Of cockerels, paint and parchment – An interview with Jean Haines

It was early September when I met Jean Haines for lunch at her favourite local, The Exchequer, in Crookham village. The leaves were starting to turn and although the sun was warm there was a chill beginning to creep into the air. Jean told me that she had thrown open all the doors and windows in her canal side cottage, but feared she may have been slightly over enthusiastic.

We sit inside.

With so much happening in Jean’s life at the moment, it is difficult to know where to begin. Whilst perusing the mouth watering menu we talk about her new book, her solo exhibition in September at The Wey Gallery in Godalming, her forthcoming tour and Bailey, her Bearded Collie.  In fact, after the waiter has to be asked to return for our order several times, we stop and concentrate for a moment on lunch. Jean orders her favourite item on the menu, twice baked Roquefort Cheese Soufflé with an accompaniment of freshly baked bread with oil and balsamic dip, I have the Rare Roast Beef and Horseradish sandwich which arrives with an accompaniment of delicious chunky chips.

Jean explains that she spent many years as a “corporate wife”, travelling the globe with John, her husband of 40 years, and listening to him deliver speeches.  Whilst abroad Jean sought out the best artists in their genre and asked, sometimes begged them to teach her their methods and techniques. In the 1990s she studied Chinese Brushwork in Hong Kong

Then in 1997, following a move to Dubai, she studied at the Dubai International Arts Centre where she was soon asked to teach and, after discovering her students were framing her examples in a local gallery, was asked to exhibit and from there her work has gone from strength to strength.  Jean was elected an Associate Member of the Society of Women Artists in 2009, and was presented with the Anthony J Lester Art Critic Award for “Morning Calls”, a vibrant painting of a cockerel in the SWA Annual Exhibition 2009.  In 2010 Jean was elected a full member of the SWA with an “outstanding body of work”.

Jean laughs as she tells me how the tablesJean Haines  have turned and that it is now her husband who travels the world with her and carries her bags, and listens to her speak and give watercolour demonstrations to venues packed with eager fans.

We talk about influences and techniques.  When Jean moved to France after Dubai, she was given a book on Madame Blanche Odin (1865-1957), a French impressionist and little known watercolourist who specialised in painting roses. Her paintings have had a profound influence in the way Jean works and she tells me how sad it is that Odin is not remembered in the way that Monet is.  A downfall of being female in the early 20th Century art world.

Jean has also chosen elements from every technique she has ever been taught and uses them in different combinations to create her images, filling her paintings with life, energy and light.  Whilst  in Hong Kong Jean was taught to study the parchment before even thinking of putting paint onto it, and not to cover the entire surface with paint, but to leave areas so that there is light and space, something which is not regularly practiced in western art.

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Lucky Green Rooster By kind permission of the artist and The Wey Gallery

When painting in Dubai the heat would cause the pigment to dry almost immediately so Jean would use more water than usual letting the colours bleed and move, a technique she uses today which brings a wonderful brightness and fluidity to her paintings; some might worry about the paint just running amuck across the surface but Jean points out the paint will only go as far as the water, and you are in control of where the water goes!

This morning Jean has been working on the final chapters of her new book “Jean Haines World of Watercolours” due for release in June 2015, I ask her whether she worries that people will just use her books to create works and pass them off as their own creations,  “It isn’t a case of worrying about people copying. When you write books as an artist you expect readers to copy your ideas to learn from them. Otherwise there would be no point in sharing. If I inspire others to paint I am over the moon because I enjoy working in watercolour so much. However I do encourage artists to find their own style and instil an aim to be unique by my teaching methods” Atmospheric Watercolours, Jeans current book and international bestseller, does just that.

At her Watercolour Workshops there are many “wow” moments when people who thought they couldn’t paint, will create an amazing piece of work from a few simple instructions, “there is nothing better than being responsible for these moments in other people’s lives”, Jean enthuses, “to feel the energy in the room during a workshop is like nothing else and to think that I might’ve helped change someone’s life in just a small way is the most rewarding feeling one can have”.  In fact, Jean’s workshops are so popular they are booked up months in advance with people travelling from around the globe to attend at her local village hall.

Jean’s work is so popular overseas that her watercolour workshops tour in Hong Kong, USA and Mexico in 2013 was a total sell out and her Workshop Tour of Australia in late October 2014 is, unsurprisingly, already fully booked and her book signing and workshop tour of the US in October 2015 is selling out rapidly.

After lunch we retire to Jean’s sumptuous cottage on the banks of the Basingstoke Canal, where I am introduced to some of the wildlife, Jean’s adorable animal companions and beautiful garden.  Jean shows me her studio and I am treated to a view of Jean Haines World of Watercolours in its raw form.  For me this is quite the most exhilarating moment of the day – a portfolio which is crammed with paintings in different stages of completion and the most important piece, the cover, but I am sworn to secrecy and cannot divulge anything. Suffice it to say it is, as you would expect, stunning. It has become a tradition that Jean donates the original cover painting to be auctioned for the Lady Taverners Charity, whose aim is to give as many young people as possible a ‘sporting chance’ in life.  Indeed the cover for Atmospheric Watercolours “Morning Light” raised a substantial amount.

Although cockerels will always be high on Jean’s list of subject matter, it would be almost impossible for her to choose an absolute favourite. People always ask her to paint a rose at her workshops, and at exhibitions if there are no paintings of sheep it can cause quite a stir! And she is still referred to as the Cockerel Lady.

Jean Haines 012However Jean is not constricted by people’s expectation of her work, she is surrounded by inspiration every day – just outside her studio there are borders bursting with colour, vibrant red Dahlias, clean white Cosmos, happy Rudbeckia which Jean says “always seems to add instant sunshine” –  and then there are the animals, Jean’s beloved Bearded Collie Bailey, who patiently watches Jean paint; Buster and Biscuit, an adorable pair of ginger toms who like nothing better than a cuddle and a healthy diet of mice; the swans, ducks, kingfisher, heron and moorhens who have made the stretch of canal which marks the boundary of Jean’s idyllic garden their home, and the hedgerows and fields teaming with wild flowers, berries and life.

For me the most refreshing thing about Jean is that she is still amazed when people travel from all over to attend her workshops, seminars and painting demonstrations, she says that the reactions she gets when putting paint on paper can be almost overwhelming in strength, as if the energy from the people watching is rushing into her body giving her a natural high like no other.  She truly believes that painting can heal the soul and it has been asked of her as to why her books aren’t on the self help shelf, as they provide such inspiring observations on life. It is no wonder that Jean Haines is rocking the art world with her colour, passion and joie de vivre!

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Jean at The Wey Gallery, Godalming during her recent solo exhibition “Colour Fusion”

You can view a selection of Jean’s work at The Wey Gallery, Godalming Surrey

Jean is an avid tweeter and blogger, follow @JeanHaines or look up watercolourswithlife.blogspot.co.uk alternatively on Facebook Jean Haines Watercolours. 

Atmospheric Watercolours is available to purchase from any good book shop or on Amazon.

The Exchequer, Crondall Road, Crookham Village, GU51 5SU 01256 615336 exchequercrookham.co.uk

This article was first published in Surrey Occasions Winter Issue 2014

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