Starting when she was 5 years old, Patricia Hopkins, a watercolorist and owner of the Hopkins Gallery in South Chatham, stayed with her family in what she describes as a “hunting camp right on the water, on the beach.”
Hopkins’ mother restored the East Orleans camp and made it habitable for the family. “I was very lucky to be exposed to so much nature,” Hopkins reminisced during a telephone interview last week. “It was good inspiration.”
As a child at the camp, Hopkins observed the “various moods of the ocean, the sky, changing clouds.” She watched the seasons change. Later on, as an adult, Hopkins spent many summers living in the camp, a period that was “very nurturing” for her. With storms in 1991 the tides began cresting higher and higher near the cottage. It was time for the family to move on.
Still, if you list the aspects of nature that Hopkins observed during those early years on the water, and compare those with her paintings of today, you will see that perhaps her painter’s eye was formed early, on the water.
Some of her descriptive titles are “Waves at Sunrise,” “Approaching Wind Storm III,” “Nauset Beach at 8 p.m.” and “After the Storm.” Her paintings show a particular appreciation of and attention to the details of waves, driftwood, clouds, the color of the sky, the wind in beach grass and birds. Always, color is paramount.
Growing up, Hopkins went to boarding school in Maryland and then studied art at Hollins College in Virginia. She later studied at the Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Institute of Boston. She graduated from New England School of Art and Design with a special interest in illustration and design. She began her professional career as a mechanical artist working with clients as diverse as the advertising department of Jordan Marsh Company and an engineering firm.
In 1990, she realized she was tired of living and working in Boston and commuting to the Cape on weekends only to be stuck in traffic. "I wanted to change, basically,” she says. Soon after moving to the Cape she began a serious pursuit of watercolor painting. She studied for eight years with Christie Velesig, a marine and landscape artist. Meanwhile, she became a signature member of the Orleans Art Association in 1990, and won fi rst prize in the group’s spring show for two consecutive years. She has also been a member of the Cape Cod Art Association (now the Cape Cod Art Center) and the Creative Arts Center in Chatham. She was also an original member of “21 in Truro,” a group of well-known female artists. She has participated in numerous shows, and been shown in many galleries.
As a watercolorist, Hopkins describes herself as a realistic painter. Her working method begins with an expedition to take photos, particularly in the late afternoon and early evening.
“It’s really a matter of being somewhere at the right time with the right light,” she says. Drawing is crucial to her working method, as it’s “basically the skeleton of the painting. If something isn’t drawn correctly, it’ll show up in the end and it’s a major hassle to fix it. I get the drawing as correct as I can.”
As for the watercolors, “I like working on paper and with pigments that have transparency so that the light can show through onto the paper,” she says, contrasting watercolors with oil or acrylic paints. Hopkins is a fan of a book called “Making Color Sing: Practical Lessons in Color and Design” by Jeanne Dobie, a guidebook that has gone through many editions. One of Dobie’s premises is that “no color exists in isolation; colors are always interacting with one another.” Hopkins writes about her own colors: “each color is mixed with much care so that it is clean, works well with the rest of the palette, and is a planned decision.”
And the result? Gorgeous, intense colors. In “Buckets and Bins,” a scene showing a Provincetown fishing boat, the color of the water is an intense blue/black, with skylight and red buoys reflected in it. When her watercolors are looked at in a group, you can see that the color of water in a Hopkins painting encompasses an almost amazing spectrum from blacks through purples, blues, greens to grays. While some artists will work on a watercolor for an hour, or an afternoon, Hopkins does not hesitate to do “slow, methodical work,” she says. “Slowness is an asset and it shouldn’t be put down too much in our society. Everything is rush, rush.” She might work on a watercolor painting off and on for two months, depending on how complicated it is. Quality, rather than speed, is the key, she stresses.