Q&A with Janet Kenyon


Janet Kenyon won the Smith & Williamson Cityscape Prize through the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition in both 2009 and 2016.  She is a cityscape artist who is interested in capturing those hidden moments of tranquility or ‘pockets of space‘ ( that exist within the hustle and bustle of a modern-day city.  She is also fascinated by the interplay between natural and artificial light as well as the way in which both of these interact with the urban landscape and influence the urban drama.  As a highly successful artist who has many more cities on her Bucket List, Janet has a lot of exciting things waiting patiently in the pipeline.

Tell us a little about Gridlock (Manhattan), the painting selected for the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016 Exhibition and winner of the Smith & Williamson Cityscape Prize.

'Gridlock (Manhattan)', Janet Kenyon, Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016 Prizewinner
‘Gridlock (Manhattan)’, Janet Kenyon, Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2016 Prizewinner

I was inspired to paint Gridlock (Manhattan), after a trip I made in March 2016 to New York. Whilst viewing the City from The One World trade Centre, I was taken by the shear expanse of buildings all concentrated into a relatively small area. The way the light and shade played on the structures, all fighting for space, organised, yet chaotic.

One of the things that defines your work is your ability to capture both natural and artificial light. Can you describe how you do this and whether your technique differs depending upon the type of light that you are trying to capture?

In my paintings I love to explore the different qualities of light, and through much experimenting over the years, I’m still developing my technique. The method I use to capture light, in my paintings, is the same whether it’s natural or artificial and is made up of many watercolour layers. To achieve this I use clear wax to mask off certain areas and lots of water and repeat this many times over. The highlights in my daytime scenes and the artificial lights in my night time scenes are the first areas to be masked off, then the process of applying and removing the watercolour starts.

Much of your work takes a cityscape as it subject. What is it about the city that captures your imagination?

I enjoy painting both landscape and cityscapes as subjects  but I particularly love the challenge I get from painting cityscapes, the shapes, structures and the space between with each city presenting it’s own unique qualities of scale and layout.

‘Looking towards Edinburgh Castle from Salisbury Crags’, Janet Kenyon

Is there a city that you have not yet painted but that is at the top of your Bucket List? What is it that attracts you to it?

There’s still so many cities I’d like to paint one of them being the city of Reykjavik, Iceland which I’m visiting at the end of February, for a few days: hopefully the light will be good as I’m looking to gather as much information as I can for future paintings.

You say that watercolour is not the easiest of mediums. What are the difficulties that it presents?

I enjoy painting in watercolour because it can be both transparent and opaque and, being fluid, be unpredictable meaning mistakes can be made but often these can turn into interesting effects that can sometimes be used in the next painting.

'Evening Light, Oxford Street, Manchester', Janet Kenyon
‘Evening Light, Oxford Street, Manchester’, Janet Kenyon

Over the course of your career you have received an impressive number of accolades including the Smith & Williamson Cityscape Prize through the Sunday Times Watercolour Exhibition (2009 and 2016) and the St Cuthbert’s Mill Award through the Royal Watercolour Society Open Competition (2010). How have these impacted your career?

It’s always great to win a competition and I feel lucky to have had a number of successes over the years. Winning The Sunday Times/Smith & Williamson Cityscape Prize in 2009 and 2016 has been particularly good, taking my work to a much wider audience.

Define watercolour, or describe what it means to you, in one word.

If I could describe watercolour in one word it would be: exciting.

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