Art is one of my students’ favourite subjects at Garston School. Mine, too, because I love to experiment right alongside them.
However, even the 6-year-old children often produce paintings better than mine. It’s sad, but I’m afraid I don’t have even one artistic bone in my body.
But according to Denver and Kingston artist Michelle Goggans, that’s not necessarily the problem. The desire to succeed is far more important than talent.
What’s more, you have to be willing to work!
If It Was Easy, Everyone Would Be An Artist
“I certainly wasn’t the best artist at school,” she says. “I had friends who were amazing — theirs were the paintings that decorated the walls on parents night. Mine were never chosen.”
“But in the end, art wasn’t really their thing and they drifted away from it.”
Those students could have gone on to produce some stunning paintings as adults, but they just weren’t interested enough to put in the years of work and study that it takes to be a top artist.
“I wanted art with a passion,” Michelle says, “I wasn’t born with heaps of talent: it’s practice. I’ve worked at this my whole life.”
And work she certainly does. I was amazed, when I met up with Michelle at her home in Kingston, just how much work it takes to create her beautiful watercolours.
Preparation is Key
When I think of watercolour paintings, I tend to think small, delicate landscapes and pastel colours. But Michelle’s largest painting to date is Catharsis (above, bottom right) and it measures 32.5 x 25 inches. That’s close to a metre across — and the special commission took a LOT of work to create.
Many of Michelle’s paintings are done on paper. If you ever painted with watercolours as a kid, you’ll immediately understand the first problem. Paper buckles as it dries. To fix that, Michelle will completely saturate a sheet of 140lb watercolour paper and stretch it out on a strong wooden board. She tapes the paper to the board, then staples it all the way around for extra security.
For “Catharsis” Michelle had a large, extra-thick board especially made. Wet paper is strong and shrinks as it dries. Believe it or not, shrinking paper nearly 1m long could easily snap an ordinary plywood board in half. Even then it took several attempts and a few ruined sheets of expensive paper before it was finally secured to the board and painting could begin.
How Do You Model A Fantasy?
Michelle’s inspirations come from myriad sources. Initial glimpses of nature, photographs, people or animals are then coloured and transformed in her mind’s eye. It’s Whimsical Art she says and is a style she’s been developing over the years.
Even the greatest artists of the past used models and views from real life to paint form and perspective, but there are no real-life models for the pictures forming in Michelle’s mind. Fortunately, she has two modern tools that past generations lacked: her trusty iPad and the innovative art app “Procreate”.
It takes hours and hours of research on the internet, but eventually, Michelle finds forms and details in photos which capture the shapes she needs for her painting. Procreate lets her take those shapes and place them together as a mockup for the picture in her mind’s eye. Now she has a model for sketching and outlining onto paper.
The work doesn’t stop there. Michelle showed me pages and pages of experiments in her art book, as she worked out every tiny detail. Skin tones… colours… hands… faces… the way a dress should flow. Finally, the right ideas and skills have married up and the painting can begin. I see fire behind a dragonfly… flames surging from a lions mane… a Yogi at one with a rainbow universe. These are just some of the diverse whimsies that are now beautiful paintings thanks to Michelle.
Working in Other Media
Michelle’s favourite reaction to her paintings is the amazed question, “That’s WATERCOLOUR?”
When I looked through her online portfolio, I had exactly the same response.
But Michelle’s portfolio holds more than watercolour. There’s also Scratchboard.
What’s Scratchboard? Think sgraffito on steroids; beautiful black and white portraits made by scratching black top-coat to reveal pure white underneath.
“Scratchboard needs a different perspective,” Michelle explains. “Normally I think about applying colours to create the picture. With scratchboard, you have to think in reverse.”
I’m captivated by the process and the stunning results.
Connecting With Michelle
Back in Denver, when she wasn’t painting, Michelle worked in interior design and project management, so she has plenty of the skills needed to fit into the current Queenstown work environment when her partnership visa comes through.
But of course, her dream is to paint fulltime. So it’s a blessing in disguise that the visa process takes so long. For this precious time, Michelle has the luxury to concentrate on painting.
Want to see more of Michelle’s beautiful art? You can find her at: