Sunday, March 3, 2013

Vandy Massey - U.K. Watercolor Artist

I was recently interviewed by Vandy Massey for her U.K. art blog...Today, I'm returning the favor!  

(You may see Vandy's interview about me by clicking HERE...then scroll down to the February 14 posting on her site).  Sign up to receive her regular posts!

Meet Vandy Massey:
HKB:  Vandy, where do you live now?  Have you always lived there??
VM:  I live in a village 10 miles outside Cambridge, in the UK. I moved here 17 years ago from Johannesburg, South Africa, where I was born and brought up. I did my school education in a university town in South Africa, so being in Cambridge takes me back to my early years. It's a great place to live because there's always something new and interesting going on.

HKB:  Just Vandy a nickname?
VM:  Vandy is my full name. It is unusual - I've never come across another person with Vandy as their given name. It's a curse and a blessing. So many people get it wrong because they think it's a mistake when they read it, but once they do get it, very few people ever forget it.

HKB: Have you always painted in watercolor?  Anything else that makes your heart beat fast?
VM: By far the majority of my work has been in watercolor.  The appeal of watercolor is the immediacy of it. There is a spontaneity which is particularly special with watercolors. I also have a fascination with the way the pigments sometimes create their own magic on the paper. It's a bit like having a very beautiful chemistry experiment every time.

I've tried a few pastels and done a couple of oils, but the watercolor has kept me busy so far. I would like to explore working in acrylics and oils more and that is definitely on my agenda for this year.
Watercolor by Vandy Massey - using her favorite blues
HKB: When did you know you wanted to paint?  Were there family influences that caused you to consider art?
VM: I did some art at school but stopped at the age of about 14 when I had to choose between art and math. My sister went to art college after school. She now works as a graphic designer and book illustrator. I have always admired her work and wished I had her talent. (If you could LIKE her page, it would be brilliant -  I dabbled in ceramics for a few years (as a hobby) but always thought I had no real artistic talent. Then about three years ago I decided to test that theory and went off for an intensive 4 days of art to see whether there was anything at all there. Since I'm still painting, I guess there was - and lots more to learn.

HKB: What’s your studio like?
VM: I am extraordinarily lucky to have a dedicated space for my painting. We put a summer house in the garden and this is where I can escape to spend time with my brushes and paper. The beauty of that is that I get to walk out and leave a painting part done without having to pack everything away. Just wash the brushes and that's it - it's all ready to pick up again whenever I get to go back into the studio. When I first moved my artwork into the studio, I though I had oceans of space. However, it filled up ever so quickly and I now think I could do with a bigger space.  That said, having a limited space probably keeps me more organized.

Vandy's cozy studio
HKB:  Which brand of paint do you reach for the most?
VM:  I paint mainly with Winsor and Newton paints. But I do have a shopping list of paints I would like to add to my palette that includes some Daniel Smith and Schminke.

HKB: Favorite colors?
VM: I seem to revert to the blues most of the time - particularly those at the green end of the spectrum. I tend to use strong colors rather than a toned down palette. This isn't a conscious choice - just an instinctive reach for the color that resonates at the moment.  My participation in the One Hundred Wash Challenge   (  was a wonderful way to learn about color and washes.  I would also recommend Maggie Latham's, 31 Days of Color blog posts as a great series of exercises.  (

HKB: Favorite paper?
VM: I use a variety of papers - Bockingford, Arches and Hahnemuhle.  At the moment I paint on 140 lb but am planning to work on heavier papers in the future as the hassle of stretching paper or dealing with buckled sheets is a nuisance.
I have traditionally used NOT paper as I really didn't get on with Arches smooth when I tried it. However, I've recently gone back and tried again with the smooth and was quite taken with some of the textures that emerged. That taught me there is value in leaving something for a while and going back to try again when you've had more experience or are in a different frame of mind.

Watercolor by Vandy Massey - showing her subtle and soft reflections
HKB: What size paintings do you prefer creating for the most part?
VM: When I first started painting, I worked on small pieces, up to 20 cm width (equals about 8"). I now rather like a bigger format and work quite often on a 38 x 48 cm sheet (approx. 15" x 20"). I haven't worked any larger than that yet, but I'm sure it will come. I also do small 6"x 7" when I am travelling, when I want to try out a concept or when I just want to do a quick piece.

HKB: Do you get with other painters on any kind of regular basis?  Under what circumstances (formal meetings, plein air, etc?)
VM: I am a member of a few local art societies and try to get to their demonstrations and events. I generally manage one every month or so. That's not really as often as I should do, but I am a bit protective of my painting time and I selfishly want to do my own thing for much of the time. I realize I forfeit the opportunity to learn from others when I do that, but if I ever have more time to paint I will be able to remedy that. Whenever I get a chance, I love to paint with my sister, but as she still lives in South Africa, we only really see each other for a few days each year so it doesn't happen often enough.

HKB:  Do you have a family of your own, and if so, how do they fit into your painting life?
VM: I am very fortunate to have family members who support my painting. My husband is a keen photographer, and elements in his photographs are often the inspiration for a painting. The only challenge we have is that quite often he likes my paintings so much that he'd prefer it if I didn't let them go. We just don't have enough wall space to keep them all. :-)  I also have two sons who are less involved with my painting because they don't live at home any more, but they come to exhibitions from time to time and are happy to give me opinions when I need a different perspective.

HKB:  What about a day job?  How do you juggle it all?  How many hours/week do you get to paint?
VM: I have a fairly demanding day job which doesn't leave me much time to paint. I set up a data management business 12 years ago - I am really a geek. We run management assessments and employee surveys for trainers and HR departments. We've recently started doing investment research as well so I spend 3 days a week in London which cuts down on the amount of time I have to paint.
Generally I manage to fit in a couple of hours every weekend and sometimes get a short evening session.  I do take a paint box and small watercolor pad down to London with me but it's not often that I manage to find the time to use it.

HKB: Do you enter online competitions?  Do you enter European competitions only, or American as well?  What have you learned from entering competitions?
VM: I haven't entered any online competitions yet. I've always found the quality of the entries to be extremely high and haven't really felt ready yet. I have entered paintings for offline juried exhibitions in the UK from time to time and had many rejections and few acceptances. From that I have learned that you need to have a thick skin and to use the experience of rejection to spur you on to do better, rather than letting it demotivate you.

HKB:  Do you have an inspiration that you can visit whenever you want to?  (a museum, a city garden, etc)?
VM: My London time affords me lots of opportunities to visit galleries in my lunch time and after work. I am particularly fortunate to be based about 20 minutes' walk away from The Mall Galleries which houses the exhibitions for the Federation of British Artists' societies. I also walk to as many of my meetings as I can manage, as that often gives me the opportunity to look in gallery windows when walking past. If something grabs my attention I'll pause or go in to take a better look.

Closer to home, I gain inspiration from my garden. My studio has a glass door and windows which face a courtyard garden packed with color every summer. It's a lovely place to sit and paint with the doors open.

HKB: Do you have other loves in your life like dancing, sports, music?  How do they contribute to your artistic life?
VM: I wish I could dance but I'm not well enough coordinated. I do enjoy going for walks, exploring new cities (which makes it fabulous to have Europe on the doorstep), and cooking with my family. Whenever we're all cooking, there's always music in the kitchen. We all enjoy good rhythm so African or Latin music always ticks the right boxes. I always have music playing in the studio and will often select the music to suit the mood of whatever I am painting. Sometimes it works the other way round. If I'm about to start a painting, the music can influence what I paint and the style of the work. Recently I've been painting to the sounds of upbeat, funky music. I suspect it shows.

HKB: When you think about your favorite artist(s), what do you think you like about them?
VM: I love paintings that draw the viewer in. They may do that with an atmosphere, a loose painting style, or a sense of mystery that makes you want to see more.  My favorite artists (and it is a growing list) have the ability to do that with their brushes. They have a lightness of touch that shows mastery of the medium. I am in awe of that level of ability.

HKB: What would you still like to learn about watercolor?  What do you think you’ve mastered so far?
VM: Composition and consistency are the two words that come to mind when I think of what I would still like to learn. I have increasingly come to see that strong composition is possibly the most important aspect of a painting. I have spent most of the last couple of years concentrating on technique, and I think I need to shift my focus onto composition a bit more. Much of the time, I paint instinctively. I am aware that sometimes a bit more planning would be beneficial. In terms of consistency, I think it's that magic 10,000 hours of practice they talk about to make a master. To be consistently good at something, you need to put in the hours. Given the relative limits of my painting time, it may take some years to get the amount of practice that will increase the consistency of my painting competence.  But then again, perhaps that's what it means to be an artist: there is always some new challenge and the drive to paint better. And that's all part of the fun of it.

What have I learned? (I'm not sure I could say, mastered yet)  My first method of discovering whether I could paint, was to spend four days with an art teacher trying every medium I could manage in the time. So I did pencil drawing, chalk pastel, oil pastel, watercolor and acrylic works in that time. And I have to confess, my watercolor sucked! It really did suck. It was by far the clumsiest and least competent piece of work I did in those four days. So naturally, being me, I chose to focus on the medium I found the hardest to deal with. I never make things easy for myself :-) But I am pleased that I did, because I very quickly came to love watercolor.

I still have that first painting, and I look back at it from time to time to remind myself of how much I've learned. I think the most valuable thing I've learned about watercolor is control by letting go.

HKB:  What's on your calendar now?
VM: I'm about to do my first joint show with two other artists. The show will be held March 9-10 in a local gallery. I'm honored to be exhibiting alongside Mark Judson and Denise Shearing. More information about the exhibition can be found at:

HKB:  How can people fine you on social media?  And thanks for sharing with us today!
VM:  I can be found at:
My blogs at

                                   Come with Helen to paint Venice this HERE for details!