Interview: Tenterden artist Morag Newens

Morag Newens in her studio

Morag Newens in her studio - Credit: Archant

Working in both watercolour and oil, Tenterden artist Morag Newens loves the great outdoors and is inspired by any landscape or seascape

Seascapes inspire Morag's work (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Seascapes inspire Morag's work (photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

Working in her conservatory in Tenterden, Morag Newens has been painting since she retired 14 years ago.

With no formal art training, she admits that this would give a structure for her painting and greater knowledge about medium and that a young artist would do well to seek training.

However, Morag is not a total novice, as she has taken various short art classes, including with David Aspinall of Hawkhurst, who she says “encouraged me to branch out and exhibit. He still runs a watercolour class at Iden Green.”

Asked if there was an epiphany moment for her painting, Morag tells me: “It just seemed to happen. Art classes popped up and I joined them!”

She now belongs to the Weald of Kent Art Group, the Folkestone Art Society (where I first saw and appreciated her work) and the Tuesday Painters, in Rye. She has exhibited with all of these.

An exuberant use of colour characterises many of her paintings

An exuberant use of colour characterises many of her paintings - Credit: Archant

So how does she choose what to paint? “It is entirely something of the moment. It could be the mood, the weather or water. My love is landscape.

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“Watercolour is old-fashioned in a way, but it is brilliant for landscape. You should use a lot of colour on the brush. I also use oil and acrylic.”

Morag uses big strokes with big movements and would always prefer to paint a large landscape than a bowl of flowers, although she has done some botanical painting. Along with landscape, she may paint seascapes, so Kent is ideal for both genres. She advises: “Give yourself a sense of structure, first of all a sketch, then choose the colours.”

If she chooses a range of colour, she will stick to it and never paints with more than four colours. Preparing for a new project entails looking at her large collection of photos and sketches. “I may take a sketch from a photograph and may daub the colour I have chosen to work in. I may sit or stand to paint.”

If she had to choose just one colour to paint in, it would be blue: “There are hundreds, sky blue, greeny blues, yellowy blues. Within the blue spectrum you could paint one painting and cover the range.”

Artwork by Morag Newens

Artwork by Morag Newens - Credit: Archant

Morag has also worked en plein air, but says it is often too damp, too wet or too hot: “I prefer to paint in the studio. I go out, sketch and then come in.”

Painting in watercolour may mean Morag works on two or three pieces at the same time, to allow the paint to dry. Working on two foot by three foot paper, or slightly smaller, or for exhibiting 12 inches by 14, Morag may take a couple of hours, or may return to a work.

“I don’t paint small. I might spend half an hour sitting and looking at the paper and then work. Watercolour needs you to make instant decisions. With oil and acrylic, you can scrape it off and start again. It doesn’t matter.”

One of her most exciting pieces of work was a wild sea at Brighton executed on a heavy piece of expensive watercolour paper, which took a lot of water and absorbed it so then the colour could go in.

I am curious to know if the image turns out exactly as Morag imagined it in the first instance. “I would say most of the time I set off with an image in mind and it goes in a different way; but it may move off and come back. I may need to come back to it.”

Morag's paint brushes

Morag's paint brushes - Credit: Archant

Morag has visited Penshurst Place to see the exhibition of JMW Turner’s works, one of her favourite painters because he used both watercolour and oil as media.

She tells me she has been lucky to paint with Cecil Rice in Hove, and also finds Chris Forsay an inspirational painter. She names Louis Turpin, with his exuberant gardens, who exhibits in Rye, however, beyond any painters it is ‘the great outdoors’ that inspires her: “Wherever there is any landscape or seascape”.

Get in touch

Morag Newens opens her studio by appointment, call 01580 76331. You can also see her paintings on 24-25th March at the Weald of Kent Rotary exhibition, Sutton Valence School and at Folkestone Art Society’s show, 2-12th May at St Mary and St Eanswythe Church, Folkestone