Friday, April 5, 2013

Friday Feature: Helen Shideler

"Drama Queen" original watercolor by Helen Shideler

It's Friday Feature day.  Today I have the fabulous Helen Shideler.  Helen's paintings are full of life with a sense of whimsy.  She uses vivid watercolor colors focusing on details and the precise handling of the paint.  A majority of her work is produced in a series, she says that she paints what interests her therefore one painting usually lends itself to the next.

To see more of her work visit her blog, website and facebook page.

How did you get your start?  What’s your artist journey so far?
I have always drawn and been interested in painting.  When I was 17 I won a scholarship for a summer wildlife workshop with Gary Lowe.  I was in heaven.  The workshop was in St. Andrews, New Brunswick right on the sea and offered so many things to paint.  We actually learned a bit about taxidermy, having to stuff the bird we were painting in order to preserve them.  But most importantly, I was introduced to watercolor paint.  Not the cake-y stuff we used in school but real W&N watercolor paint.  I was in heaven!

To me, being an artist is more than painting.  It is looking at everything with fresh eyes.  Looking for those exciting and fleeting moments of great light, the perfect shadow and the beauty of clouds and trees.  Admiring the soft textures of flowers,  wet leaves and rocks, being fascinated by bees, etc.  My journey has and continues to be about respecting nature, being surrounded by it as much as possible and reveling in it.
"Raindrops on Sedum" original watercolor by Helen Shideler
Where were you born?
In beautiful Sydney, on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada.

If you could live anywhere where would you live?
Someplace warmer with a vibrant art community with low crime rates.

What’s your favorite thing to paint and why?
I am attracted to many elements in nature. I am drawn in by light, texture and detail and oh, rich color.  My husband and I are active gardeners.  Frankly, I think I garden to ensure I have a wide variety of subjects to paint in my studio when the season changes and chases us indoors.  I paint intimate florals, up close and personal,  gnarly branches and birds.  My current favorite subject are ducks. They make me happy with their round cheeks and perpetual smiles. 
"Ruby Red Tulips" original watercolor by Helen Shideler
Could you talk about your painting techniques?  
I really have two painting approaches, both filled with enthusiasm and energy.  My more traditional paintings are drawn out in relatively loose detail making sure proportions and perspectives are correct.  I paint in a controlled manner in that I wet only the areas I am applying the paint. I then float in the color allowing it to mingle and mix on the paper.  Often times I will remove or blot out almost as much paint as I apply.  Once the area is dry or a bit damp, I will go back in and sharpen up the details, float another wash - or whatever it takes to get the desired effect.  

I always create a little paint journal for each painting  by applying some of each color to a piece of watercolor paper and labeling them.  I do this because I often have more than one painting on the go at a time and well, you can forget which is which.   

Often, when I am painting a highly detailed piece or a portrait, I will give my mind a break and do a poured painting at the same time.  This helps me to paint my traditional work with a bit of looseness.  I start to get really tight or detailed with my work if I do not do something which includes a freer painting in the mix.  

I start the poured paintings with the same approach as I described previously.  The drawing is particularly important with this technique because the colors are less controlled and float into areas where that color may not exist.  I apply a mask, a layer of paint, more mask -  getting the colors more intense end deeper with each wash.  This process will often have 7 to 8 applications of mask and poured paint.  Once I am satisfied with the depth of the color, I remove the mask.  This can be a real workout.  It is hard work removing that stuff.  I forgot to mention, these are almost always full sheet paintings.  From there I go back in and bring up the detail, soften the edges where the mask was applied if necessary and apply color in places that may need it.

The majority of my work is produced in a series.  I am quite intentional with this as I try to perfect my handling of the subject.  And one painting leads to another then another.

Then I squint at it for a few days to decide if it is really finished or requires any color balancing.  

Do you have go-to paints/colors, what are your favorites?
I love both Windsor & Newton and most Daniel Smith colors.  Favorites are all the quinacridone colors then sap, green gold, opera rose,  neutral tint, almost every shade of red, cobalt blue.  I have a love /hate relationship with cerulean!  Love indigo, violet, lemon yellow and burnt orange.

Do you have a favorite artist?  Who has been your biggest inspiration?
When I think of artists who dedicate and invest much of their time and effort into their work I admire them.  It takes a lot of stamina to stay with this.  I am inspired by dedication and hard work!

I love The Impressionists, Emily Carr, the Canadian Group of Seven especially Tom Thompson.  I really admire all of the Art Colony Group!   There are so many wonderful artists out there.  

"Summer Finery Clematis" original watercolor by Helen Shideler
What have been some of your crowning achievements?
Having been accepted as a signature member of the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolor (CSPWC) last May made me feel hugely proud!  To be accepted into this group is a big deal for me - eeee, still so excited.  I have to admit winning Best in Show for a watercolor painting of raindrops on a sedum plant was incredible special as well.  I have hung nine solo exhibitions over the years,  I feel pretty accomplished when I see a large body of my work hanging in one venue and seeing people’s positive reaction.  Both humbling and exciting.

What are five things you would like to happen in your life in the next five years? Dream big here:)
Oh my... permission to dream. Ok, here goes...
1. Attending the Susan Kathleen Black Foundation Plein Air event in Wyoming in September is really exciting - and is going to happen! 

  1. Be included in an International watercolor show in Europe or Japan - or both
  1. Solo show a gallery in Toronto or New York - dare I dream it?
  1. To tour leisurely around Italy, Portugal, Greece and having the luxury to paint en plein air as I travel
  1. Publish a book featuring my watercolor and acrylic paintings

Dreaming is actually getting easier!
"Maritime Blues" original watercolor by Helen Shideler
What is your advice for other artists who are just getting started in their career?
Work hard, stay with it and develop your own style.  Don’t copy the work of other artists they have already solved any problems there may be - you have to do it for yourself to develop.  And have some fun with it as well!

What is the best advice that you have received as an artist?
Stop painting before you make it muddy!  Stop painting before you put in so much detail it will get flat!  Learn when to stop!

Chocolate or vanilla?
Absolutely chocolate - dark, milk or white

Your dream vacation spot?
Peru, Greece, Italy any place with history, art and great beaches

Book or movie?
These days would have to say movie. Reading takes too much time from the studio.

Favorite author?
Not sure anymore, I often read books about positive thinking - like Dr. Wayne Dyer,  any natural history type books as well and books about artists.  I love good fiction that is not about wars or have too much violence

Favorite movie?
Thomas Crown Affair - just because 

Romance or comedy?

Favorite dessert?
Apple crisp, lemon pie or cheesecake, fresh fruit salad, berries

Night owl or morning person?
Definitely morning

Thank you so much Helen!  Have a great weekend everyone:)


  1. Wonderful paintings by a great artist! Thanks, Carrie, for introducing her to us!

  2. Oh my response did not make it through so will do this again! was so fun learning a little more about you and that will help for our big trip to Wyoming! ha!! I love seeing all your work and you two styles of working are so wonderful...I enjoy them both equally! Terrific artist and wonderful interview Carrie!!!

  3. awesome! Helen i love your work, and so excited to get to meet you in September!! we are going to have a wonderful time. was good to read about how you work...