Only in the Life of an Artist (At Least She Can Laugh About It Now)

Isn’t it a dream to travel the world? I’m fascinated by the people who have the guts to pick up and go for it. While I’ve had my share of journeys in the states (and in one case, hopping over to Canada for a couple of nights), I know that one day I’ll go international. I’ve even already secured my passport, so when the moment presents itself, I can just grab my suitcase and be off. Until then, I take the next best thing: reading about and talking with those who are living the dream (as unpredictable as it can be).

Hazel Soan, author of The Artist’s Color Guide: Watercolor–Understanding Palette, Pigments and Properties, is one such individual. As you’ll see in this exclusive Q&A, she’s passionate about painting abroad. Make sure you read all the way through–some of her responses gave me a full belly laugh!

Watercolor painting by Hazel Soan

Running for Joy (watercolor on Khadi paper, 22×30) by Hazel Soan

CH: Going to another continent, such as Africa, to paint is a dream for many people. What prompted you to take action and go for it?
HS: I always dreamed of travel as a youngster. When I was 13, a girl came to my school from what later became Zimbabwe. I loved her barefoot stories and descriptions of the bush and became hooked on visiting the African Continent. Once I set foot on the red soil, smelled the aroma that rises from the earth, felt the early morning promise of a hot sun-filled day, I was captivated and have been ever since.

Watercolor painting by Hazel Soan

Mother Africa (watercolor, 30×22) by Hazel Soan

CH: How has world travel affected you as an artist?
HS: At art college one of the professors told me to make sure I always had a studio of my own, an exhibition on the horizon and to travel to avoid getting into a rut. I took his advice seriously, and it has proved well-founded. Traveling to unfamiliar territory challenges not only the palette, method of painting and the adjustment of drying times, but it also challenges one’s way of thinking and looking at the world. People everywhere are fascinating and in turn fascinated by a painter on their streets. It makes for an interesting life, I can assure you!

CH: What advice would you give to an artist who wants to travel and paint?
HS: Just do it! And travel light. Forget the easel and stool–there’s always somewhere to sit, as long as you have a plastic bag with you to sit on! You need to be able to get your materials out at a moment’s notice to start painting; too quickly the light will change.

CH: Just for fun! What’s the funniest or strangest art-related thing that has happened to you in your travels?
HS: I guess the strangest thing, and in retrospect quite funny, was when I was painting in Asia, surrounded by throngs of interested people. As soon as I opened my palette, they sat down beside and in front of me. They were even kissing me for their camera shots, turning the pages of my sketchbook, sometimes picking up my brushes, and completely blocking the view of my subject. In the end I chose only to paint gargoyles and temple archways as these were subjects I could see above people’s heads! They were very friendly people and wanted to know everything about me, questioning me avidly so that I couldn’t really concentrate, and my painting was becoming completely unproductive. In the end I confess I decided the only solution was to pretend I couldn’t speak. One day an old man from the local village heard me talking to my sister and, leaping for joy, shouted to the whole village that a miracle had occurred: “She was dumb and now can speak.” You can imagine how bad I felt after that! Still, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so hopefully my paintings did the talking!

Here she is, living proof that you’re sure to have a plethora of experiences if you step beyond your own porch and out into the world. As you can see from her watercolor paintings, Soan has become an expert in understanding color and using it to convey things like mood and culture. I can almost smell the exotic flavors wafting through the air in some of the scenes she shares. Take advantage of the knowledge Soan has gained and shared in The Artist’s Color Guide: Watercolor–Understanding Palette, Pigments and Properties, available now at North Light Shop.

Yours in art (without borders),
Cherie

Cherie Haas, online editor

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