Shirley Trevena: The Self-Taught Master of Watercolour Art


Shirley Trevena is a name that resonates profoundly in watercolour art. Renowned for her risk-taking compositions and innovative techniques, she is one of the leading figures in contemporary watercolour painting. What makes her journey particularly inspiring is her status as a self-taught artist, transitioning from an unrelated profession to becoming one of the most celebrated watercolour artists globally. Complex compositions, vibrant use of colour, and an exciting interplay of textures and edges characterise her work.

The Journey of a Self-Taught Artist

Before delving into the intricacies of her art, it is essential to appreciate Shirley Trevena’s unique journey. Trevena’s artistic prowess emerged from her self-motivated exploration and experimentation, unlike many artists who follow a traditional academic path. Her background in a non-artistic profession provided her with a unique perspective, which she harnessed to develop a distinctive style that defies conventional boundaries.

Shirley Trevena RI Still Life Paintings

Trevena’s transition into art was independent of age and formal education. Her story inspired me as an aspiring artist, demonstrating that passion and perseverance can pave the way to mastery, regardless of one’s starting point.

Innovative Techniques and Unique Style and Complex Compositions

One of Shirley Trevena’s hallmarks is her ability to create complex and captivating compositions. Her paintings often feature many elements, each meticulously placed to contribute to a harmonious yet dynamic whole. This complexity invites viewers to engage deeply with her work, discovering new details and connections with each viewing.

Use of Colour

Trevena’s use of colour is both bold and thoughtful. She employs a vibrant palette that breathes life into her subjects, creating an emotional resonance that captivates audiences. Her colours are not merely applied but are carefully considered to enhance the narrative and mood of each piece. The interplay of bright and muted tones creates a visual rhythm that is both striking and cohesive.

Texture and Edges

Texture plays a crucial role in Trevena’s paintings. She adeptly manipulates watercolour to achieve a variety of textures, from soft, translucent washes to rich, layered surfaces. This textural diversity adds depth and dimension to her work, making each piece a tactile and visual experience.

Her mastery of “lost and found edges” further distinguishes her style. Trevena creates a sense of movement and spontaneity by intentionally blurring certain boundaries while sharpening others. This technique adds visual interest and guides the viewer’s eye through the composition, enhancing the narrative flow.

Negative Painting

Negative painting is another technique that Shirley Trevena excels in. This approach involves painting around the subject to define its shape rather than directly painting the subject itself. This method allows her to create intricate and layered compositions where the interplay between positive and negative spaces adds complexity and intrigue.

Inspired By Shirley Trevena

I simply had to play with Shirley Travena’s techniques. Admittedly, I have not found any YouTube videos yet or bought her book, Taking Risks with Watercolour, which I will do soon.

Fisherman's Hut net repair.
Maggie Pie Still Life

The Artistic Process of Shirley Trevena‘s Initial Inspiration and Conceptualisation

Trevena’s artistic process begins with inspiration drawn from a variety of sources. She approaches each new piece with an open mind, whether it’s the natural world, everyday objects, or abstract concepts. Her initial sketches and studies are a crucial part of her process, allowing her to experiment with composition and colour schemes before committing to the final work.

Layering and Building

A distinctive aspect of Trevena’s work is her layering technique. She builds her paintings gradually, adding layers of colour and texture to develop depth and richness. This method allows for a high degree of control and flexibility, enabling her to adjust and refine her compositions as they evolve.

Balancing Control and Spontaneity

While Trevena’s work is meticulously crafted, she also embraces the spontaneous nature of watercolour. She balances control with the medium’s unpredictable qualities, allowing for accidental effects and happy accidents that can enhance the final piece. This balance between intention and serendipity is a key element of her artistic philosophy.

Impact and Recognition

Shirley Trevena’s innovative approach and exceptional skill have earned her widespread recognition and acclaim. She is a member of the prestigious Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (RI), and her work has been exhibited in numerous galleries and exhibitions worldwide. Her paintings are celebrated for their aesthetic beauty and ability to challenge and expand the boundaries of watercolour art.

Influence on Aspiring Artists

Beyond her achievements, Trevena has had a significant impact on aspiring artists. Her willingness to share her techniques and insights through workshops, books, and online tutorials has made her a beloved mentor to many. Her story of self-taught success inspires countless individuals to pursue their artistic passions, regardless of their background or formal training.


Shirley Trevena is a testament to the power of self-taught artistry and the endless possibilities of watercolour painting. Her complex compositions, vibrant use of colour, and innovative techniques have set her apart as a true master of her craft. For those who find inspiration in her work, Trevena offers a visual feast and a powerful reminder that one can achieve greatness in any field with dedication and creativity.

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