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Artist Interviews - Nancy Newman

3T Art Blog Guest Artist

Nancy Newman – Watercolourist

We’ve discussed a lot about watercolour paints, papers and techniques so far. Now, I’d like to introduce you to Nancy Newman. She’s an expert in everything and anything to do with watercolour painting. I can’t wait for you to meet her and see the world through her unique work.

Dingle Harbour I

Nancy, a native of Toronto, Ontario, grew up in a family of educators who instilled in her a love of learning. She attended McMaster and York University, then Toronto Teacher’s College and became an educator herself. And, as an educator who loved art, it was only natural that Nancy should teach it. For this, she needed to learn the basics of drawing, painting, printmaking and sculpture, which she did, and earned her Visual Arts Specialist Certificate.

“It was painting in watercolour that provided the spark…that “Aha” moment.”

Since then, Nancy has taken many watercolour courses and workshops. They’ve helped her to hone her skills and master the processes and techniques involved in this versatile and challenging medium.

Canadian Maples

Nancy has always been an advocate for arts education. During her years as a teacher in the province of Ontario, she taught professional workshops and wrote art curriculum at school board and provincial levels of education, and she spent several years training other teachers to be Visual Arts Specialists for Nipissing University.

While still teaching in the classroom, Nancy found time to teach watercolour classes for adults at night and during her summer holidays.

A Walk in Ireland

Over the years, Nancy has been an active member of many art societies as well as being the President of both the Society of York Region Artists (SOYRA) and the Toronto Watercolour Society (TWS). She currently holds a Director seat on the board of the TWS and is also a Signature Member (Bronze Level). She’s exhibited her watercolour work in solo, juried and non-juried shows and has won more first-place, honourable mention and people’s choice awards than I can mention. She’s even been featured in Leisure Painter Magazine in the UK.

Nancy at a show with her awards!

Nancy’s subject matter is centered on the connections we all experience in our lives.

“As an artist, I create work that celebrates the connections in life, through common experiences, or our shared history. We connect to places, life events and to natural elements. Subject matter appeals to me when those connections exist.”

For example, she associates the unique colour and play of light on particular flowers with the experience of being in a specific place: irises in Van Gogh’s garden at St. Remy, roses at the Pitti Palace in Florence or a peony in Marie Antoinette’s Garden at Versailles.

Breath of Spring

Landscape paintings, both in expansive and in closer, focused views, reflect the connections Nancy has made during her travels to many place through its people, culture and history. Her Irish watercolour landscapes provide strong ties to her ancestral roots, so she includes iconic symbols such as green grasses, sheep, rock walls and traditional houses to those artworks.

“This emotional connection makes the creative process effective, providing the energy and motivation to complete the work.”

Irish Curiosity (the little sheep)

Nancy’s artistic talent, in combination with skills as an educator, have made her a sought-after watercolour painting instructor. She teaches classes and workshops locally as well as at prestigious locations like the Haliburton School of the Arts. Covid-19 has not stopped Nancy from teaching, it’s only moved Nancy to new platforms. She’s learned to use Zoom and Google Meet for her workshops.

“It has been a challenge to learn new technology and adapt my teaching, but I am grateful for the chance to be in contact with other artists and encourage them to pick up a brush and remain creative.”

Whether online or in-person, Nancy teaches her students traditional watercolour painting techniques but often explores more experimental approaches like negative painting, watercolour pours, sketching with rubber cement and water.

Her process varies according to the outcome she desires in a particular piece of work.

When painting en plein air, she first likes to take some time to enjoy the location she has selected by absorbing the atmosphere; its sights and sounds. Once she’s settled on a viewpoint, she’ll set up her outdoor workstation. Essential equipment includes a sunhat, water, and her favorite folding chair complete with table and pockets.

Nancy at Blue Mountain teaching en plein air painting

Nancy uses a Mijello palette well stocked with colours. It has food-sized paint wells and the removable insert provides her with lots of mixing room. One of its best features is the rubber gasket that prevents unfortunate accidents. She also has a full set of brushes, drawing tools and pigment pens with her when travelling.

Plein air equipment

Both in and out of the studio, she prefers to work on Arches 140 lb cold press watercolour paper.

Nancy’s largest size and most common work surface when in her studio is 15x22” (a ½ sheet of watercolour paper), while out of the studio working en plein air, she uses smaller sizes such as 11x15”, 10x14” or smaller square blocks of paper. Recently, she’s been working on larger sheets of 300lb Arches paper.

In her studio, Nancy doesn’t rush her work. She considers herself a slow painter as she likes to enjoy the problem solving process for each of her paintings. She often refers back to photos she’s taken of a location or a flower when she’s working. A painting takes at least four or five sittings to complete.

“While I usually have a plan or a drawing in advance, things always change. Different desired outcomes change my approach.”

She likes to use a porcelain palette to mix her paints when working in her studio. Favourite brands of watercolour paint are Da Vinci, Winsor Newton and Daniel Smith. She also has a full range of brushes to work with but prefers the Robert Simmons Sapphire series which are a mix of real and synthetic bristles.

Nancy’s colour palette consists of mainly transparent warm and cool primary colours made up of: Indian yellow, Quinacridone gold, raw sienna, permanent red, alizarin crimson, cerulean blue, transparent turquoise, ultramarine blue, Winsor Dioxazine violet, burnt sienna, sap green, Perylene green and Quinacridone burnt orange. The three colours she always has in her palette are Aureolin, Cobalt blue, and permanent rose.

Palette and brushes

When planning a new piece, Nancy must always plan ahead. She needs to think about the white spaces she’ll have to reserve on her paper well in advance of applying any paint to paper.

“It is hard to reclaim pure white at the end, and adding white is often considered undesirable.”

Nancy starts a new work with a drawing, loose underpainting or large washes. She then begins building up transparent layers of pigment using either wet-in-wet or wet-on-dry. This increases values and details, then she adds fixes by lifting or adding colour. She pays particular attention to the transitions in her work, using lost and found edges and changes in value to add dimension to her forms. Her pigments are applied to her work from warm to cool, light to dark and bright to less intense, then fine details are added last using small brushes.

“Water is the boss and it takes great skill to allow the water to be in charge, while controlling it at the same time.”

One of the methods Nancy is best known for is painting negatively. She paints around the contours of a shape in order to create the illusion of depth. She says this method is well suited for watercolour work because it aligns with the general watercolour guidelines and is a very popular topic for workshops because it opens up a new way of thinking.

Then Their Eyes Met

Nancy’s studio occupies one of her grown son’s bedrooms. She prefers white walls and has a window for natural light. There are task lights around the studio and she likes to use Ott Lites because they represent daylight colours the best.

The primary work surface Nancy uses is a drafting table. It has storage on both sides of it which houses her papers and also the tools she needs to produce her artwork. She also has a monitor fixed to the wall in front of her drafting table with two cameras, one mounted to her monitor facing her, the other set to show her demonstration surface. This is where Nancy has been teaching her Zoom and Google Meet online workshops!

Primary work surface and online workshop studio

Her studio also has an additional work surface in it, a bookshelf for her sketches and videos, and a full-time studio assistant to help her with her watercolour paintings.

“There is a lot packed into this small space, but it works, and it is my happy place.”

Nancy’s assistant Stache

Let’s have a look at a few more of Nancy’s inspiring watercolour paintings:

Alesund Norway

Blarny Castle

Irish Memories

In an Old Growth Forest

Under the Parisian Sun

Cork Countryside

Dingle Harbour II

“My preferred medium of watercolour challenges me to capture the subject matter with glowing transparency, a mingling of colours when wet and layers of glazing. The elements of colour and the use negative space are often used to create the desired effect. I feel my work is successful when it sparks a memory or emotional connection to the subject.”

You can check out more of Nancy’s work on her website at

For info about her workshops and watercolour painting courses, you can contact her through the ‘Contact the Artist’ link on her website or directly at

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