Transforming Qatar into works of art, a British husband and wife, Steve and Verity Watkins, have become well known artists in Qatar.
Steve is known for his architectural paintings of Doha’s skyline and landmarks and Verity is known for her paintings of animals especially camels. Throughout their years in Qatar, together, the Watkins have sold over 200 paintings and have participated in over 30 exhibitions and art fairs.
Introducing the Watkins
The Watkins moved to Qatar from the UK in 2009 when Steve was offered a job as an architect at KEO Consultants. For over six years now, Steve’s project has been the new and upcoming Sidra Hospital. ‘He is so busy. He works six days a week at Sidra. So his work here, all this is done either in the evenings or the weekends on a Friday,’ said Verity about her husband. Steve returns home at 4 pm then he and Verity sit down together and paint in the evenings ‘instead of watching TV,’ said Steve.
In addition to being a dedicated mother of three, Verity occupies her time by painting, teaching art, attending art fairs and exhibitions. In addition, she has recently taken up the role of the Secretary of the International Artists of Doha (IAD), which Verity has been a member of for three years, participating in group exhibitions and art workshops.
Professionally, Verity is an art teacher. ‘That’s what I did before coming here. I was a secondary school arts teacher,’ she said. Verity continued teaching in Qatar. She has taught art at Qatar Academy and Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCUQatar). ‘I work at VCUQatar and teach community classes so I teach the 8 to 10 year-olds and the 11 to 14 year-olds. I also do their summer school,’ she said.
Moreover, in January 2015, Verity has started giving adult classes at home. ‘They’re very much one on one attention for beginners mainly through intermediate level. A lot of them are mums who find that they want to do something in the morning and a lot of them may have done up to A Level or even done a foundation course but they haven’t done it since and want to get themselves back into art and learn new techniques and things like that,’ she explains. Having been painting only animals, Verity has also began taking classes herself – portrait classes – where she’s learning to paint portraits of people and working with oil paints for the first time.
Both Steve and Verity work only with acrylics. ‘I’ve never used oil paints in the whole time I’ve been painting so this is a whole new experience. They’re quite different – very different mediums. The acrylics dry very quickly which for some artists, that’s awful. But for me, I like to layer my colours and build up the colour. And I love texture. It works a lot better because it can dry quickly then I start layering a lot more quickly,’ explains Verity.
The animal paintings
When Verity first arrived to Qatar, she became pregnant with her second child. ‘The minute she was born, I started painting,’ said Verity. ‘I just started painting camels because we’ve been out to the camel racing and in Gharrafa, there’s an area which I call a maternity unit, where there is just a pen…camels and their babies, and I used to take the kids around there and we drove around there. They would let us in and I would take some photographs of the camels and started painting them,’ she explains.
Verity works from photographs, which she has taken herself. At times, she would borrow pictures of animals from her friends to produce paintings of other animals. In addition to camels, Verity paints elephants, turtles and most recently, Arabian horses. What is it about animals that Verity loves? ‘I just love the character,’ she said. ‘Camels are quite characteristic and expressive,’ added Steve. ‘Before I came here and started doing camels, I used to paint lots of chickens, which sounds ridiculous but again, they had so much personality…They were just so much fun and so much character but I enjoyed painting them and I love their scruffiness,’ Verity said.
Known for her animal paintings, Verity began receiving commissioned work for pet portraits. ‘I’ve also done a lot of pet portraits since being here…they would provide some photographs of their animals then I would produce the paintings for them,’ she explains. Verity produces plenty of commissioned work.
In addition to pet portraits, Verity also paints murals. Recently, she painted a friendship mural at the Park House English School known as the ‘Friendship Bench’ where all the primary school students ‘all came out and painted their hands and put it on the tree that I’ve prepared on the wall,’ Verity explained. ‘It’s nice having a variety of jobs. I like all sorts. I like the variety. I like having commissions and I like doing what I want to do. I also like working with schools, being a teacher, I quite enjoy working with children,’ she said.
Being an architect, Steve has always painted skylines. In addition to Doha skyline, Steve has painted the skylines of many cities including Auckland, Sydney, London, Melbourne, New York, Houston, Edinburgh, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. ‘Back in the UK, I used to do skylines again…Verity took a couple of paintings down to a local gallery and amazingly, they sold and then I’ve sold a few more after that. When we came out here [Qatar], I thought I’d try to do a few more. So at the [first] exhibition, they were sold as well. That was great,’ he explained.
Since then, Steve’s Doha skyline paintings have been a bestseller. ‘A lot of people want the basic Corniche because they’re leaving,’ he said. His paintings of the Doha skyline are in such high demand that he has memorised it now. ‘At first, I used images and pictures I’ve taken but I know the skyline so well now, I can pretty much to do it by heart because I’ve done so many paintings,’ he explains. Steve places dates on his paintings because the Doha skyline has changed plenty of times along the years. Verity explains, ‘The Doha ones are all dated because the oldest pieces he did have very few buildings because he started doing it in 2010 so in five years, there’s a huge difference in the skyline. There were a lot more cranes. It’s changing a lot.’
Steve has recently changed his style, adding Arabesque patterns and abstract to his paintings of Doha’s skyline and landmark buildings. ‘He has changed his style and going into Arabesque patterns. He has broken up the skyline and put them into a pattern just for more abstract images,’ explains Verity. Because of his architectural paintings, Steve’s most interested buyers are interior design, construction and real estate companies, as well as law firms and other local offices. For these companies, a lot of his work is commissioned. ‘I’ve done paintings of all their buildings,’ Steve explains. He has sold paintings to Origins, AT Kearney, Fluor – Global Engineering Construction Company, Redco Construction – Almana and other companies. His work can also been seen at The Pearl-Qatar, Alfardan Towers and The Tornado Towers.
‘We are different’
Steve and Verity have worked together only on a few projects. Their most recent work together can be seen in the apartments of The-Pearl Qatar. ‘The set of towers in The-Pearl Qatar, they were being furnished and refurbished by Origins, an interior firm out here. I met the owner and manager at one of these fairs and he ended up wanting over a 1,000 prints for all the apartments,’ said Verity. In addition, the lobby of the two buildings are two original pieces, not prints, which is a combination of Steve’s and Verity’s work in one.
‘We’re very different. Mine are very architectural. I could sit for a few hours and just do fine lines and things but Verity is very much flowing, much more slap the paintings on and everything. We are completely different, which is a good thing,’ said Steve. ‘Because there is no comparison I don’t get offended when people like his work more than mine. It’s a completely different taste,’ added Verity.
Even their audiences are different. ‘We would do these school fairs and things. Sometimes, we’ll get a day where she would sell all her paintings and nothing of mine, and another day, I would sell all my paintings and nothing of hers. It’s obviously people like this or the other,’ Steve said. Verity believes Steve’s work identifies with both men and women ‘but a lot of males love it because it’s got those straight lines and architecture is a part of it. Whereas mine, particularly being of animals, it’s a very particular taste whether you want a great big animal on your wall. I love painting them. That’s why I paint them. I don’t paint them to sell them necessarily. I paint them because I enjoy it and I love the outcome of seeing it in different colours and shades…if it doesn’t sell, it doesn’t sell but I enjoyed doing it. And that’s how I paint,’ she explains.
The difference between Steve’s and Verity’s paintings is not just what they paint but also how they paint. Steve paints fine lines, using only a few colours and multiple thin brushes, each for a separate colour. However, Verity uses only one brush. ‘I hardly wash it throughout the whole thing. So I would use a square brush and that’s only brush I’d use for the whole thing unless I’m doing the eyelashes and fine details then I’ll change the brush but the rest is all in one brush,’ she explains.
The Watkins have two upcoming exhibitions – in ‘The Corridor’ Summer Group Exhibition at Grand Hyatt Doha from 3 June to 28 August 2015 and an in-house exhibition in June 2015.
For more information on the Watkins and their artwork, visit their Facebook page – Watkins Artwork.
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