Karl Fletcher - Watercolour artist in Sale

Fight on the Jolly Roger

Fight on the Jolly Roger - Credit: Archant

Karl Fletcher from Sale is an artist with a profoundly unusual style, writes Jacqui Brocklehurst

Karl Fletcher

Karl Fletcher - Credit: Archant

Karl Fletcher is a watercolour artist with a difference. Karl seldom replicates landscapes, he isn’t one for cityscapes and you’re unlikely to find him musing on a mountainside capturing the view. Nature features strongly in his work, but as you can see by the photos in this feature, his style is unusual.

Karl grew up in Hazel Grove, Stockport, and has fond memories of his childhood there. ‘I used to get up early and go for long country walks before school, and afterwards if I could. I would spend every day of the holidays playing by the river and camping. I remember discovering nature there, it was incredible.’

Karl is still in touch with his wild side and his love of nature is clearly evident in his work. Birds are an obvious passion and bees, hares, puffins and owls are amongst his favourite subjects.

If like me you think of watercolour paintings as being, well, watery, think again. Karl’s paintings are rich, vibrant and saturated with colour; it’s hard to believe they are painted with such a gentle medium. Karl is a rule breaker and loves to experiment, the results are stunning. And it’s not just the colourful splendour of these paintings that is unusual; it’s what they are painted on that really captures the imagination. Watercolour artists tend to paint on watercolour paper, not Karl, he paints on ephemera.

I’ve known Karl a long time and have often heard him talk about painting on ephemera. In an attempt to appear more knowledgeable than I am, I’ve never before confessed that I don’t really know what ephemera is.

‘It’s a word to describe items that are supposed to be short-lived like letters, postcards, ledgers and receipts,’ explains Karl who has amassed quite a collection of old correspondence including a ‘Dear Darling’ letter.

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‘I love the transience of them. I feel that painting on these items adds another dimension to my work. If it’s a letter I’m aware it carries someone’s emotions, there’s meaning in it, someone was communicating. There’s history there and I love it. The transparency of watercolour ensures the writing beneath is not lost, it is enhanced.’

The ephemera on which Karl paints is vintage and the storybooks he favours are all pre-1960’s. The reason why is fascinating. As Karl explains, all the while producing more and more examples for me to see, his passion for his subject is undeniable.

‘It’s all about the cotton content and how much acid is in the paper. Too much acid means the paper discolours whereas high cotton content makes it perfect for painting on.’

One of Karl’s favourite pieces of work is a painting of a shell on the title page of a Robinson Crusoe book. It’s beautiful. ‘This 1915 edition has great cotton quality,’ he tells me, smiling contentedly.

Karl lives in Sale with his wife Julie. They have two daughters Rebecca 29 and Leah 26. He paints almost every day. If he doesn’t get chance he admits to feeling twitchy. He has a full-time job, so painting mostly happens in the evenings in his delightful studio, conveniently situated in the back garden of his family home in Sale. It’s the envy of his artisan friends. Clad in cedar and fronted with folding glass doors it is large enough to house his easel, desk, press and extensive portfolio of work. This charming work-place is light and airy by day and when darkness falls becomes cosy and snug thanks to the pot-bellied wood burner that sits in the corner chugging out warmth and atmosphere.

‘I get real peace, real satisfaction and fulfilment painting in here, even when it goes wrong.’

Going wrong seldom applies to the painting because Karl’s mantra is this: “The rules are, there are no rules.” I just see what happens.’ The going wrong somethimes happens when he’s framing a piece of work. Karl explains: ‘I ripped a painting in the book press and realised I was okay with it, because it’s all about the journey.’

Journeying is something Karl is getting accustomed to as a selection of his paintings are currently touring in a ‘Courage’ exhibition in America. ‘I originally sent three pieces and was asked to send six more, as they’re already selling.’ He is clearly and justifiably delighted.

Sporting a fashionable beard and a moustache that shows just a hint of hipster grooming, Karl is never happier than when he is in his studio painting.

To own a Karl Fletcher watercolour is to own something unique; no two are the same and he doesn’t do prints. I currently have three pieces by this extraordinary artist and I have every intention of buying more.

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