Guest Blog with watercolour artist John Cooney

Guest Blog with watercolour artist John Cooney

I open up the emails that John has sent me of his paintings and it’s immediately, “Wow!” I gather my colleagues around the screen to join me in marvelling at the work, “Is that a photograph?” and “They’re amazing…” they say. His photo-realistic watercolours are simply stunning and very worthy of winning this months Portfolio Plus Pegasus Art £50 gift voucher. I wanted to know more….how on earth does the watercolour artist paint in this way, what materials does he use and what top tips does he have for us?

Have you always wanted to be a painter?

Yes, I was encouraged as a very young child and when people and teachers praise you consistently for doing something, you want to repeat it. You hope you’ll be able to carry on as an adult.

What is your regular painting practice? Do you paint or draw every day?

Not every day – part of my process is looking for subjects to paint. I often travel to Donegal, where I look for landscapes and people. I bring my camera everywhere with me. Weekends don’t really exist as I often paint over a weekend but might take a day off midweek.

St. George’s Market – watercolour on Crescent board cold pressed 70 x 50cm

Are you a trained artist or self taught? Do you think that matters?

I went to art college but they teach you very little. What you learn comes from watching other artists. In that sense, we are all self-taught. I’m still learning, once you stop learning, you stagnate and become a ‘hack’.

Do you have a mentor? Are you part of a painting group?

I don’t have a mentor and don’t want to be part of a painting group. People join groups and they’re all very encouraging of another, even when their work is awful….

How do you fit painting in around family life?

Family life must come first! It’s not always easy to get a clear run at a painting, life constantly interrupts you and discipline is required to get back to painting.

What really inspires you?

I collect art that I love on Pinterest, thousands of paintings and I browse these and update them often. It’s like walking into the best gallery in the world. Apart from that, the play of light on a certain face of landscape can captivate me. Hence the need for a camera.

“Sophie through the looking glass” Oil on linen board 64 x 54cm

Tell us which materials you favour and why.

That’s tough! I hate to be tied down to anything but for a long time I’ve favoured Crescent watercolour board, cold pressed. The surface is particularly good and I don’t need to stretch it. I use a combination of Daniel Smith and Winsor & Newton Artist’ watercolours and Rosemary & Co sable brushes. For oils I use Michael Harding paints.

Do you have a favourite brush shape and brand?

Rosemary & Co designers sable are brilliant, they have extra long hair which comes to a fine point. Even the thicker brushes taper well, it means I need to use fewer brushes.

How did you make the leap to become a professional artists? What advice can you give people who are passionate about painting but aren’t able to fully commit? What made the difference to you?

I had been teaching for a long time as a substitute teacher, which meant I had days off for painting. My paintings began selling for good money. I eventually decided that I couldn’t do both and stopped teaching.

Carnlough, Antrim Coast – watercolour on board 42 x 60cm

Who was your greatest art influence – teacher, famous artist….

I’ve always loved Andrew Wyeth. I saw the Lady of Shallott by William Waterhouse when I was 10, I was transfixed! There are too many people to list who influence me, it may be one artist’s use of colour, another’s mark making…

Do you enter painting competitions?

Yes occasionally, I’ve been quite successful. It gives you a real boost and gives you exposure, that’s what an artist craves (although they might pretend otherwise).

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a painting of a Donegal scene. I’ve had the photographs of the landscape but I’ve added a figure who posed for me and I even bought an old vintage bike as a prop.

What is the single best piece of advice you can give to another artist?

Stand back from your work…often! You can’t do this enough. Compare the larger shapes to your reference first and get the best reference you possibly can.

About John Cooney

“I am an artist living in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. I went to art college in Belfast and Manchester and specialised in illustration. After careers in advertising and teaching, I eventually found time to paint again and my success in this led to my decision to paint full time.

I paint in both oil and watercolours, depending on the subject. I like to depict ordinary people in their environments and always try to make the commonplace interesting. The remote areas of Ireland inspire me, its people and its landscapes.

Recent awards include The RUA exhibition in Belfast and The Watercolour Society of Ireland in Dublin. Last year I exhibited at The Mall galleries, London and was awarded second prize in the Artist of the Year exhibition sponsored by Artists & Illustrators magazine.

My work has recently been featured in The Art of Watercolour magazine and I Have had two paintings published in the 202 edition of Splash. Although my work has recently become more photo realistic, I plan to experiment in creating more impressionistic work.

Fanad Lighthouse, Donegal – watercolour on Crescent Board 73 x 46cm