Top fashion designer Giles Deacon on watercolour paintings

Words by
Sphere Life

10th July 2019

We talk to Aspinal London’s design director – and of the leading lights on the British style scene – about his little-known affinity for watercolour art

Design Director of Aspinal London and founder of his eponymous label, British designer Giles Deacon is a regular at London and Paris Fashion Weeks. He has designed some notable couture gowns, including for Sarah Jessica Parker and Cate Blanchett, as well as for his partner, Games of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie. He has recently collaborated with luxury leatherware company Aspinal on a new range of trunks, bags and leather goods.


When did you first become interested in watercolours?

I was introduced to painting as a child. I kept rudimentary sketchbooks of fantastical and real creatures and people, which I crudely filled in with colour from a “My First Paint Set”. I loved it. My first watercolour was a natterjack toad. I still paint with watercolours on a regular basis.

Why do you favour watercolour over other mediums?

I particularly like the lightness and speed of application that watercolour brings. The colours have an instant delicacy that I like and they are wonderfully portable, hence their popularity for outdoors and landscape work.

Did you study art as a student? 

I studied history of art at the school at the Bowes Museum in County Durham — the school was next door — so I was taught alongside pieces by Turner and Ruskin, which in retrospect was quite something.  

Where do you like to paint?  

I paint a mixture of made up/ researched situations and characters from my mind as well as what is in front of me, so I tend to work from my dining table at home in the first instance. But if I am out and about, it really can be anywhere — some memorable places have been Bhutan and the Lake District. 

Which materials do you prefer to use? 

I love to buy watercolour, inks and paper from Sennilier in Paris. Its walnut satin is a favourite, which I use as a substitute to black. L Cornelissen & Son in Bloomsbury also does the finest brushes and hand-pressed paper. 

Do you have a favourite period? 

I am equally inspired by all periods, but I do like a nature theme.

Who is your favourite watercolourist? 

It is the German artist Albrecht Dürer. It is incredible to think that he had the most remarkable influence and reputation across Europe while just in his early twenties. He was a uniquely talented painter, draughtsman, printmaker and theorist. 

What are your favourite watercolours? 

I have so many favourites, but these would be my top three paintings: a Marlene Dumas portrait, such as Barbie (With Pearl Necklace) or Supermodel. I admire her simplicity and ability to create slightly offbeat characteristics. I love Albrecht Dürer’s Young Hare. It is a fantastic study of incredible merit that still stands up nearly 500 years after its completion, on show in the wonderful Albertina Gallery in Vienna. Finally, Snow Storm by JMW Turner is a painting of such turmoil and energy, and deep colour. It’s at the Clore Gallery at the Tate Britain

Where is the most unusual place you have seen a watercolour?

It was on a television programme called Watercolour Challenge, where they did a special from Pentonville Prison in London. The inmates did studies of a weed and flower growing up against a white wall. It was quite poignant. 

What are your favourite pieces that you own? 

They are portraits for separate record covers for the French Band Nouvelle Vague and I adore them. They are very special reminders of a special time.