Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Feature: Helen Beacham

"Camelia Wonder" watercolor by Helen Beacham
Today I have a fabulous Friday Feature for you.  I became aware of Helen's work during Leslie Saeta's 30 in 30 challenge.  Her amazing sketches for lack of a better term caught my eye and I couldn't wait to see what she would do the next day.  After researching Helen a bit I found out that she lives in the same town as my Mom, pretty cool:)  So without further ado I will share Helen Beacham with you and her amazing watercolors:)

To see more of Helen's work:

Where were you born?
Montreal, Canada.  As a child, sketching was my favorite thing to do…like sitting in the back row of science class, sketching the backs of students’ heads while listening to the teacher!  I think, even then, I was multi-tasking!
"At the End of the Day" watercolor by Helen Beacham
How did you get your start?  What’s your artist journey so far?
When I moved from Canada to Memphis, TN (at the age of 28), I decided I wanted to take a watercolor class.  I studied with Brandon Bethea Brown who instilled in me a lifelong love for the medium.  Since then I’ve moved to the Charleston, SC area where I’ve been showing my work in galleries and teaching workshops of my own (not only in watercolor, but also in acrylics and gouache).

If you could live anywhere, where would you live?
Italy.  (I admit I have this thing for Italian cypress trees, and the golden light over there is like nowhere else!)

“Tucked Behind” (watercolor on Yupo) by Helen K. Beacham

What’s your favorite thing to paint and why?
Trees & landscapes.  Whenever I travel, the first thing I notice are the different species of trees (the second thing are the clouds…you can tell where you are by how the clouds look).  I’ve painted trees realistically, and abstractly.  I never, ever get tired of them.  But other artists love to paint trees too, so there’s always the challenge of how to approach them from a unique perspective.

“Silent Shadows” (watercolor on 300# Arches paper ) by Helen K. Beacham

Could you talk about your painting techniques? 
I’ve moved from realistic depictions to a more intuitive style.  Lately, I’m enjoying painting on Yupo which is a synthetic material first manufactured for the printing industry.   I picked up some Yupo 5 or 6 years ago, and I absolutely hated it.  Then, 2 years ago, I pulled it out once more and fell in love (I evidently was in a different place in my artistic life…).  I now use mostly translucent Yupo, painting on both sides of the sheet.  Whatever I paint on the back glows through to the front and subsequently contributes to the final result.  You get an effect that you couldn’t get by painting only on the front.  You can also lift out very easily on this synthetic product.  The one drawback is that I’m relegated to the studio when I use it.  It doesn’t lend itself very well to plein air because you have to paint with it laying flat.   The water can’t soak INTO the synthetic, so you wait for it to evaporate (although, realistically, it probably doesn’t take much longer to dry than regular w/c paper). 

"Charleston Embrace" one of the 30 in 30 by Helen Beacham
Do you have go-to paints/colors, what are your favorites?
For thirty years, I’ve painted with mostly Winsor & Newton transparent colors.  I love all manner of blues and browns which, when used together, create beautiful granulation which always intrigues me.  About 2 weeks ago, to shake things up, I bought a new John Pike palette and squeezed out a whole batch of different colors that I’ve rarely used in the past.  Believe it or not, several that I introduced are opaque watercolor paints, and not transparent.  This might be a natural progression for me, considering I’ve also been painting in gouache on Masonite a bit more lately.  Some of my favorite w/c paints (new & older) are:
- Holbein Lavender, Blue Grey, Peacock Blue & Mineral Violet
- M. Graham Terra Rosa & Maroon Perylene
- Winsor & Newton Naples Yellow & Payne’s Gray (staples for 30 yrs)
There are really too many to mention here, but these are my latest faves.

Do you have a favorite artist?  Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Top of mind, for many reasons, is Mary Whyte (  She’s here in Charleston, SC where I am, and she’s made a name for watercolor in a city that loves its oil painters.  I love her technical detail combined with her loose handling of those “supporting characters” in her paintings.  But my love of watercolor goes back much further.  As a young woman of 20, I bought my first original painting from a young lady selling her watercolors on a street corner in Montreal.  That painting literally called to me from across the street, and I still own it to this day.  

“Golden Silence” (watercolor on 300# Arches paper) by Helen K. Beacham

What have been some of your crowning achievements?
  1. Receiving a “Creativity Award” from The Artists’ Network for my painting “Jubilation” came at a time when I started experimenting a bit more.  It confirmed for me that I was on the right path.  Since then I’ve received recognition for many other paintings.
  2. I’ve been fortunate to have shown my work in wonderful galleries.  I’m currently represented by Lowcountry Artists Gallery in historic Charleston, SC.
  3. I’m fortunate to have a great student following which allows me to share my knowledge  & love of watercolor on an ongoing basis with them.
  4. My 4 grandbabies!  Their ages are 8 months to 4.5 years, all in the same family!  And they love to paint!

“Jubilation” (watercolor on 300# Arches paper) by Helen K. Beacham

What are three things you would like to happen in your life in the next five years? Dream big here:)
  1. Enter more competitions (& win some!).  I’ve spent most of my life painting for my galleries.  As soon as I finish a painting, it gets framed and hung and hopefully sold.  I never wanted to hold it back for a competition.  That’s going to change.
  2. Gain signature status in national societies.
  3. Teach more workshops overseas.  I have a great one coming up in Venice, Italy (October 12-20, 2013).  My friend, Kelly Medford, will be teaching the oil & acrylic painters, while I teach watercolor, gouache, pen & ink and graphite.  
"Glow" one of the 30 in 30 watercolor by Helen Beacham
What is your advice for other artists who are just getting started in their career?
  1. If you have a full time job, take advantage of even 15 minutes at a time to paint.  Don’t keep putting it off.  It’s amazing what you can accomplish in 15 minutes, which then motivates you to get back to it as soon as you can.
  2. If you’re more than a beginner, enter competitions.  Pushing yourself makes you a better artist.
  3. Ask for feedback…from your artist friends, a trusted teacher, even your family.  They all see things through fresh eyes.  It’s up to you to sift through it and use what you want to.
  4. If you’re a more accomplished artist, mentor a “younger” artist who will surely benefit.

"Luscious Lime" on e of the 30 in 30 watercolor by Helen Beacham

What is the best advice that you have received as an artist?
Make time for plein air painting to round out my studio painting time.  

Chocolate or vanilla?

Your dream vacation spot?
Italy.  I’m not a big beach person although I live only 30 minutes from the ocean.   I thrive on culture and the quiet life that Italy offers.  I could live there, taking evening strolls with my arm through my man’s!

Book or movie?
Book – The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
Movie - The Piano

Favorite author?
Barbara Kingsolver (and literally a slew of others)

Romance or comedy?
Comedy, but good ones are few and far between.

Favorite dessert?
Anything with lemon in it.

Night owl or morning person?

Thank you so much Helen


  1. I love Helen's paintings! All of her work is beautiful, and I really enjoyed learning how she uses the transparent Yupo -- very interesting! Thanks for sharing such great information about such a wonderful artist!

    1. Thank you, Annie! Means a lot coming from you, my dear!

  2. Carrie, it was an honor to have you interview me, and it never amazes me what a small world our art world really is! Let me know when you next visit Charleston! Would love to meet you in person!

  3. Thank you for sharing Helen's work with us, Carrie! I love her paintings..

  4. Helen's work is beautiful, Carrie. Thanks for bringing her work into my little world!

  5. How beautiful! That rose is literally singing!
    What a talent! :0)

    1. Hi, Sandra! Thank you for the wonderful compliment about my work. Although it looks like a rose, it's actually a camellia, which grown abundantly down here in the South. They grow on the "sides" of the branches as shown, instead of on the tips. I'm glad you liked it!