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Dorset lives – From music to art, from dark to light

Jake Winkle is now one of Dorset’s most successful artists, but his first ambition was to be a rock musician. Tony Burton-Page tells his unusual story.

Visitors to Blandford are often impressed by a hand-painted map of the town (also on the town council’s website) that shows almost every building in striking detail. Many people are inspired to make enquiries about the creator of this gem and to search out further work by him – only to discover that the map was a one-off and that his style is totally different nowadays. For Jake Winkle, the artist in question, has travelled a long way since that map – in every sense except the geographical one, for he is a Blandford man: born and bred and still a resident. He now has a nationwide reputation as a watercolourist with a unique style and a highly unusual technique.

Jake’s landscape paintings, like this one of Old Harry rocks, have the same immediacy and freshness as his action images

Jake’s landscape paintings, like this one of Old Harry rocks, have the same immediacy and freshness as his action images

The map was something of an accident and certainly nothing in the nature of a career move. When he created it, Jake was aiming to be a rock musician and, like many such in their early days, he supported himself with a variety of jobs. He was actually contemplating a training course as a primary teacher when Blandford Town Council asked him to draw a map of the town for tourist information purposes. It quickly dawned on him that art was the way forward rather than life as a schoolteacher. He set himself up as a self-employed artist and, remarkably quickly, was busy with commissions, having had the bright idea to advertise himself as a painter of people’s pets.

All this is a far cry from the dreams of the teenager who joined the Bournemouth and Poole Art College in the early 1980s. Jake’s plan then was to complete the one-year foundation course and then move on to Brighton Polytechnic for the three-year, ‘Expressive Arts’ course. The attraction of this particular foundation course was that, although three-quarters of it was centred around visual arts, students could choose an option of music, theatre or dance for the remaining quarter. Since the music option did not require a Grade 8 qualification – or even the ability to read music – it was enormously popular with budding rock musicians such as the young Jake.

‘The Challenge’ shows Jake’s love of energy and movement

‘The Challenge’ shows Jake’s love of energy and movement

‘I didn’t really pick up a paint brush the whole time I was there!’ he confesses. ‘I was a drummer and was much more interested in forming a rock band and writing songs for it. I’d always been interested in art but I didn’t have a particularly strong calling for it. Most people went there because they wanted to study the option part of the course. It was rather like the TV series “Fame”, there were lots of art studios there, but they certainly weren’t very well used.’

Back in Blandford, the necessity of earning a living drew him into jobs in engineering and agriculture. Then came the map and, within days of deciding on his artistic career, Jake put his drumsticks away and rarely went back to his music. ‘I like to think I’m a better painter than I ever was a drummer,’ he says wryly. Certainly the demand for his paintings is so great that he finds it difficult to have a day off because of the workload: hardly a common complaint in the artistic community.

Nowadays Jake works exclusively in watercolours, a genre in which he is completely self-taught. ‘During one of my slack periods in the days after I’d left college, I saw a television programme called “A Brush with Art”, in which Alwyn Crawshaw demonstrated how to do watercolours. It started me thinking that I could do this, but unlike him I started working with very thick pigments – instead of wet dilute washes, which are the traditional foundation of watercolour painting and are a very safe way of painting for beginners, but the paintings can end up being rather dull because, the more layers of paint you apply, the less the paper shines and the less fresh it looks. My style evolved so that I now paint in what’s called a direct approach – from dark to light – whereas most watercolourists do the opposite. I start with very strong dark patterns on the paper, which reveal the whole picture very quickly, and anything that is white or pale goes on at the end. The marks of the actual brushstrokes would disappear with repeated layers of paint and the sense of immediacy would be lost. So my approach is the other way round – I decide on the tone and the colours, and they go on first, which keeps the painting ultra-fresh.’

Jake’s landscape paintings, like this one of Old Harry rocks, have the same immediacy and freshness as his action images

Jake’s landscape paintings, like this one of Old Harry rocks, have the same immediacy and freshness as his action images

It is certainly an approach that has brought him success. In 2004 he was a finalist in the Daily Mail ‘Not the Turner Prize’ competition (an antidote to the excesses of the Turner Prize, which has tended to ignore figurative art) – of 10,000 entries, only 40 finalists were watercolourists. In 2009 he was awarded the St Cuthbert’s Mill Prize for the best watercolour at the Society of Equestrian Artists annual exhibition for his horse-racing painting, ‘The Challenge’. In 2010 he won the Best in Show award at the Marwell International Wildlife Art Society. He started writing about his watercolour technique for The Artist magazine in 2007, which led to masterclasses, workshops, a DVD – this year will see the release of a second – and Jake is now working on a coffee-table book, which will feature more than a hundred of his paintings. The title of the first DVD was From Dark to Light, which rather epitomises his career.

Panel:

Many examples of Jake’s work can be seen at his website, www.jakewinkle.co.uk

Email: jakewinkle@sky.com

Telephone: 01258 480530

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