How I got into watercolours

What got me into watercolours?
Well, I guess beer had a lot to do with it. When I was 22, I first went to sea as a marine engineer. My first voyage was based on the ethics of ‘work hard/ play hard’ – that is, if you worked hard and sweated in the engine room during the day, often in 42-degree heat, then at the end of the day you could look forward to replenishing the liquids lost in sweat in the officers bar.

Towards the end of the first round-trip to Japan, while mulling over a beer, I watched a Pacific sunset and wondered if it was really such a good idea to be doing this. As I watched the sun go down, I had one of those enlightening moments – why not capture such beauty in watercolours. It should be a handy hobby to have for cabin life - no turps or fumes and easy enough to throw into my sea bag, and have something fruitful at the end of the voyage.

So at the very next port of call, Auckland, I got some shore leave and dashed into the city. My first stop was Whitcoulls, where I filled my rucksack with a full students’ watercolour kit. I then trundled off to a backstreet second hand bookshop where I sifted through the book racks and rummaged through a stack of books, shaking of the dust as I went through them. I finally found the art section and literally filled my arms with whatever books I could find on watercolours. Once the ship left port for deep sea with a full cargo for Japan and we were in deep sea routine, I couldn’t wait to come up out of the engine room each day so that I could experiment more with my new found hobby.

I soon learned that painting with watercolours is a spiritual partnership between you and the medium that you are using, where you share the paper with that medium and give it enough space to do what it wants, and you adjust the rest.

I also blue-tacked each painting I completed onto my cabin wall. This enabled my subconscious to continually scrutinize them without even thinking about it. At the end of each voyage my cabin walls were completely plastered with watercolour paintings.

These early attempts are all in a box in the attic now, and I take pride in bringing them out occasionally to show beginners who tell me they are no good or they can’t. When they see my first attempts, they soon change their minds and are uplifted and encouraged from there on.

I first discovered Watercolour New Zealand (then the Wellington Wastercolour Society) in the early nineties when I saw an ad for one of their exhibitions held at the Wellington Library. I was quite impressed with the standard of the exhibition and it seemed like a fun group to belong to, which it still very much is, so I joined on the spot.

I decided to enter one of my paintings in the next exhibition and Roger Daniels, who was president of the society at the time, invited me to join the committee. I had never been on a committee before and thought – hmm, this sounds flash – so agreed, and been there since.

Since my early days of watercolour painting, the tables have tipped completely where as I now earn my living from watercolours and go to sea for a hobby – yep, I don’t think I’ll ever hang up my sea boots, you see I have a problem with salt in my blood and need to be near the sea. But I have found a good cure for this problem – a studio/gallery by the sea. Thus I am thus now happily focused on my next big project, converting an old foreshore dairy into a studio/gallery by the sea. To top this off it will also have an ice cream parlour. When this challenging project is finished I will be able to watch from my studio above the gallery as ships sail out of the harbour entrance and yearn to be on them as they sail off to some exotic port.

~ Alfred Memelink for Watercolour New Zealand

See original article on page 2 of Watercolour NZ Newsletter


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