DVD: Jean Haines’ Watercolour Passion || Jean Haines

This is a film about possibilities. Jean is enthusiastic about her materials and she constantly uses words like “enjoy” and “fun”. Her aim, stated at the beginning is, “to inspire you to paint in a way you haven’t even considered before”. All this sounds like a lot of gushing and I must admit I took a bit of convincing. Artists tend to do this and what they’re really saying is, “I paint the way I paint” and you don’t have to be a Sherlock Holmes to deduce that.

What comes out of this film, however, is the sheer joy of experimentation and the stream of happy accidents that emerge when you work with as much water as Jean does. One of her last quotable remarks (and there are a lot of them) is, “I can’t repeat what I do”. The skill, it turns out, is to realise when something has possibilities and exploit it.

It takes a lot of courage to produce a large wash from bold colours and Jean starts with some simple, quite abstract exercises on small pieces of paper which are designed to be thrown away. These are not intended to be anything, they’re just a way of warming up and getting over that first-mark anxiety. Rather conveniently, they also produce ideas and, when it comes to the full sheet, you should have an idea of what it is you want to produce.

There are four demonstrations here, of flowers, animals and landscapes, but the subjects don’t really matter, because Jean’s way of working is always broadly the same – shapes emerge from a haze of colours, effects serendipitously produce or point towards textures, and colours blend so that a complete composition is produced.

“Don’t copy what I do”, Jean advises sagely, but, “you’re only going to know how pigments interact if you practise your washes.”

I’ve been struggling to work out how to sum this film up and, in the end, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s one of the least instructional and yet most instructive I’ve seen. The way Jean works doesn’t lend itself to a “do this, do that” approach – it’s too evolutionary for that. Rather, she keeps up a running commentary, observing, exclaiming and developing ideas and opportunities and it’s that which tells you so much about the process of painting itself.

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