Paint what you love, the way you love to express it–says Heidi Willis, watercolorist from Australia

I believe humans have a natural tendency to enjoy colors–whatever the science has to say about white light and cones in our retinas, etc., the beauty of colors can’t be limited to a scientific phenomenon. There is something in our soul or being that binds us to these colors. If you can play with them, if you can use them to give a shape to your imagination or the world around you, there’s hardly anything more beautiful than that.

Heidi Willis, a natural history watercolor artist from Australia, does the same thing capturing the beautiful world around her. Her work shows a keen yet delicate eye that takes care of the details. She takes inspiration from plants, birds, animals and anything that makes this world a unique place.

She shares her journey of being an artist, and how the internet has helped her connect with more people across the globe, opening new connections yet making her work vulnerable at the same time.

I present an email interview done with Heidi…

Q1. What drove you to the art of drawing?

I don’t recall the exact moment the urge to start drawing began in my life, but like most, if not all small children, we begin drawing instinctively from our very early years and this was certainly the case for me. Scribbling my first decipherable drawing of a somewhat scrappy cat on a small piece of drawing paper as a toddler was my earliest work, and I’ve never stopped scribbling since. Although the urge to draw was always with me, certainly the intention to forge it into a life path, a career, or something that defines me like it does today was never a conscious one.

Stemming from that same instinctive, organic place, my work has continued to develop into a naturally matured version and expression of these origins, into what it is today.

Q2. How you decided to focus on botanical and natural history as your chosen subjects?

The decision to focus on botanical and natural history painting as my subject was also an organic evolution. Born from of my love of the natural world, my fascination for the complex relationships and intricacies of colour, texture and form in nature, and the sheer beauty in my subjects, there was never a question about what id paint or a thought to be a natural history artist specifically, its just what I naturally am. Many years into my career I learned about Natural History Art, and I understood immediately, that’s what I am.

Q3. On an average, how much time do you spend on one drawing? Does it differ if it is a commissioned piece or your own?

I spend days to weeks and often even months producing a single artwork. From start to end, it is a process that requires absolute focus and perseverance of mind and body to complete each painting, working from the early morning to late in the night every day.

The initial stages of a painting can vary between commissions and my own work quite a lot in the early stages of developing an idea for a painting. Obviously working with a client on ideas injects a considerably new ingredient into what is an otherwise solitary and very inward process, and that needs some adjusting from an artist. More and more I find that my own ideas and my clients tend to align quite beautifully, and that as my capabilities expand, so does the confidence my clients extend to me in the process.

Ultimately it is up to me as a professional to manage this effectively, to accommodate what’s needed, and to engage in the process in a way that aligns with my own expression. Once you reach the physical painting stage, the piece has very much become much my own and all else falls away, allowing me to return to my own creative space. This is essential.


Q4. What type of art supply you like to use and why?

I am a watercolourist, so my paints are artist quality pigments on watercolour paper. One aspect of watercolour painting I remain extremely drawn to is the simplicity of the practice. With a handful of good quality pigments, a sheet of good paper and a handful of brushes, magic can be created so simply. It’s a beautiful, practical and economical medium full with endless romantic micro journeys of magic that you find yourself get so lost in. I simply never tire of it.

Q5. How internet has opened the market for small-scale artists in terms of sales? Do you use social media and other channels extensively?

Although I’ve had a fairly sound reputation as an artist both nationally and internationally since before the days of the internet, digital media and computers, the modern world of social media has changed the entire landscape of my career dramatically since its early days. From my day to day work practices, through to the exposure and marketing of my work, to the way I interact with clients in the current day, it is a whole new world. The internet and social media is certainly many kinds of richness for both myself and for my followers.

The downsides are dealing with aspects such the plagiarism and inappropriate use of your work, opening your life and work to the expected trolling and negativity that can and does come with the territory, dealing with the realty of your ever merging worlds of your personal and professional lives as your profile increases, and the extraordinary amount of time that now goes into managing and maintaining your social media accounts.

I am all for people creating and sharing and its so wonderful that we can and do through social media. Its ease of use and accessibility to all is a wonderful thing, but it does tend to create a sometimes overly flooded market of aspiring artists. As always, unless you are able to stand out in the crowd you can sometimes get lost amongst so many others. With this in mind, I think in real terms social media can still be difficult to inspire sales in a meaningful manner, but there is so little to lose in trying, right?

On the upside it opens so many doors in so many ways to so many people. It brings great opportunity directly to your space, it offers huge amounts of feedback on your work and direction (positive and negative), it streamlines all that we do and allows us to share our work with an extraordinary amount of people that would have been otherwise unaware. I personally love being able to inspire so many others near and far by sharing my work and journey, so I use social media fairly extensively to reach out, share and grow as much as possible. What I find is when you grow personally and professionally, your social media will naturally grow with you and so will your sales… It all starts with the integrity, consistency and quality of your work.

Q6. What are the methods of refining one’s art apart from learning it from a teacher or in the class?

The best approach to self-learning is to be open to learning! An open, constructive mind without self-devaluing or ego is one keen to expand and able to embrace new perspectives, knowledge, approaches and possibilities. It is also one most likely to identify areas of potential improvement, and be able to problem solve towards a successful, progressive outcome. It is also important to create and pursue your own vision, and not mimic or replicate that of another. I am a very big fan of self-learning and believe that when its well harnessed, it brings wonderful results.

Q7. What else you like to do when you are not drawing?

Most things I do are relevant to my work in some way. If im not drawing or painting I am typically hunting for and photographing reference or exploring other related aspects of my work. My favourite thing outside of painting is to travel (and I can be quite intrepid), but this too, often relates to my work too. Painting like I do is not a past time it is a lifestyle so my work comes into just about everything I do. If this wasn’t the case, I couldn’t create work like I do or keep up with what it demands of me. Finding that middle ground or balance can be difficult, but it’s a much easier compromise when you love what you do.

Q8. Any advice for beginners?

The best advice I can give to beginners is to paint what you love, the way you love to express it. Focus more on developing your style through trial, error and exploration of your own ideas, by expressing your own personal nature and by finding ways to overcome the challenges that arise, more than trying to copy others. This is where you find your truest voice and you have the greatest opportunity for success. Most of all, enjoy yourself! You don’t have to be wonderful to enjoy the process and practice, and when we come from that place we in turn, produce our best work.

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