Welcome to an exclusive interview featuring renowned watercolourist, Sue Hibbert, conducted by Kamila Waleszkiewicz. Gain insights into Sue Hibbert's artistic journey, from cherished childhood memories that shaped her unique perspective to invaluable advice for emerging artists. Join us as we delve into Sue Hibbert's path to artistic fulfillment and glean inspiration for our own creative pursuits.
Most of us here at Inglewood Art Hub come from different cultural backgrounds. What's your story? Where did you grow up, and what were the happiest moments of your childhood?
My childhood was spent in the early 60s and 70s in the suburbs of Perth, WA. My fondest memories were always associated with the outdoors, exploring the Darling Ranges with my father and family picnics at John Forest National Park. I loved the colours, textures and harsh contrasts of our unique natural environment and the wildlife that inhabited these areas.
Let's talk about your art journey. When did your artistic journey begin, and what are your earliest memories of discovering your creative passion?
My artistic journey started at an early age with lessons from my artist father Lawrence Hibbert. My father encouraged me to be in the moment, with a sharpened curiosity and observation of the world around us. As a child, I discovered that the small things that often go unnoticed are significant and unique. I learnt to gaze at the sky, clouds and stars with wonder, to notice the changing colours and nature’s energy. We would collect water from the swamp and observe the mystical world of microscopic marine life. I recall wanting to be a cartoonist and much time was spent drawing, painting and on creative endeavours.
Image: "Dante's Shed", by Sue Hibbert. The first painting of a series based on shed and work spaces, interiors. I was interested in these quiet dusty spaces where objects gather over time.
Could you tell us, how your artistic career developed? Who or what was the most significant influence on your career, and how did your career and mindset evolve over time?
My career followed a creative pathway. After finishing school, I studied Fashion Design and later completed a BA in Graphic Design from Curtin University. I attended many life drawing and painting classes during my years at university, however it wasn’t until my thirties that I started painting in watercolours exclusively. I painted when time permitted whilst bringing up a family and became a member of the Watercolour Society of WA.
During this time, many prominent watercolour artists were coming out of Melbourne, Australia – Amanda Hyatt, Joseph Zbukvic and Alvaro Castagnet, to name a few, and I attended their workshops. I was inspired by their light-filled impressionistic paintings, although traditional in the subject, their application and layering of transparent washes and paint was exciting. This approach influenced my development as an artist.
Over time, my paintings have evolved as I’ve approached the challenges of new subjects; starting with the Australian landscape, and later, after travels abroad, European buildings and laneways. My current works explore the Urban theme: interiors, workspaces and our café culture.
Image: “Urban Walkway”, by Sue Hibbert
Image: “Café Shadows”, by Sue Hibbert. Silhouetted shapes and the rhythm of mark making casts abstract shapes.
We're curious about your artistic techniques and processes. How do you approach your ideas, and where do you find inspiration?
I derive my ideas and inspiration from travels or everyday places. They can emerge unexpectedly, such as catching a fleeting moment of light flooding into a room. Recent works explore the multi-dimensional nature of the spaces we live in, where light determines our perceptions of the shapes that undulate around us each and every day. Café and interior paintings focus on silhouetted shapes, strong contrasting tones, harmony and balance. I enjoy the abstract passages in my paintings, where watercolour has flooded into areas unexpectantly and the rhythm of brush marks that suggests rather than explicitly describes an object.
What is most important to you when you are in the creative process?
To allow myself the freedom to discover the painting through the painting process, as I want to be fully engaged with the painting. Watercolour demands your attention, as the painting is quick and you need to capitalise on the wet washes and semi-dry paper for a myriad of effects. I enjoy the painterly qualities of watercolour, the character in a brush mark on rough texture paper to express a mood, and the occasional synchronicity found in my subject.
Watercolour is considered one of the most difficult mediums, as there is limited room for corrections. A certain amount of planning is necessary to reserve white paper for the lightest values. Consecutive layers are built with transparent washes working up to the darkest tones. Every new painting starts with a thumbnail tonal sketch to simplify composition, include the essential elements, colour studies and, importantly, to evoke a mood. This process then allows a certain amount of liberty of expression when painting.
Are there specific places, emotions, or people that spark your artistic excitement?
Plein Air painting! To be outdoors and painting on location is always exciting and challenging. I have taught Plein Air painting/sketching workshops in France and Italy in recent years. Travelling to new places always reinvigorates fresh ideas.
Images: Teaching / Plein Air painting workshop - Tuscany Hills / Emilia Romagna - Italy 2019
What brings you happiness, and what challenges or frustrates you in your artistic life?
The freedom to express myself through art and sharing this with other like-minded people brings joy. Frustrations arise mostly from the necessary non-creative jobs required by artists, where time is taken away from the business of creating. It’s a constant interruption to the creative process and train of thought. I would like more time to paint.
Thinking back to when you were a young artist, what ideas bothered you at the time?
My father encouraged an interest in art history. From books in the library, I discovered paintings such as Johannes Vermeer’s The Lacemaker, Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, and George Seurat’s pointillist painting, An afternoon at La Grande Jatte – to name a few. I recall searching and finding very few female artists in the art history books and pondering this. The need to express myself through art and creativity has always been present.
With the knowledge and experience you have now, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Believe in yourself and trust – it’s okay not to know what you’re doing, and through the process of persistence and repetition your mark and methods will follow.
Image: “Mosman Bay at Dawn”, by Sue Hibbert
What do you find most fulfilling about art teaching?
Teaching allows me to share my knowledge and passion for painting with those who are on a similar journey. It’s rewarding to encourage students to see their potential and self-confidence in their own abilities grow over time. The pursuit and practice of the arts enrich our lives, as it allows self-expression. I think we all have an inherent need or desire to make our mark – it goes back to the early prehistoric cave paintings.
Having been an art and watercolour teacher for many years, I'm sure you have valuable observations. What are some common misconceptions, wrong assumptions, or mistakes that emerging artists tend to make? And what advice would you offer to them?
Learn from and be inspired by established artists in your field. However, mileage, determination and passion are required to find your own message and style of painting. Be prepared to make many mistakes and paint out of your comfort zone – only then do we grow as artists. Painting in watercolours can be challenging, exciting, frustrating and exhilarating all at the same time. However, if you seek to overcontrol the medium, you miss its true beauty.
Lastly, I'd be delighted if you could share some of the artworks or life moments that hold a special place in your heart. What makes them unique and significant to you?
They all do, I feel very fortunate to have a supportive family and to have found my niche.