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We caught up with Alison C. Board, author of the fantastic A Beginner's Guide to Watercolour with Mixed Media, for a chat about her career, artistic inspiration, and to learn her advice for novice artists.


Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I started out as a ballet teacher and I’m still proud to say I continue to teach both adults and children as a hobby-job, but when I fell out of love with the competitive aspects of dance, my parents invited me to work with them in their art materials and stationery business. A fascination for materials and their uses grew from working there, and I was lucky to be surrounded by customers who were willing to share their techniques, so I took my teaching qualification and switched my subject to helping people understand art materials to improve their painting skills.

Outside of work I love my animals (of which I have quite a few), theatre, cinema and probably my favourite pastime is going to see live music as my husband plays in a band and we like nothing better than a really loud rock concert.

 Ballet dancer Down in the Tubestation

How did Search Press discover you?

Search Press discovered me through my work with the SAA, an arts organization that promotes painting and drawing to all skill levels. I frequently demonstrate for them as part of their web streaming and they occasionally allow me on live television too.

Have you always worked with mixed media? If so why?

The mixed media part of my paintings has really come about through my love of materials and an inability to stick to just one. I’m not disciplined enough to use just watercolour on its own, I prefer to use a specific tool for a specific mark rather than trying to get one media to do it all. This may or may not account for my terrible paint buying habit…

Mixed media can sound quite daunting for a beginner, how does this book help?

I completely understand that it sounds very grand, and that you have to know a lot about the materials that you are using, but you really don’t. If you like a particular paint and combining it with a particular pencil makes you feel happy and creative, then that’s as good a reason as any. There are ‘rules’ which are good to know but they should be ignored immediately so that you can find your own way of working. I hope that this comes across in the book, in that I try to advise how something could be used, but encourage you to go and find out for yourself. Experimenting is the way forward as it helps you to decide what you do and don’t like so I’m hoping that the book will be something that people return to if they get stuck or want to discover a different starting point.

Mixed media materials Mixed media materials

Where do you like to paint the most?

I am very lucky that I have a purpose-built studio attached to my house so that I can create whenever I feel like it. It is surrounded by my animals and the incredibly inspirational Dorset countryside, so I don’t have to go very far to find a subject to paint. My own happy place is when all the chores have been done, my headphones are on and the music is turned up to 11 – that’s when I get into the zone and create things that excite me.

In Alison's Garden Hod Hill, Dorset

Do you have any tips for beginners?

Don’t overthink it. As human beings we tend to want to create masterpieces every time we pick up a brush and art doesn’t work like that. You have to make lots of mistakes, accept that it’s not going to go right all the time and enjoy the process not the end result. Be a sponge, listen to what lots of people have to say, absorb as much as you can but ultimately, it’s down to you to make a mark on the paper. My biggest piece of advice? Be kind to yourself because I promise that you will always be your harshest critic and being destructive about what you create is never going to help, only hinder and, if you can’t be kind to yourself, find someone who will support you on your artistic adventure.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

There are the usual things such as nature, colours and textures but I also get ideas from movies, music, song lyrics and my family history as text plays a huge role in my work. In terms of my biggest source of inspiration, that would have to be my husband who constantly encourages me to push the boundaries of what I do and is my very best and most honest sounding board when I lose confidence in what I produce.

Holy Trinity, Stourpaine Alison painting

Do you have any exciting plans for 2020?

2020 is a huge year for me and sees a lot of ‘firsts’. Alongside the publication of my first book, I will be demonstrating at Patchings, and appearing as an independent exhibitor at some really big trade shows, as well as leading my very first painting retreat at a beautiful stately home in Somerset. I will also be taking part in Dorset Art Weeks which is probably my most favourite event of the whole calendar where my studio will be open to the general public for two weeks in May and June showing all of the paintings from the book. It’s all very exciting.

As ever, I’m looking ahead to new techniques and ways of interpreting my favourite subjects. It’s important for me to keep my style fresh, as then I won’t get disillusioned with it or even worse, it stops being encouraging to those who like to see me share my work. I know that there are going to be colours I’ve not tried yet, papers I’ve not painted on, or some sort of texture that I haven’t considered, and I’m looking forward to discovering all these things.

If you want to discover more about Alison's work and techniques, her new book, A Beginner's Guide to Watercolour with Mixed Media is available now from Search Press, RRP £12.99.

A Beginner’s Guide to Watercolour with Mixed Media

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