Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Bad Boy of Watercolor- Nicholas Simmons

Often referred to as the bad boy of water-colour for his defiance of the rules and practices attached to the medium, Nicholas Simmons takes water colors to newer and fresher heights. His ability to take risks with his artwork and letting the painting take its own course without over planning and trying to control the colors too much is what sets his paintings apart and breathes life into them. Watching his painting videos, one realises how  liberating it can be to let the medium just find its own path around the painting. Using the unpredictability and fluidity of the paints to his full advantage, Nicholas makes painting seem so easy.

To begin with how did you happen to stumble into Watercolors and when did you decide to take it up seriously ? 
I was always into art from an early age, and remember the thrill (and disappointment!) from my first experiences with watercolor. Many years later a roommate started dabbling with them and I got interested. I was using a small student set and just getting acquainted with the medium when I saw a demonstration by the great American painter, Valfred Thëlin. Then I understood what watercolor was capable of, in approach and scale. I signed up for his workshops in Florida, and those of many other recognized artists such as Barbara Nechis. It seemed to come to me easily, and I started exhibiting and selling my work. At the same time I was playing guitar, and opted for music as my primary career. After a hand injury, I got back to watercolor about ten years ago, and now it has become full-time. 
Let's talk about your technique... The approach you use is like a perfect blend of planning and did you get to developing such a bold style 
I never worked on technique in the way I did with playing the guitar. It more or less evolved as I needed it.  Like countless others, I experimented with lots of methods and stylistic detours. Eventually my tastes gravitated toward an aesthetic that might be characterized as bold and spontaneous. I do like the sensation that something dangerous or accidental has happened in the vision and process. And, as water is the most appealing aspect of the medium, I like to see evidence of it. Achieving all of that with certain subject matter, on a large scale, is difficult. It can result from one audacious move, but at times requires considerable planning  to create the illusion of spontaneity. 

You seem to be more of an intuitive painter, shed some light on that. That's true, I have little or no formal knowledge of many aspects of painting that some would consider mandatory. I really loved drawing while growing up, and I do believe that is a very helpful background. I took workshops from many people and saw most all of the techniques available.  Now, after acres of paintings over the years, I suppose I ought to have a defined regimen. Yet, I begin nearly every painting not really knowing what I'm doing. I've found this elusive medium is often at odds with one's intention, and adaptability is key. If I could boil my method down to one principle:

Listen to the painting. 

I work on the things I feel confident about, and put off anything I can't figure out. As the painting develops, it generally tells me what to do in those uncertain areas. If not, then I put it away for a while.  No painting has ever turned out the way I envisioned it. I'm fine with that, because sometimes it is better than I imagined. 

Who have been your greatest influences? Sargent continues to be a major inspiration, I just returned from New York to see the big show of his  watercolors at the Brooklyn Museum.  It is actually his oil paintings that I admire most, and he led me to others such as Sorolla. I love Whistler, Klimt, and several of that era. Later -- Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Robert Motherwell, the printmaker Mauricio Lasansky, numerous watercolorists, and contemporary painters such as Alex Kanevsky, Lita Cabellut, and Jose Parla. 

Could you shed some light on the unique batik Watercolor technique you use? It has nothing to do with authentic batik. I discovered a long time ago that washing away paint (with a spray bottle, for example) before it has dried can result in some very cool  textures and patterns. It can mimic some of the effects of batik, and hence the term. I don't use it in many paintings, but it is a versatile technique and has been popular in workshops. 

Talk about your favourite painting tools...brushes, paints, masking fluids and whatever else that you would employ to finish a painting. 
Several years ago I switched to Da Vinci artist watercolors for their quality and unbeatable price. When they developed their line of fluid acrylics, I started using them, too, and never looked back. I was very fortunate they recognised my loyalty to the product, and we've had a great relationship ever since. A couple years ago I used my first Escoda brush, and was hooked. Again I was very lucky when they offered to make me a signature line of the very best synthetics available. Professional handmade brushes make a difference. As does paper. I use Fabriano Artistico 140 lb (300 g) in the roll, usually hot press. Some effects necessitate the use of masking fluid (I use Da Vinci), which I apply with inexpensive brushes. All framing is done to archival standards. 

How do you go about planning a painting? If it's the sort of painting that requires planning, I've often already painted it over and over in my head. This is sort of a filter. If the idea begins to bore me, I'll probably discard it, and then I don't have to paint it. Saves a lot of work! If the idea survives this process, any subsequent planning is best done with the understanding that something unexpected or better might occur during the process,  and relying on instinct and intuition is, for me, preferable to a more rigid approach. 

Anything you would like to share which has been instrumental in your journey as a watercolorist? 

To me, painting is 99% mental, and watercolor is probably 99.5% mental. 

You're also a musician.. Does music also contribute to your paintings ? 

I think music is the most profound medium of expression. Visual art just doesn't pack the same emotional punch, in my opinion. However, I could not live without visual art.  I think my music background has influenced my work, and reinforced my general aversion to authority. I wish I could get the sort of excitement in a painting that is generated by great music. Sometimes it gets in the ballpark, though, and of course painting is vastly interesting and challenging.  My whole life has been the guitar and painting watercolor, it's hard to separate them now. 

When we speak of making it in the world as an difficult or easy was it for you to establish yourself as one? Any struggles involved ? 
I started getting active again just as the economy began to take a dive. Good timing! I was fortunate to get some recognition quickly, but of course it was chiefly among the watercolor world.  Lots of workshops and judging further established the reputation, but as we all know, watercolor is something of a second-class medium. Less money, less prestige. There is a mindset that has segregated watercolor from the larger, "real" art world, and that concerns me. It's helpful to stop thinking of it as "watercolor" or "watermedia" and simply call it "painting." I don't want to follow the traditional path in watercolor, there's always room for something different. 

Your thoughts on the use of social media in promoting yourself and any tips to struggling artists...favourite I'm probably a poor example on the social media front. I always seem to be the last one getting in on it. I was practically the last to get a blog, the last to get on Facebook, I don't Twitter, etc.  At some point maintaining all of that takes too much time. Also, I think there is a danger of overexposure in putting too much stuff out there.

If you were to draw a roadmap for budding artists to tread on to find their own success in the field of art what would it look like?Again, I'm a terrible example of how to go about it since it has all hinged on circumstance. What worked for me could be disaster for others. Some formal art education would no doubt be the sensible path, but there no guarantees. Perhaps the most important asset is to have something individual that sets one apart. And a lot of persistence.


  1. thank you for putting this on your great blog, Shagufta!

  2. Great interview.. Thanks for this.
    Love Nick's work..