Norman Ackroyd RA discusses his watercolours

Sea changes

Published 9 July 2014

A new book of Norman Ackroyd RA’s watercolours captures the immediacy of the moment, as the artist explains.

  • From the Summer 2014 issue of RA Magazine, issued quarterly to Friends of the RA.

    My watercolours always start with pencil. I have a great set of Derwent watercolour pencils and as soon as the boat sets off from port, I use them to warm myself up, spraying water on the pencil marks so that their rich pigment runs, then using my fingers or brushes to draw with the paint. I bind the books I use with a variety of different papers – different textures and different whites, and grey paper so that I can start with a mid-tone background. I also take the same watercolour box on every trip: I know by heart where the different colours are placed, so I don’t have to look at the box while I work – it’s like playing the piano. I can sometimes produce 50 watercolours in a day.

    I hire fishing boats and I attach all my materials to the table on deck with grips so that they stay in place when the sea is choppy. It’s exciting painting in stormy weather and my marks begin to reflect the movement of the boat. What I hope for most when I’m painting is for all my rational thoughts to disappear: my eye, heart and hand become connected, and then I can distil the real essence of the landscape.

    A Shetland Notebook by Norman Ackroyd RA, RA Publications, £16.95.
    A Shetland Notebook: An Exhibition of Watercolours and Etchings by Norman Ackroyd RA Eames Fine Art Gallery, London, 4 – 28 September 2014.