Episode 01: Colour - Jane Blundell

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This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.

James Haydon:


Welcome, Jane, and thank you for joining us today. Where do we find you? Where are you podcasting from?


Jane Blundell:


I’m in Sydney, Australia, in my studio, which has great views of this currently rainy day.


James Haydon:


You've been painting your whole life. Has it always been watercolours?


Jane Blundell:


Not initially, and I suppose I started with water-based, as we always do in kindergarten. I remember working through a lot of the school acrylics, those horrible acrylics that we used at school and trying things out with those and earlier than that was pencil and markers, and I just loved colour from a very early age. I didn't actually start watercolour until probably about 14 or 15. I used to walk past a store and I saw this little set in the window, and every time I walked to school, I saw it and eventually bought it with my baby sitting money or something like that and just fell in love. It just felt like a language that I understood. I just loved it.


James Haydon:


So the medium found you, in some ways as well?


Jane Blundell:


Well I always liked little compact things, and this particular little compact watercolour kit had 12 colours, and it's these sorts of things that were just always very attractive and the portability of it was something that really appealed. But when I actually started using it, just the flow of water and colour felt so wonderful. So yes, it certainly did.


James Haydon:


And you’ve painted (mostly) exclusively with watercolour since?


Jane Blundell:


Well no not entirely. I then went on to actually major in etching, which is not water-based at all. It’s very messy, everything’s got to be dissolved with turps and oil-based inks and those sorts of things. So it was not very user-friendly in that sense. But I really enjoyed the craft of etching and as I love drawing, it was very much about fine detail and fine line work.


I continued with watercolour as a background thing, I didn't really get back into it until I had little kids, because etching is just not safe, and water colour is pretty much non-toxic, very easy to have around kids, whereas acid and etching were not. So it was really something that I did a lot more with - with little kids - and then just haven't stopped.


James Haydon:


And is etching as involved from a colour basis? Do you have as much control over colour mixing when you etch?


Jane Blundell:


Etching has really changed. I did a very traditional way of etching which was largely line-work and usually in either black or sepia, not necessarily a lot of colour. You could hand-colour etchings, which I did, so just hand-paint them with watercolour, but the inks were generally very much like a black and white or sepia process, but these days etching’s changed and there’s a lot more experimentation, and lot more colour roles, and using colours inks and so on than when I was trained in it.


So there’s more exploration, whereas when I was doing it was all about creating a perfect edition of 20 prints or however many hand-printed etching prints. So back then it wasn't so much about colour.


James Haydon:


So it's more around accuracy and reproducibility?


Jane Blundell:


Yes, it was about creating very, very clean printed images and because the process of etching is quite complicated - you're actually creating a metal plate where the image is indented into it - it's below the surface. That’s what ‘intaglio’ which is another name for it is. So the ink is in the surface and you have to put it through a high-pressure press to press the paper in to pick up those lines. So it's quite a complicated process to get it, and you end up with this quite beautiful line work. There's other techniques involved as well, but the basics for what I was doing was usually a quite firm hard line or a soft, dry point line.


James Haydon:


You’re seen in the industry as a colour expert and I think a lot of other artists look to you and your colour expertise - what’s led you to be seen as that expert?


Jane Blundell:


I’ve been playing with colour for as long as I can remember. I know - when I was 10, 11, 12 - I was experimenting with warm and cool and what happened with warm colours and putting a few cool colours in and vice versa, and thinking about fiery colours and watery colours - without necessarily really knowing what they were in terms of the art theory, it was just something I really loved. I've always liked documenting things, and so I kind of collect things and categorise things in my head and in notebooks and sketch books and so on. So it became something that I just found fascinating.


I love mixing colours and seeing how many colours you can create with how few. And really pushing a particular colour and seeing what you can do with it. It became something I did more and more and started to really want to test out all the different pigments I could find, or all the different colours and see what they did and then start intermixing them. So I've ended up creating a huge number of resources that I've put onto my website and blog - it seemed a bit of a shame to just have them sitting in my studio - so that other people could share them as well.


So it's just something that's developed, and then it became something that I wanted to create. I set myself a goal when I started my website in 2012 to try and actually paint out every watercolour available in the world, which is a big task because new brands pop up and new colours appear and formulations change. So it isn't something that I could just do and then leave - it's got to be constantly updated.


But I came pretty close, and then there have been a few more that have come out, and there've been lots of people hand-making their own watercolours…but my idea was that then you could - whatever country you’re in - you’d be able to find a brand that’s available near you, and you could compare across different brands and so on to see what it is that you really want. So it's been a really fun process trying to test them all out and see how they compare and the differences and similarities.


James Haydon:


That sounds like a mammoth task! How many watercolours are there?


Jane Blundell:


Well there’s a few thousand. Each brand in the world might have anything from 24 to 250. There are probably 30 main brands and then a lot of minor brands, I mean there’s a lot! I haven't actually counted up exactly how many I've done, but I think it's over 2000 now, and then there's also the variations when a particular pigment ceases to be available and they have to change the formulation and do the next version of it. So there’s a lot.


James Haydon:


What pigments go into creating a colour? You mentioned some pigments may no longer be available?


Jane Blundell:


Well that's right - there are the earth pigments that have been used going back as long as mankind has been painting. The cave paintings and so on are done with the earth pigments and the most famous of those are things like red oxide and yellow oxide and the white and charcoal and those sorts of colours. So those earthy colours that we’re quite familiar with, and they're still in use today.


A lot of the earth pigments that are being used are from the earth, but there are also synthetic versions of them, so they’re created to match the same sort of structure. Then there are metal-based pigments and there are organic pigments, inorganic pigments, there are a lot of different sorts. The main thing about a pigment is that it is insoluble, whereas the dye kind of dissolves, a pigment sort of stays, stays as a substance, so it's an insoluble colour.


Probably the biggest producers of pigments is for the car industry. So they are the ones who really get through a lot of colour, a lot of paint, and so a lot of the developments in pigments have been for the car industry and so if the car industry starts to favour a particular colour, then those sorts of pigments might be developed - and when you think about what's required for a car, it has to be very lightfast and very smooth and often very bright.


So a lot of pigments that were developed in the the 1950s and beyond, were really wonderful lightfast reds and so on - the quinacridone families and the perylene families and a number of those sorts of quite long names. I mean, they always sound quite chemical, but they were developed to be used for the car industry and then if the car industry loses interest, there's not enough use amongst the artists to actually keep the demand going and so some pigments just get dropped.


James Haydon:


And so does the innovation come from the artist’s paint industry as well? Are there brands that are innovating? Or is it really driven by those car manufacturers or commercial paints?


Jane Blundell:


The most innovative paint makers are probably just the individuals who might actually get some pigment from their local area and create paint out of it because they're not trying to do massive amounts. So it's I think it's the small people who are probably being more innovative and then they almost create their own colors or find their own new forms of color.


The larger manufacturers are, I mean, they're using pigments that are available and I think some of them like to try new pigments and so on. But you need a lot if you're going to have a worldwide market in something so you can't do it with just a very small amount, I suppose.


James Haydon:


Do those synthetic pigments exist because it's difficult to source certain colours from nature, or is it just cheaper?


Jane Blundell:


Oh, well, one of the problems that we’re always trying to overcome is how to make something lightfast. So many of the natural pigments are not lightfast, though they're what we call fugitive, so they will fade and the scale is usually considered sort of 1 2 3, or 4, where 4 is fugitive and so colours like sap green, which originally came from a plant, they've had to create hues out of different pigments that will then not fade - they’ll last for longer. So many of the natural pigments are not used anymore, or not used as much, because there are better synthetic alternatives - they're not going to fade.


James Haydon:


And you mentioned that etching has a lot of toxic chemicals or toxic materials involved. Is that the same for watercolors? Are there some colours or pigments that can't be achieved without something toxic or a little bit dangerous?


Jane Blundell:


Well, because in watercolor you use so little pigment, I mean, its minuscule compared even with acrylic or oils, I am almost inclined to think it's negligible in terms of what we use. However, there are those who for whatever reason, choose not to use the cobalt colours, or the cadmium colours or the manganese colours and it's possibly because in the production of those pigments, it's not necessarily as environmentally friendly.


There was a period where they were actually talking about banning cadmium paints at all and I'm very glad they didn't because they are terrific pigments, and they're very lightfast, and they're very strong and powerful, it would be a real shame if they got lost to the art world.


Personally, I don't use cadmium as much in watercolour simply because they're quite opaque and they can be overpowering but there are beautiful manganese colours and lovely cobalt colours that would be a real loss not to have so yes, we have to consider the actual production of those pigments and what happens. But in terms of watercolour we use so little that I just don't think we'd have an impact at all.


James Haydon:


And for those cadmium and manganese, are they used in specific colours or hues? Or are they used across the whole range for say, lightfastness?


Jane Blundell:


They’re quite specific. So the cadmiums tends to be cadmium yellows, oranges and reds. There aren't cadmium blues, there aren’t cadmium…oh there is cadmium green…no, cobalt green. So cobalt tends to be, there's a yellow that's not very lightfast, there's cadmium blue, and cadmium green.


Manganese, there's a manganese blue, which is beautiful, but it's almost unavailable now because of the difficulty of producing it. So it was a lovely blue colour with a lot of beautiful granulation. But it's just that very few manufacturers are using it. So anything that's trying to produce that look is then creating a hue. So a hue is trying to match the character and colour of an original pigment, but it's using other pigments to do it.


James Haydon:


And can we now make every colour that we want? Are there still colours that impossible to make or need very rare chemicals?


Jane Blundell:


Well, I suppose we can…there are ways of using dyes and other things to get fluro colours and those sorts of things. So there are some fluro paints, I don't tend to use them; I think you can pretty much create any colour you want to. I don't feel as though there's a gap. So I feel as though any colour you can see you can create, whether it's with a mixture of other pigments or whether it's a pigment by itself, you can actually match just about anything you can see.


James Haydon:


And are there challenges left in the sense of…are there certain colours that tend to be less lightfast, because the pigments that go into creating them are just that way? Are there colours that are harder to work with just by virtue of what goes into them?


Jane Blundell:


The interesting thing with working with watercolour is that you can explore the full range of characteristics of pigments. So in oils and acrylics, because the pigment is bound up with and sort of protected by the oil medium or the acrylic medium, you don't necessarily see the exact characteristics of the pigment itself, you may not be aware of whether it's a large or a small particle, whether the particles clump together or whether they spread.


But with watercolour because it's not protected by any other medium - it's just water and a tiny amount of gum arabic that's holding it onto the paper - you actually see whether it granulates, which gives us incredible texture, or whether it is more opaque or whether it's tiny little particles that spread out making it very transparent, and whether it stains the paper or whether you can lift it off. All those sorts of things become apparent with watercolour, and so you need an understanding of those characteristics so that you can then employ them in your painting.


You can choose whether to use a very staining pigment that perhaps has tiny, tiny particles, so it's going to soak into the paper and be hard to remove. You might put that down first, because then if you put another pigment over the top, it's not going to lift off the first one. Whereas if you wanted to paint a leaf and then lift out the veins, you would want to use a pigment that is liftable - something that is not going to stain into the paper so you can then lift out again. So understanding the different pigment characteristics help you to be able to paint with them.


James Haydon:


And as you create an artwork, how do you mix the colours? Are you trying to match what you see in real life? So do you go for realism? Or are the tricks that get played? So do you have to perhaps paint a slightly different colour, because then to the viewer, it looks more correct?


Jane Blundell:


You have to employ a few tricks because watercolor has a very strong drying shift. So it will, whatever colour you put down, it'll dry 20 or 30% lighter. So you have to make something that's a bit stronger than what you see. I happen to be a realist, so if I'm painting a scene in front of me, I tend to try and mix the colours that I see, but there are plenty of people who don't - you don't have to paint realistically, some people will enhance the colours, some people like to change them to reflect their own mood and sometimes I'll do that with imaginary scenes or abstract work, I'll just go with the colour by itself.


But generally, my paintings and studies and sketches are really quite representative, and one of the things I enjoy is actually trying to represent what I see working from life, where you don't have those steps of cameras and printers in between - you’re just looking directly at the environment and trying to depict it on paper.


James Haydon:


So you're based in Australia; what does that mean for the colours that you select? Are there colours that are difficult to find, because the Australian landscape is unique, and there hasn't been, sort of, innovation in those colours to create them?


Jane Blundell:


What I find with Australia is the sky can be so blue that it's almost purple and so the colours that you might…there's a colour called cerulean that was basically developed for the English sky, but we often have a colour in the sky that’s a deep ultramarine or almost a purple. So in Australia I’ll tend to be looking at these wonderful deep purple-y blues. Whereas in Europe, I'll tend to use more cerulean cooler, softer blues. So there is a difference in the basic colour.


I mentioned manganese blue earlier. It's a colour that was famous for being perfect for depicting snow; but it was European snow. I once went down to the Australian snowy mountains and there was snow and I thought, '“Oh great, I've got my manganese blue!”, but it was the wrong colour because our shadows are different colours.


So the light is different here, very intense, the shadows are stronger and the colours - because we've got evergreen trees - the colours are not the incredible new spring growth that you get in Europe and America and so on, we tend to have more dull colours. So our greens are much more neutralised - they're made with generally a warm yellow and a warm blue, as opposed to the bright European ones that might be made with a cool yellow and a cool blue.


So it changes what you do. But the colours are available and I use a lot of earthy colours to create the colours of the sandstone, or Sydney or, the water or whatever.


James Haydon:


Which brands do you normally use? Do you have particular brands that you work with?


Jane Blundell:


We're very fortunate that there are many brands available; there are really great quality watercolours in the world. I started using Daniel Smith - which are made in Seattle - back in 1995, which is just two years after they first produced watercolours and interestingly, Daniel Smith was famous for the etching inks before that - not that I ever used them, but I just thought it was interesting.


So they brought out a small range in 1993, and I started using them in 95 and they were very innovative because they were the first company to actually put the pigment information on their labels (as far as I was aware).


This is pre-internet. We didn't have a world wide web back then! So you couldn't find this information very well and they talked about pigments and there are people who use colours that have no idea that a pigment even exists, it's just you know, red or blue or whatever. But I saw these numbers and was curious about them right from the start.


And they were also very simple. Watercolours can be made with pigment and water and gum arabic - sometimes they'll put in an ox gall, which is a kind of dispersant medium. Sometimes they’ll put in honey; sometimes they’ll put in glycerin. There are all sorts of things that can go into it.


But to my knowledge, Daniel Smith is simply pigment, gum arabic and water and that's all, and they are really just so easy to re-wet and to use - they set in a palette, they don't run. They just suited the way I wanted to work with them so well that, really, I've tested plenty of others and there are other great brands, but they just really really work for me.


James Haydon:


You mentioned honey, is that a common addition in paint?


Jane Blundell:


Yes, it's very common, and it keeps them a little bit soft, and in some cases very soft. I don't tend to use honey-based paints because in Australia, it's quite humid and because we don't tend to have air conditioning running all the time, the humidity can just mean that those more honey-based paints can be runny and actually go mouldy.


So you have to be a bit careful with those. I think they're great if you work straight fresh from the tube and then onto your painting, but I always put the colours into a palette and let them dry, so that they're portable - whether I use them in the studio or not, I always work from dried paint, and so the honey-based ones don't work so well for me.


There are a couple of brands that are all honey-based and there are other brands that don't use honey and there's some that use a tiny bit, which is very traditional and it acts as a preservative and it also acts as a humectant so that they don't completely dry out. So it is useful and people who make their own, will often put honey into it (or glycerin) to do the same sort of job. But you just have to be careful about it being too runny to be able to take it out in the field and work ‘en plein air’.


James Haydon:


Does that mean that if you want an artwork to last for, say 100, 200 years that you might be working with paints that are slightly harder to work with, because you're prioritising different properties of those paints?


Jane Blundell:


Provided the paper is looked after, that's not such a big problem. But the pigments will be rated on how long they should last. So the ones that are rated in that ‘ASTM 1’ that I mentioned before are supposed to last over 125 years, provided that they're not in direct sunlight.


Whereas if they’re rated 2, they might last up to 100 years. If they're rated 4, they’re lucky if they last 25 years, and so the work that I did as a teenager, I've seen it fade and this is why I'm so adamant about not using fugitive colours, because if you paint with crimson, particular alizarin crimson, the pinks will fade out altogether and the crimsons will fade out and the purples will change to blue, as all the red just disappears over time.


So yes, it's the pigments that help, but also storing the paper carefully, provided you look after it then they should last if you're using lightfast pigments.


James Haydon:


So those paintings from when you were a teenager, they’re gone, or faded?


Jane Blundell:


Well, the red has gone because I used - without knowing any better - I used from that little set that I bought when I was a teenager, I used alizarin crimson, which, just doesn't, it doesn't last. And they were in my parent’s house, not particularly well-protected. I mean, they were framed, but over that time they lost their colour and so the reds and crimsons have faded out. The greens and blues and other colours are there, but that dreaded alizarin crimson has…well not completely gone, but it's gone from the soft washes. So, yeah, it's very frustrating.


James Haydon:


Such a pity! And you have your own colour, ‘Jane’s Grey’. How did you come to create that?


Jane Blundell:


It’s a very common mix. So ultramarine and burnt sienna are two pigments that are really, really common; I would rarely set up a palette that didn't have those in them. So ultramarine is a warm blue, and burnt sienna is a neutralised…well, it's a brown, but it's like a neutralised orange, and they are mixing opposites or complementary colours. So when they get mixed together, they will create an incredible range of colours, including sort of burnt umber, or chocolate colours and beautiful warm, dark blues.


But they'll also create a lovely neutral grey. And, any of the greys that are available or that were available commercially, always had black pigments in them. So there's a colour…just about every range will have a ‘Payne's Grey’, which was based on a grey produced by Windsor & Newton for William Payne, back in the 1800s…18-somethings. But they’re all made with a black pigment and I don't use a black pigment if I can avoid it, because black will absorb all of the light and becomes a dead spot in your paintings.


By making your own greys and blacks and other sort of colours using bright colours, you avoid those dead spots. So you can still create very beautiful chromatic greys and blacks. So Jane’s Grey is a mixture. It's just on the blue side of a grey, made out of burnt sienna and ultramarine and I would mix it together from wet paint with tubes and stir it up in a little pan, and then as my students started using it I started making bigger and bigger tubes of it using more and more tubes of paint to mix it up and create it, and then it was made by Daniel Smith as a colour. So they've created a signature series and one of them is my Jane’s Grey, which saves me so much time making it and my students, that's great!


But the other difference is not only that, but the other thing about black pigments is they're often staining, whereas Jane’s Grey is liftable and so if you put a wash down or do a stormy sky and want to lift out the clouds, you can, you can blot the clouds off again. Whereas if you used a Payne's Grey or something else for that, it'll stain it and you'll have grey clouds. So it's not only that the colour is beautiful on its own, but also its properties were something that wasn't really available in anything else commercially. So a really useful colour.


James Haydon:


It sounds more versatile. And so would you paint with black at all now?


Jane Blundell:


There's one black pigment that I use. It's called Lunar Black or Mars Black and it's a pigment…its name is PBK 11 - which means Pigment Black 11 - and it's a really granulating colour, so it if you put a wash on it, it's like a whole series of little specks and interesting shapes. It's hard to describe pigment granulation talking about it, but really interesting texture. So that's one black…it's about the only black pigment I use.


There is one other, that is a black pigment, but it's actually a very dark green colour. It's called perylene green and it's a PBK 31 - so it's Pigment Black 31. But it makes this gorgeous deep green, which is the colour…if you look out in in Australia in any sort of foliage, the darkest green you see is a perylene green kind of colour. So very useful for painting on en plein air.


James Haydon:


And do you have your own signature brushes as well?


Jane Blundell:


I'm working on it! [Laughs] There are a couple of brands that I've been using for a long time, and there are some that I really like what they do. I've got a lovely range of Raphael brushes, which are a French brand, and I use a lot of their sable-pointed rounds in the studio, and they also do lovely very traditional French quill or mop brushes, so I've got some of those as well. So that's a squirrel hair, whereas the sables is the sable hair.


I also use a lot of travel brushes. So whenever I'm traveling and teaching, I'll use brushes [where] the caps can be taken off to cover up the hairs themselves, and there are some terrific companies who make those and the ones I particularly use are Rosemary & Co from the UK, which is a smaller….well it's getting bigger all the time, I think….but it's an independent brush maker, and they are direct to artists, so they're really innovative and they have an incredible range of, must be about 24 different sort of shapes and sizes of travel brushes. So there are pointed ones and dagger ones and Komal ones and, flats and all sorts of things - so that you can have a travel brush in different sorts of hairs and types to suit different purposes.


Another brand that I really like is Da Vinci, which is a German company and they also make a beautiful range of brushes in their travel and non-travel, and I use a lot of their sable travel brushes and also some of their studio brushes. So once again, we have so many great options and while I tend to use natural hair brushes, I think that there are also some terrific synthetics available for those who - for whatever reason - don't want to use natural hair.


Though I think that, while there are some who don't like the idea that animals are being hurt, but, the tails would otherwise be wasted. So I kind of like to think that in using brushes, we're honoring the animals that otherwise those tales would have been wasted. And that the synthetic brushes, when they reach the end of their life, those synthetics - those plastic hairs - are not going to biodegrade whereas the natural ones will.


So there’s reasons to go both ways, yes. But to paint with natural hair is really just beautiful. So that's my preference, even though synthetic brushes are getting better and better all the time. So we're spoilt for choice.


James Haydon:


And if you were going to paint with a range of colours, do you need specific brushes for specific colours? Are there properties or interactions between a type of brush and a colour that you're using, or could you just take one brush and use it for a whole artwork?


Jane Blundell:


It’s more about the size of the brush. So generally speaking, you try and work with the largest brush you can for what you're doing, and will often start with a larger brush and get down to a smaller brush for the finer details or the smaller bits of it.


Watercolour is very gentle on brushes - you're really not damaging them, you just rinse them out in water - I usually suggest to my students that they clean their brushes once or twice a year with proper brush soap. But it's just not an issue. Whereas if you're using acrylics or gouache or oil or anything else, you've got to clean them really thoroughly every time you use them.


So it's not so much that there's any particular colour….you might be a bit careful if you're using a very staining colour that you rinse it out very carefully, and some people will choose to have a couple of different brushes on the run to have colours that they can interact. But I will generally work with one with whatever colour I'm using and then one that's just got clean water so I can soften out the colour wherever I'm putting it - but yeah, it's very gentle on brushes…very, very gentle medium all round.


James Haydon:


You also have the ultimate mixing set that you developed and that's available from Daniel Smith watercolours. What led you to create this set and why those colours?


Jane Blundell:


I'm always looking for the best ways to get people started in watercolour because it isn't easy. You know, there are so many different colours and choices and so I wanted to create a set that wasn't too many colours, but that enabled you to mix whatever colour you wanted and also enabled you to explore the whole range of the characteristics that I mentioned. And the ultimate mixing set is…there isn't a colour I haven't been able to make with it. The intention isn't that they're the only ones you're allowed to use because anyone can then add their choice of convenience colours to it.


But it's designed around….it has two different yellows. One of them just a primary yellow - beautiful bright mid-yellow - and then one of them a really great mixing yellow because it'll give you beautiful interesting greens and oranges and so on. And it has three reds, one which is warm (it’s an orange-y red), and then two are cool, one of them is a very bright pink colour and another one is more of a crimson. And they will mix in different ways to create all sorts of purples and browns and neutrals or to modify the greens.


It has three blues, one of them is warm, and then two are cool, but one of the cool ones is staining and one of them is liftable. So they have different characteristics. It’s just got one green, a mixing green, and then it's got a whole lot of beautiful earth colours. So it has a goethite which is a very granulating sort of yellow ochre-y colour - great for Sydney sandstone - and it has a burnt sienna, and an Indian red - so that's a sort of an earth red - and a raw umber, which is a dark cool brown, and Jane’s Grey, and then this other lovely colour called Buff Titanium, which is the colour of the white of our Sydney sandstone. It's an ecru, just a slightly creamy colour. Really lovely for that sort of effect and because it's granulating, it's perfect for beaches and stone and marble and those sorts of subjects.


James Haydon:


And what do you mean, when you say that it's granulating?


Jane Blundell:


Well it gives you this texture. So when you put it on the page, it doesn't sit all flat and even. It looks as though it's got little….it looks like, not sand in it…but it just gives you the impression of the texture of sand or rock. So it's not smooth.


James Haydon:


And do you need all of those 15 colours? Could you work with a really small set?


Jane Blundell:


Yes, you can work with just three, if all you want to do is explore three colours. If you had a mid-yellow and a very pink-y red and a blue - particularly a cool blue - you can make an extraordinary range of colours. But you have to understand how to mix them together. So you've got to understand if you want to make a brown, you've got to add enough of the yellow and enough of the red to make an orange and gradually add a tiny bit of the blue until you get the brown you're after. So if you're going to use very few colours, you need a lot of mixing space and it's going to take time.


So if I'm working en plein air and the sun’s out, and the wind’s out and those sorts of things and the lights changing, I don't necessarily want to spend the whole time mixing, so having more colours available can speed it all up.


But yes you can do a lot with just three colours, a huge amount; that’s what we do with printing, so a printer has usually a yellow, a cyan and magenta. So very similar colours in watercolour would be a yellow, a quinacridone rose and a phthalo blue - and then if you add black, obviously, but I don't - but it gives you an extraordinary range; you’ve just got a few limitations, trying to make a very bright orange, for example, might be difficult.


James Haydon:


And you have mixing charts that you’ve published, as books, and do you encourage your students to create those as well?


Jane Blundell:


I do - not necessarily as many as I've done, but certainly there are key mixes that are helpful to understand. So when I'm teaching, I'll always encourage them to do, say, at least five charts of greens and oranges and purples and neutrals so that they've got a really good understanding of some of the important ones, without necessarily getting into doing every single one.


In courses I teach, they have the option of doing all 105 possible two-colour-mixes that you can make with the Ultimate Mixing Set, or they might just do 20 or 30 of those - depends on how much they want to explore it. But by doing it, it gets into your head, and even if you never look at it again, it'll be in your memory. But these ones, they're usually designed so that they can then put them into a book or a display folder, or keep them in a sketchbook so that they can refer to them and they become very precious, and people who produce the charts really do value them.


I've put them in books with cross-references so that they can find them and so on and they’re very useful, but even people who've bought my books have often done a lot of the charts themselves so that they can see it for themselves and relate it back.


James Haydon:


Those charts, they’re just mixing those two colours or those three colours in different ratios?


Jane Blundell:


Well, there’s two books. One of them I've gone through almost any colour I had and just mixed it with every other colour - so I was just exploring. But the other one is deliberately just looking at those 15 colours and mixing every yellow with every blue, and every yellow with every red, and every blue with every red, and so on, and going all the way through them very systematically, so that all the greens are on one double page, and all the purples are on another double page, and so on, and then I started mixing - creating an orange and mixing that with blues and creating purples, and mixing that with yellows - and so there are two colour mixes and three colour mixes; really showing what those colours can do.


James Haydon:


And how many colours would you get out of those 15? Thousands?


Jane Blundell:


Thousands, yes. I think there are…I can't remember exactly how many, but there's something like 10,500 different swatches in that book.


I mean, it’s basically infinite, because even with one colour mix - if I just take a yellow and a red - there's various amounts of how much yellow, and how much red, but with watercolour, it's also how much water. Because we don't add white, we lighten it down by adding more and more and more water.


So if you just had two colours, you could easily create - I don't know - 100 swatches without any effort at all. So that's 100 different variations of the various hues and tones. So once you then multiply that out, there are there are many, many, many combinations that you can create.


James Haydon:


And you've illustrated a children's book as well?


Jane Blundell:


Yes, that was in…2002? It was called ‘Kayla & the Magical Tree’, and it was written by an American, Steve Stein. It's really lovely, because it's about a tree and I love painting trees and I always have, and it's an imaginary world. So it's got little creatures and animals and so on within the story. So it was a very detailed and really enjoyable project to do. It's not in print anymore. But it was a lovely thing to do.


James Haydon:


And in addition to the ultimate mixing set, you also run online courses for people learning to paint watercolours. What's your website? Can you tell us a bit more about that?


Jane Blundell:


www.JaneBlundellArt.com and there is a link from that into my blog, and the blog has different sorts of information. I've set up the website to be something that's easy to find information again, and I'll set up the blog as different things that I'm studying - and all the different brands of paint and so on will tend to be on the blog, but they are both available through the same link.


There's a tab with the courses - so I teach two major courses at the moment. One of them is called ‘Mastering Watercolours’, which is a 10 lesson course, but each lesson might take two or three weeks to get through, there's a lot of information in it.


And then the second course is called ‘Travel Sketching’ and it's designed around the idea of getting people able to get outside or out in their travels and sketch. It doesn't have to be, but it's about creating a portable kit and working from life. So in that, I actually teach people how to draw from life and it includes information on drawing and pens and colour - whereas watercolour mastering watercolours is really all about the colour mixing and the working with watercolour and doesn't require drawing skills to be able to do it.


James Haydon:


And it's called ‘Mastering Watercolours’, but if somebody wanted to learn, can an absolute beginner go and sign up?


Jane Blundell:


Yes, it's actually terrific to work with an absolute beginner because they don't have all the bad habits that some people do. So it's designed for a serious beginner, because it is a lot of work to get through it. But I have a lot of beginners do it and they go from not being able to draw anything to being quite amazed at what they do by the end of it.


The final lesson is a beautiful strelitzia - the Bird of Paradise - and I've had a number of people who will post up their very first and their very last images and they just can't believe what they've done.


So it's very much geared for a serious beginner - it's too much work if you just want to throw a bit of paint around. But if you're a serious beginner, then yeah, both courses are with that in mind - someone who is new to the topic. So I go through all of the basics as well as the more advanced stuff. So they’re thorough.


James Haydon:


So for someone really looking to put the effort in and to learn?


Jane Blundell:


Yes, you got to do the brush miles and the pen miles and build up the experience. But if you work through those lessons, whether it takes three months or whether it takes three years - you work through it at your own pace and build up the skills over time.


James Haydon:


Well Jane, thank you. This has been fascinating! I don't think I realised how much the car industry was helping drive the art industry! It’s been wonderful to talk to you today and thank you.


Jane Blundell:


Thank you, James.