Island Arts: The Brilliantly Vibrant Watercolors of Ellen Negley
Whenever we Island Runaways spot artwork that really and truly celebrates island life and tropical nature, we can't wait to share it with you. Today we're thrilled to feature the watercolors and prints of Ellen Negley, a Florida-based artist. She kindly agreed to be interviewed about her paintings by email. In the process we discovered that Ellen has an "Island Runaway" story of her own!
(Detail of "Dockside Dreaming II," with the Jupiter, Florida lighthouse. Photo (c) Ellen Negley.)
I see from your Etsy shop that you're also a full-time graphic designer. How long have you been painting with watercolors, and how did you decide to use watercolors, instead of some other medium?
I was influenced greatly by my aunt who was a very fine watercolor artist and spent a lot of time with my family when I was young. She painted every day no matter where we were. Even from a very young age I was fascinated by the way the colors ran together and created something unexpected. She painted with big, bold shapes using a very large brush. Occasionally she would let me dabble in her paint but I didn’t feel like I had much of an artistic future. I didn't pick up a paint brush again until I was 25.
(Ft. Meyers Beach, Florida. Photo (c) Ellen Negley.)
Interesting! So what happened next?
Something drove me to paint. I felt like something was missing in my life until that day that I bought myself a cheapie little watercolor set. After that, the vacant feeling went away and all I was left with was ambition. When I first started painting, I tried to emulate my aunt's abstract work but it didn’t feel right to me. After years and years of painting, I eventually found my own style. It takes lots and lots of painting to discover what your inner voice has to say.
(Downtown Atlantic Avenue, Palm Beach. Photo (c) Ellen Negley.)
So you were never tempted by oils or acrylics?
I’ve never tried oils or acrylics. I like the notion of applying thick paint on canvas but watercolor holds me captive. It’s so elusive. I learn something every time I paint and because of that, I can never walk away from it. When I show my work at art festivals so many people stop and tell me that they tried watercolor once and it was so difficult. It’s so unforgiving. All I made was mud. I know the feeling…it’s certainly all of that and so much more!
You have several wonderful works depicting Florida, including a favorite island of ours, Key West. How have Florida's shores, marinas, and sunshine inspired your art?
(Key West, Florida. Photo (c) Ellen Negley.)
Florida and island life are near and dear to me. Although I grew up in the Midwest, my family often traveled to Florida for vacations. We also spent expended periods in the Caribbean. My father has always been a sailor. And a dreamer. And my mother is a good sport. When I was ten, my parents took my three older brothers and me out of school and we spent the next six months sailing a 32” ketch from Naples down to Martinique.
That must have been quite a trip!
(Sponge docks at Tarpon Springs. Photo (c) Ellen Negley.)
It was the adventure of a lifetime and I’m sure it has greatly influenced the subjects I choose to paint. The colors in the Caribbean islands are so captivating and the light is unique. It’s white hot and it’s that bright light I strive for in my watercolors. You can’t help fall in love with the island sense of color. Who says you can’t have a purple and yellow house? I feel the same way about my paintings. Think red and pink don’t go together? They do in my world! I’m sure island art influenced me as well. I had the opportunity to see such wonderful Haitian art and tropical batiks.
(Ellen with one of her original watercolors. Photo (c) Ellen Negley.)
I also notice that you're branching out to paint places you travel, including Europe and Mexico. Traveling seems important to your work. Is there any island you particularly want to visit?
I’m almost as passionate about traveling as I am about watercolor. They actually go hand and hand for me. Discovering new places and learning about different cultures is a constant stream of new subject matter for my paintings. I have a long list of places I’d like to visit. One of those places is Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean. I’m so fascinated by the moai and intrigued by the mystery of how they were created.
Our thanks go out to Ellen for being so generous with her time and answering our questions. Her exuberant, striking paintings remind us of the beautiful vistas and happy times spent by the sea. If you'd like to see more of Ellen's work, please visit her Etsy shop where you'll find prints of her watercolors for sale.