Artist Interview: Rosa Sepple President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours

by Cass Art

The first female President of the Royal Institute of Painters in watercolour Rosa Sepple works with mixed media to create vibrant and textural paintings, from dreamy night time seascapes to dynamic dancing figures. Rosa embraces all forms of paint - working with watercolour, oil, acrylics and ink to build up her layers of colour to create her ethereal paintings.

We caught up with Rosa to talk about her work, the materials she loves and what’s coming up next.

Hi Rosa! Thanks for taking the time to chat. Firstly, could you give us a bit of an overview of your journey as an artist?

I am a self-taught artist who suffered from depression for many of my younger years. For a few years as a child I lived with my parents in Italy and spent time observing my Italian grandfather artist, Salvatore Casagrande. At that time, I never had any aspirations to become an artist. In the early 1990’s I started dabbling with paint, maybe it’s in the genes. Encouraged by my husband I spent time researching techniques, going to galleries and eventually had a solo show in my local library. Further encouragement came from a chance meeting at this exhibition by a Member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (RI). Whose advice to me was to “stop doing local exhibitions and just paint, paint and then paint some more”. Around a year after our first meeting and having spent every possible minute painting, he suggested I enter competitions. Taking his advice, in 2003 I entered the RI open exhibition and won an award for ‘Best Figurative Painting’. The following year several Members asked me to apply for membership, which I did and was elected a Member in 2004.

Rosa Sepple, Lavanderia

Your paintings are such a wonderful celebration of texture! Which, given that you work in watercolour wouldn’t often be the first go to. How did you develop this textural way of working with the paint? And how do you approach a new painting?

I do work in watercolour but also work in all mediums including oil. I love to experiment with colour and texture. Before starting a painting, I make sure the paper is well coated with Winsor & Newton Gesso. I then enjoy throwing down some paint, whether it be watercolour, acrylic, gouache or ink with water to see what turns out. It could be my people or maybe a harbour scene.

What turns out sometimes surprises me.

There is a distinct tonal quality to your work, I’d love to hear more about your palette selection?

Where do I begin with my palette selection? I think I have tried every colour available and enjoy mixing them. I have a whole range of Winsor & Newton Galeria acrylic, favourite colour Cadmium Orange Hue. I also have the whole range of Winsor & Newton Professional Water Colour and Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylic colours, of which my favourite colours are Titanium White, Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Azo Yellow Deep and Cadmium Yellow. I regularly use Calligraphy Ink and Fineliners.

Rosa Sepple, Venezia

What is it about watercolour that appeals to you as a material, and do you have any brands you return to? 

Watercolour is challenging, exciting, sometimes frightening, yet very rewarding. I have painted several pieces in oil but always come back to my preferred medium watercolour. Royal Academician, Grayson Perry once wrote in a newspaper article “Watercolour may not necessarily be a wishy-washy medium”.

You were the first female president of the RI! What an accolade – how have you found your experience as President?

It was an honour to have been elected by my peers as President of the RI the 15th to wear the badge of office and the first female in almost 200 years. The RI held its first exhibition in Old Bond Street in 1832, the same year that William Winsor and Henry Newton founded the art material company Winsor & Newton. During my Presidency the RI have forged a close relationship with Winsor & Newton, one I am sure will continue for a long time.

The role has been quite demanding, but very rewarding working with a wonderful ‘Council’ of Members making all the hard work a lot easier. Last year the RI released an illustrated   hardbacked book ‘Then & Now’, with the history of the ‘Institution’ written by Anthony J Lester and an in-depth background of all the Members written by gallerist Adrian Hill.

In 2019 the Victoria & Albert Museum accepted our ‘Archives’ some of which were damaged during the ‘blitz’ on London in 1940, fortunately we were able to fund the restoration which the V & A undertook for us. It has been a privilege that not many artists will get to experience.

This year’s RI exhibition will champion some works by emerging artists – do you have any particular artists we should be on the lookout for?

On April 1st this year we will be holding our 208th exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. Exhibiting not just the work of our 55 Members but paintings from the 1096 works submitted from  459 artists across the world, the largest exhibition of its kind in Europe. This year we had a record number of ‘Applicants’ wishing to become Members and a record number of ‘Young Artists’ submitting work for selection. It would be impossible for me to mention anyone in particular amongst the 444 paintings on show, the standard of work is very high and the exhibition will be well worth a visit.

And finally, what’s next on the horizon?

Who knows what’s next? I have 4 paintings, (pictured) waiting at the Mall Galleries to be hung in the next RI show. We, the RI have an out-of-town exhibition in September at the John Noott Gallery in Broadway in the Cotswolds.

My days are currently now spent painting 70 works for my third solo show at the Mall Galleries in 2021, which coincides with my 70th birthday, hence the title ‘70 at 70’. At the same time, we will be releasing another book in collaboration with Adrian Hill who has two fine art galleries in Lees Yard, Holt. Oh! That reminds me Adrian want’s another dozen pieces for a show in September 2020. Better get on with it!


Feeling Inspired? 

See more of Rosa's work on her website 

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