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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Nicholas Simmons. Interview. Dec, 2011

Here is the interview with Nicholas Simmons, innovative water media artist from US, the member of North American Watercolor Artists group, ambassador of Da Vinci Paint and Escoda Artist Brushes, judge representing the Americas at the Shanghai Zhujiajiao International Watercolour Biennial Exhibition in 2010, 2012. Enjoy, it is GREAT!

Hi, Nick.
I saw only a few short extracts from your videos, perhaps I would have all the answers to my questions if I saw the whole video, so please forgive me if some answers seem to be obvious. ..and sorry for my English)

I have looked through the available paintings of yours in internet. Of course I couldn`t get a live impression but they look like batik technique (I tried something like this long ago when I took a couple of lessons of painting on silk).My version of the "batik" technique isn't real batik, but rather a method that mimics the effect. I do it by washing away paint from the surface. I don't use it on many paintings, but it has been popular in workshops and is explained in my DVD. It is very good for obtaining organic-looking textures and patterns.

Nicholas Simmons. Tokio Express. 41`x41` 2008

So is the idea of the technique to create some borders to experiment within reserved areas?
Yes. Results are dictated by how wet/dry the paint is, and how forcefully it is sprayed or washed off. The technique can be done with straight watercolor or acrylic watercolor.

It looks like a compromise between of control and spontaneity. Which of them is closer to you?
Controlled spontaneity might be the best characterization. With some notable exceptions, I'm not usually attracted to paintings that look overly controlled or calculated -- I like to see the medium working on its own, and evidence of the artist taking a chance. It's easy to be spontaneous in watercolor on a small scale, more difficult to be so on a large scale. In any case, I make an effort to at least create the illusion of spontaneity.

Nicholas Simmons. Nassau #4. 38`x38` 2008

Lots of effects in your works are made by water but I saw in your video your confidence. Do you plan the process in details before you start and trying to follow the rout or you are pretty flexible in any stage of your work?
I have found that rigidly adhering to a plan or vision can make the work suffer. The paint is a much better artist than I am, and almost always does something more interesting than anything I could invent. So, while I typically have a general idea of how I want things to look, I'm quite OK when the painting takes an unexpected turn, and I enjoy going along for the ride. This is where intuition and imagination come into most critical play, and the medium and artist truly work in concert. I subscribe to Alvaro Castagnet's saying: "I'm not interested in your knowledge, I'm interested in your intuition -- that's where genius resides." My "comfort zone" is not really having a clear idea of where I'm going, just as a musician who improvises can't tell you what he'll play in the next chorus. Hopefully some of that danger and excitement comes through in the finished work.

Nicholas Simmons. Fresh Sushi. 41`x41` 2007

Liquid acrylic paint is not on the Russian market. We actually don`t know it yet. Is it different from the traditional watercolor paint? Does it behave differently? Do you consider it a traditional watercolor technique or something completely new?
Many people credit me with the term "acrylic watercolor." I did not coin the expression, I first heard it from the late, great American watercolorist Valfred Thëlin. It is simply acrylic paint thinned with water and used in the watercolor technique. Fluid acrylic paint is my preference, but any acrylic paint can be used. There exists a lot of ignorance about this in the traditional watercolor world. Foremost is the notion that use of acrylic necessarily means opaque application. This is completely wrong. I do a demonstration in the first minutes of all my workshops that quickly dispels this myth (to the surprise of onlookers), showing that acrylic paint can be used with beautiful transparency -- just as straight watercolor can be used opaquely. It's amazing to me how few painters know this basic fact. There is the gross misconception that using acrylic is easier because "you can cover up mistakes," but this can be done with any medium when applied heavily. Most all of my work is transparent, whether in acrylic or straight watercolor. Properly done, an acrylic watercolor is indistinguishable from a straight watercolor. Why use it? Permanence; straight watercolor can move when rewet, acrylic watercolor does not, which is useful in a variety of situations. In that sense, acrylic watercolor is actually more difficult than straight watercolor because once it's dry, it's there forever and can't be lifted. No mistakes allowed! In the end, both versions of watercolor have their advantages and disadvantages, and that's why I use them, alone or in combination.

Nicholas Simmons. Olga Ivanova. 97`x97` 2011

How do you work on your painting – do you finish it at once or in several approaches?
Some of them happen in one go, others get to a point that requires fresh eyes and decisions. They get put away in the "curing shed" while I think about them, or alternatively, forget about them. I like how Alex Kanevsky talks about this phase: "As far as I'm concerned, I'm working on them." I go back to them days, weeks, months later to find that the next step is obvious, or that I can't even remember what I didn't like before. As a result, I usually have several paintings in various stages of development at any given time.

Nicholas Simmons. Russian Woman. 127x127 cm, 2010

How do you develop the idea? Do you make some sketches or prefer to use ready material?I rarely make sketches and never make value studies. I see it all in my head, and know things will change during the course of the painting, anyway. The ideas are either from imagination or manipulation of photographic references, often both.

Nicholas Simmons. Sevillana. 97x97.2011

Your artistic approach is so innovating that any coincidence could be taken as acceptable. Do you have something you consider mistakes and how you would determine them? Does your approach allow you to correct your mistakes or you have to start a new painting every time?
"Mistakes" are not always bad things per se, only things that were not part of my original vision. This brings up a very critical moment in the process: letting go of a preconceived idea in favor of something that might be just as good, or even better. I have noticed this is most difficult for developing artists to accept, but for me it's the threshold to new horizons and discoveries. It's like hitting an unintended note in musical improvisation, which can propel things in a new direction superior to the original intention. If the errors are serious enough to ruin the effort, I then go into super-experimental mode, an opportunity I relish. Aside from that, occasionally I employ safety mechanisms that allow for error, especially where experience has taught me to expect it! 

Night Lights. Lord & Taylor. 29`x37, 2006

About the material. How did you come to use Escoda brushes, the brand that you represent. Is there any big difference with other brushes? Do you prefer to work with flat or round ones?
I was endorsing another brush that was a very good value for the money, and I had other brushes of various brands that were professional grade. I had been hearing raves about Escodas for years, but never actually tried one until last summer while giving a workshop in France. I was instantly hooked, and then I received a phone call from Ricard Escoda, and things developed from there. I've just returned from touring the factory outside of Barcelona and was very impressed by the materials and craftsmanship that goes into making the brushes. Decades of tradition coupled with technology and human skill. The point on the round brushes is beyond compare. I use rounds and flats, and my signature set comprises five synthetics: #8, 12, 16, 20 rounds, and a #18 mottler (1 1/2" flat). Of course I have the entire 1410 Barroco round line my series is based on, in addition to the full line of flats, and their line of Reserve kolinskys. For my series, I chose the medium stiffness of the Gold Toray fiber for its endurance and versatility with all forms of watermedia; I only use the kolinskys with straight watercolor. I'm convinced they are the best brush made.

Do you limit your palette? How many colors do you use? Do you like to mix them on the palette or let them mix right on the painting?
I have no system regarding palettes, arrangement, number of colors, etc. I know very little about pigments or even color theory, everything I do is quite intuitive. I will say that after using most of the popular brands of paint, I settled on Da Vinci -- well before they sponsored me. And I was delighted when they started their fluid acrylic line (smartly based on the watercolor palette), so everything I do is with one brand. Top artist quality, and they blow away everyone on price.

 Nicholas Simmons. Xin Jin #4. 84`x84` 2011

Your paper choice?
Usually Fabriano 140 lb. hot or cold press -- in rolls so I'm not limited by size or shape.

You came to painting from music. Did you have someone as authorities in painting who would be like a guru, or a goal to reach, or a source of inspiration?
The aforementioned Valfred Thëlin was my first and most important mentor, a walking encyclopedia of watercolor techniques and styles. He got me painting on 30" x 40" watercolor board from the beginning, so size was never an intimidating factor. Probably 90% of the paintings I did back then were strictly from imagination without any drawing or planning, just reacting to the medium. I think this was important in developing creativity and adaptability. I miss him dearly! (see tribute on my blog) My next most important watercolor influence was Barbara Nechis, the purest watercolorist I've ever seen in terms of truly working in the moment. Her considerable influence on the watercolor world is not acknowledged nearly enough, and she is the best negative painter, ever. I was also influenced by other watercolorists too numerous to mention. After "watercolor overload" I started getting interested in other painters -- Sargent, Whistler, and Sorolla, for example, and the prints of Robert Motherwell and Mauricio Lasansky. I then got burned out on the art scene, abandoned it for music, and only returned many years later. I'm familiar with the work of most of the top watercolorists, but my favorite artists these days are oil painters Alex Kanevsky and Lita Cabellut.

 Nicholas Simmons. Xin Jin #5. 91`x50`, 2011

What is your attitude to your ready works? What do you feel about a finished work?
It's difficult to be objective, and I've learned to take a fairly detached attitude towards it all. Some paintings burst out of the starting gate but lose my interest over time, others take a while for me to appreciate. I feel best about the ones that required faith in my own instincts while meandering through the labyrinth of uncertainty, poised on the precipice of disaster. When it works, the rewards are much greater than playing by the book.


  1. Spasibo bolshoi, Konstantin! A real honor to be featured on your great blog, and I recognize you are the voice of Russian watercolor. I love the Russian culture, language, art, music, history...and of course the women! :) к русским женщинам и искусству! pokah, vash droog Nick

  2. Great interview Konstantin! Besides being such an innovative painter Nick is a wonderful teacher imparting ideas and technique without holding anything back. His workshop is an experience not to be missed!

  3. Your amazing and i love the picture there is 2 girls laying on each others back and they are as if on space

  4. Great interview. I have Nick's DVD and it is so inspiring.