It may have been just coincidence that Simone Wood’s late father-in-law, an ornithologist at Cornell, liked to paint birds as a hobby. He passed away before she had a chance to meet him, but his highly detailed Audubon-style paintings inevitably drew her attention. “[They] were as close to a photograph as possible,” Wood remembers, “with every detail met, feather by feather.”
Her approach to the same subject may not be as technically accurate, but her own bird paintings take full advantage of watercolor’s immediacy to capture the spirit of her subjects rather than anatomical particulars. Cardinals and bluejays, roosters and hens, sparrows and finches materialize through broad brush strokes, a deft use of white space to suggest volume, and a finishing splatter to capture the quick movements of arboreal birds. Her paintings are like haikus of the avian world.
“It’s the uncontrolled nature of watercolor that I really enjoy working with,” Wood says. “I like the challenge of manipulating the running tendencies that watercolor has. Once you lay the color down on paper, you’re committed, like it or not. I find great peace in this medium.” When she first took up her favorite subject with intent, Wood worked from photos. Now she paints mostly from memory and an initial sketch. But from there, the medium guides her brush. “I love the look of watercolor against the grain of the paper,” she says, “and I’m often pleased with the way the layering of color dries to help create the look of feathers. Painting in great detail is not my thing.”
Flowers appear frequently in her avian art, but not just because of the natural relationship: they used to be her livelihood. Most recently, Wood served for five years on the esteemed Biltmore Floral Design Team, an opportunity that arose after her husband, a pilot for American Airlines, was transferred south from Syracuse and the couple settled in South Asheville. “I have always been interested in flowers since I was a young girl,” Wood says, “but my real passion came when I was hired at a local floral gift shop and garden center when I was in my mid-twenties. From there, I joined a local garden club and fell deeper in love with birds and flowers.” (Besides being a designer, she is an accredited flower-show judge.)
Helping create the Biltmore Estate’s spectacular flowerscapes proved to be the apex of her career. Now retired, she paints full time, and attracts her subjects via backyard bird feeders. But Wood never considered exhibiting or selling her work until, at her sister’s suggestion, she submitted her paintings for the 2016 Art on Main show in Hendersonville. Wood was worried about the public’s reception to her splattered canvases, recalling it as “a nail-biting experience.”
But needlessly so. Enthusiasm ran high, and soon after, she was offered studio space at Hendersonville’s Art Mob.
Before her breakthrough, Wood dabbled in acrylics for a time when they first became popular in the crafts renaissance. “I was painting everything from tissue boxes to holiday ornaments, and would give them as gifts,” she remembers. At that time, her appreciation of watercolor came from the works of Winslow Homer, who had painted the Adirondacks near Syracuse and and whose work is still a fixture of museum collections in upstate New York. She was attracted to the medium’s almost infinite shades of color and potential for delicate modeling. “The looseness and layering of watercolor is the best fit for me,” she says. “It’s wonderful to see the mix of color come through with my splattering of paint.”
While she has begun to explore water birds — herons, egrets — the quick darting and swooping of the mountain arboreal birds seem most suited to watercolor’s spontaneity, and to the artist herself. Though they translate whimsically, “birds have amazing strength and perseverance,” she notes.
Simone Wood shows her work at Art Mob Studios (124 Fourth Ave. East) in Hendersonville. The gallery will hold a reception of her new winter works on Friday, February 23, 5-7pm. The artist welcomes visitors to her studio by appointment and accepts commissions. Inquire at email@example.com. For more information, see artmobstudios.com.