in paint to convey the experience. In the larger paintings I like to research a place for its geological and social history. I then write into the painting using watercolour, in a semi hidden fashion, only visible on close inspection. I’m aware that up close the large paintings can exceed the visual field, so I do this to give the viewer a glimpse of the ‘DNA’ of the place.

'View from the Shard', Deborah Walker RI

‘View from the Shard’, Deborah Walker RI

Define watercolour, or describe what it means to you, in one word.

This is the most difficult question of all, but I suppose watercolour is just my ‘way’.

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