Artist interview: Peter Cronin Discusses Watercolour, Painting en Plein Air and his Favourite Brands

by Cass Art

Based in South Wales, artist Peter Cronin is well known for his evocative watercolour paintings depicting the Welsh natural landscape. His career as a professional artist spans over 18 years and his impressive portfolio includes a series of high profile exhibitions, a Youtube channel, book publications and art classes. We caught up with Peter to find out more about his practice, his love for painting 'en plein air' and his favourite materials. 

Hi Peter, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak to us. Looking at your professional portfolio, you have so many strings to your bow - from selling paintings to teaching art classes to running a Youtube channel. Can you give us an insight into the life of a professional artist?

I think it’s easier to survive as a professional artist if you have a number of strings to your bow. My primary passion is to paint, but I am passionate about the watercolour medium and use every opportunity to pontificate on its merits and help others along their watercolour journey. Any given week in my calendar, pre Covid, could consist of demonstrating to an art society, tutoring a painting holiday, working for an art materials company, delivering and picking up gallery work, cutting mounts, replying to emails and other business activity or best of all, painting. I will paint on the way to a painting demonstration or just locally to where I live, and I will take my campervan away for a few days painting when time allows. During Covid I had a steep learning curve with regard to computer technology and Zoom etc, but it saved my bacon financially. Things are opening up a bit now though, with a more traditional workload returning. It’s a very varied lifestyle and one needs to be self-motivated. After eighteen years as a professional artist, I have learned to ride the highs and lows and just enjoy, what is, a very privileged lifestyle…. If you can tolerate the hard work to make it work.

Your website boasts a plethora of incredible watercolour artworks depicting the Welsh landscape – from farmlands to mountains to city views. What is it about watercolour paint that allows you to portray the natural beauty of these environments in such an effective way?

Hard work, and according to my wife, a large dose of obsession too. I have been painting watercolour for over thirty years and it has become an integral part of my life. I always say that I now see the world in watercolour washes. Watercolour has unique qualities that set it apart from other media. Qualities such as transparency and luminosity, the fluid, flowing nature of its application and the economy of application all combine to make watercolour painting a gripping experience akin to driving a car on a frozen lake (don’t try that mind!). I love the gentler side of life and the way that we treat each other and the planet causes me a lot of grief. I think that the way I use watercolour reflects that. There are a lot of big brush, colourful, pow and wham type painters out there (and good luck to them), but I prefer nature's softer gentler moods. Watercolour allows me to tease a painting out of the paper. I like to lose and find edges, so using the wet in wet technique is a big part of my approach. I try and leave a lot of the first wash as stated, with as few second layers as possible and then ‘bits and pieces’ of third touches for apparent (not actual) detail. This results in a clean, fresh painting that is appealing in its own right. Its just the watercolour and the paper doing its magic (I try and keep out of the way as much as possible).

In your videos, you talk about your preference for painting outdoors and that it allows you to paint in a ‘rapid and loose manner’. Can you tell us a bit more about the benefits, and challenges, of painting ‘en plein air’, as opposed to working from photos or preliminary sketches?

Painting outdoors is a totally different experience to painting in the studio. For some reason the senses are much more alive. You can see differently, and the whole process is charged with an energy and excitement that is really quite distinct from indoor work. That doesn’t guarantee you success though, and my failure rate is much higher outdoors. I think the reason that I persevere despite this, is that I have learned so much, and it has so radically changed my vision (way of seeing) and the look of my studio work. I paint plein air to observe the world and sharpen my senses. This feeds back into my studio work where I tackle more complex subject matter using on site paintings, sketches and back up photographs. There is obviously a link between the two, and a valid argument in favour of each approach, but without the outdoor work, my studio painting quickly turns stale.

High quality watercolour paints are vital to an artists toolkit. Could you talk us through some of your go to watercolours – and have you used the exquisitely vibrant Maimeri Blu sets?

I am not a person who reacts to strong, gaudy colour, so my pallet is quite restrained and limited to about ten colours in total. My paintings tend to be soft and understated so the muck left in the pallet tends to pay a big part in my colour mixing. That said, I feel that after paper, paint is the most important ingredient in a successful Watercolour, so I always use high quality paints. I have recently been introduced to the Maimeri Blu range of paints and have been well impressed with their clarity and smoothness of flow, both wet in wet and when applying washes. The tubes are rich and strong whilst the pans come alive quickly when wet, loading the brush well. There are a wide range of colour options available in the range so they will be of uses to more colourist painters as well as the more tonal folk such as myself.

In your videos, you also cite Arches Watercolour Paper as one of your favourite painting materials. What are the characteristics and features of this particular paper that you find so appealing?

In my opinion paper is the most important component in the Watercolour process. Putting quality paint onto a poor surface just doesn’t make sense. I use a range of papers but my all-time favourite surface is Arches 300gsm Rough. It’s a superb surface and works superbly over a whole range of Watercolour techniques, from full on wet in wet work through washes and glazes, as well as dry brush marks. It takes layering well (though I try to use as few as possible) and will take masking fluid, or enable colour to be lifted from its surface with a light scrub. The most important thing though is the look it imparts to the finished Watercolour. Its one of the most highly regarded watercolour papers on the market and once you use it you will understand why.

You are very generous about sharing aspects of your painting process – be it through classes, online tutorials or ‘how-to’ videos. Do you find the feedback you receive from these classes and videos inspires your own painting practice?

To be truthful, too much teaching can blunt your creative edge if you are not careful. Teaching takes a whole lot out of you (or it should if you are giving it your all) and it can leave you exhausted (physically and creatively). It can also lead to a rapid, showy, and clichéd painting style if you are not careful. I keep my teaching to a minimum, so that I can give it my all without fear of creative exhaustion. Having to explain your techniques and processes is beneficial though, as it does raise questions in your own head, regarding the why's and ways of your approach. I will often choose a subject that I am thinking of painting up as a serious gallery piece and try out a much simpler, stripped back version with my students and often their questions and comments can help resolve issues in the final painting. I do love pontificating on the merits of drawing and watercolour though and it's always a privilege to be asked.

One final question for you Peter – what’s next on the horizon for you?

The Covid pandemic placed everything on hold regarding galleries and teaching etc., so its good to see this side of things picking up once again and the diary is filling nicely, which makes the income stream secure. Painting wise, I have never been keener. The new work that I am painting is really exciting me and that of course is the joy of watercolour. You never get there, but the journey becomes more and more exhilarating. I think that having my family, my art, my guitar and what’s left of the natural world around me, makes me a very lucky man, and I can smile about that.

Thank you Peter!

Feeling inspired? Try out Maimeri Blu Watercolour Paints and Arches Watercolour Paper. Also be sure to check out Peter Cronin's website to see more about his incredible paintings.

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