Mental Health, Engineering and the Artist

Since starting my art journey, I’ve been struck with how many of my fellow artists have opened up about their struggles with mental health.  Having a supportive community who are willing to open up and share their own trauma has been very helpful in coming to terms with and healing from my own battles with mental health issues.

Making art also works as a sort of therapy for me, and I’ve come a long way in my recovery. In recent months, I’ve decided I would like to pay it forward and share my story,  for those of my friends and followers  who may be struggling  and feeling isolated.

My Conditions

I’ve been diagnosed with chronic recurrent acute anxiety disorder and depression, the latter as a result of the first.

My Story

If you are a close friend or family member who interacted with me regularly during the period between 2006-2014 or so, much of the following may come as a surprise to you.  Please don’t take this personally. I carefully guarded the worst of my struggles.  I felt broken, defective and alone.  However, I desperately wanted those around me to perceive me as whole.

I went to U of T and studied civil engineering. In the space of a few months after I started university, I went from confident and curious overachiever to nervous, panicky mess every time I had an exam or midterm.  In a challenging engineering program, this was a large portion of the year.  I quickly degenerated from there.


Even in my first term, I found myself forgetting to eat or sleep for days at a time during exam periods.  I would have manic episodes where I would sit for hours on end in the middle of the night solving problems, only to forget everything I’d studied entirely in the exam room the next day, amnesia brought on by nerves, sleep deprivation and lack of food.

Nausea and Vomiting

My exam anxiety started manifesting as nausea, getting worst right before exams.  In 2008, I threw up  before an exam for the first time.  I walked into the hall where my fellow students were hurriedly running through formulas and problems.  I felt a wave of panic and nausea hit me, ran to the washroom, threw up, gargled some water and walked in to write my exam just as everyone else was taking a seat.

Over the next few years, this became so much of a routine that I started packing a toothbrush in my pencil case.  It was a good day when I had enough time between vomiting and exam to brush my teeth before walking into the exam room.

The nausea and lack of appetite weren’t limited to right before exams.  I would go days forgetting to eat, and if I did eat, I often couldn’t hold it down.  I started losing dramatic amounts of weight each term.  At my worst, in late December 2010 I weighed in at 103 lbs, a 21% drop from a few months earlier.

Panic Attacks

I started having panic attacks.  At first it was a day or two before exams, then randomly throughout the term, and then in exams themselves.  By this point, my anxiety around exams had spread into everything university related.  As I couldn’t function properly in exams, I started putting pressure on myself to do perfectly on midterms, then on quizzes, problem sets, etc.   I became anxious and panicky about these as well.

By 2010, only a few credits away from graduation, I was barely functioning.  Anxiety is not logical.  I would randomly have panic attacks (hyperventilating, heart racing, chest constricting,crying and scratching at myself) about increasingly bizarre, minor tasks, such going to campus to turn in a problem set I had already completed.

In order to numb myself, I started spending increasing amounts of time watching braindead reality TV shows  in order to distance myself from the panic.  Many problem sets weren’t handed in because they were sitting complete on my desk while I watched TV to keep from crying.  Many others weren’t completed, for similar reasons.

The long slow road to graduation

I initially started university in the class of 2010, and re-enrolled later that same term to graduate with the class of 2011. However, by 2010, I had failed or withdrawn from enough core classes that I was not allowed to enroll in my final design project.   Instead, I was told I would have to take a regular courseload in 2010-2011, followed by my design project in 2011-2012. This rejection sent me into a tailspin.

After a particularly gruesome term in Fall 2010, I took a term off of school, delaying my expected graduation until 2013.  Most of my closest friends assumed that I did graduate in 2013. I did not graduate in 2013.  Although I did finish my design project, I wasn’t quite free.

I finally received my engineering degree in 2015.  I had repeated panic attacks during exams for one of my other classes, so I didn’t complete all of my courses in 2011, or 2012, or 2013.  Only after 2 years away was I finally able to successfully sit my final exam.  I had trouble talking about my panic attacks without triggering more panic, so I didn’t share these struggles with my friends.

From Anxiety to Depression

The worst of my anxiety was in 2010-2011.  I had spent 6 years focused on surviving an engineering degree.  In 2012, with all but a couple of classes behind me,  I could catch a glimpse of life post-university.  As the anxiety subsided, what replaced it was…nothing.

I’d scarcely paused to think about what I really wanted after.  Completing my degree felt like a do-or-die hurdle.  Once at the finish line, however, I felt uninspired.  I had trained for years, fighting tooth and nail for a prestigious engineering degree.  However, I found the concept of working as an engineer boring and mildly stressful.

Initially I tried to summon up some enthusiasm for my chosen profession. However, over the course of the next couple years I gradually lost motivation.  In 2010 I spent months on the couch watching TV to ward off panic attacks.  In 2014 I spent months on the couch half-watching TV because I couldn’t find the motivation to get up and do anything.


There is no magic pill cure for depression or anxiety.  Most likely, I will struggle with tendencies towards anxiety and depression for the rest of my life.

Changing directions

I am extremely fortunate in that throughout my life, I’ve had one activity that has an incredible ability to motivate me and calm me down – art.   After watching a documentary at age 6, I spent most of my childhood (and teens) telling anyone who would listen that “I’m going to be a biology illustrator”.  How that kid ever ended up in civil engineering is a post for another day.

In university, I went months at a time where I didn’t do any drawing. Every so often I would find a chance to draw for a few hours.  Each time, the effects were profound.  For the next day or two I would feel noticeably more confident and positive. And yet, inevitably life, anxiety and depression would catch up with me. More months would go by where I made no art

In 2014, I attended a friend’s wedding, socializing with my engineering “peers”.  They chatted excitedly about their new jobs and interests.  I tried desperately hard to sound excited about building science and the projects I had worked on.

Several hours in, I broke down. My husband and I found a quiet spot on the rooftop and I sobbed for an hour about dreading a lifetime as an engineer.  Jordan asked me if I could do anything, what would make me happiest.  For the first time in nearly a decade  I was able to say that what I really wanted was to chase my childhood dream of scientific illustration.

Jordan deserves some kind of award – I was snot-crying while making a decision that would severely reduce our household income.  This was after years of depending on his care through panic attacks and vomiting and not getting out of bed for days.  And yet, somehow, his reaction was to smile, hold me and tell me we’d find a way to make my dream come true.

Recovery through Art

Things started changing dramatically as soon as I started making art.  Dragging myself out of bed became easier with each day I spent on art.

I applied to the SBA’s Diploma course and was accepted.  Soon, I felt strong enough to start working part-time.  I rented a small desk at a shared studio nearby.  I was finally calm and motivated enough to write my very last U of T exam.  When the art studio I was renting space from shut down,  I was prepared to take over renting and managing the whole space, what is now the KW Artists Co-op.

Since then, I have shown my artwork at solo and juried shows.  I’ve sold dozens of original pieces, and become a full-time artist and illustrator.  Jordan and I bought and renovated a house. Starting this spring, I will be teaching classes in botanical art techniques at Button Factory Arts and Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. This past week, I signed my first publishing contract.

Things are going extremely well for me and my art career, and yet the effects of anxiety disorder still linger to a large degree.  I haven’t had a full-blown panic attack in almost a year, but I get panicky about large projects.

Soon after I get offered any large opportunity, I get an irrational feeling of dread, convinced that somehow the rug will get pulled out from under me.  Each day I spend making art, and each project I successfully deliver rebuilds my confidence a tiny bit, but I still feel like I’m dangerously close to the edge.

Recovery through Therapy

Initially, in recovering from depression/anxiety, I shied away from dealing with my underlying problems, focusing instead on building myself a new life. Thinking about my most unpleasant experiences is difficult, and makes me cry, so I avoided it. Writing this post has been a roller coaster of a month, which has convinced me to finally seek long-term treatment.

Throughout university, I did use of short-term counselling and psychiatry services pretty frequently.  The university, and other community resources, offer a lot more mental health services than they advertise, but a lot less than they need.  In university, psych services appointments were capped at a relatively small number of visits, so I didn’t have ongoing care with a single doctor.

I am now looking forward to consistent, ongoing treatment.  I’ve had some luck with cognitive behavioural therapy in the past, and hope to explore it more.

Recovery through honesty and acceptance

I’ve been making an effort to share my struggles with those around me. I am also making a point to answer honestly when people ask me how I’m doing.  Many days, I am positive and upbeat and cheerful.  However, sometimes I am an exposed bundle of nerves.  I am trying to resist the urge to always say “everything’s fine”.  I’m trying to be kind to myself and recognize that I certain kinds of social interaction and tasks are difficult for me.

I’d like you all to know that I am willing to talk, if you have any questions or are struggling yourself.  We’ll get through this 🙂


The Daily Leaf

Daily art challenge by Lee Angold- painting a leaf every day in 2018.

Happy New Year!

This year I will turn over a new leaf (pun intended) with a year long project titled “The Daily Leaf”.  Each day in 2018, I will collect a leaf outdoors and create a sketch, painting or illustration of each leaf I collect throughout the year.


Hi, I’m Lee Angold.  I’m an artist focused on botanical and scientific subjects, and this is a personal project I’ve set for myself.

I welcome others to join me. Feel free to join the ride for a week, a month or even just a single leaf.  Tag your daily leaf paintings with #dailyleaf on Instagram and Twitter!


Starting today (January 1st, 2018) and every day in 2018, I will collect a leaf outdoors, and create an illustration/sketch of that leaf.  I will also record the location where each leaf was collected, and strive to identify the species of each leaf.

I will share my daily leaf illustrations on social media (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) using the hashtag #dailyleaf, as well as through periodic updates to this website. The size, scale, style and media used in my illustrations may vary, and I may arrange multiple daily leaves into larger illustrations containing multiple leaves.


My leaves may be collected from wherever I happen to go.  The only rule is I have to personally collect my daily leaf, outdoors, myself, each day. Unfortunately, these rules mean I cannot paint the cool leaves from the tree in your backyard, unless you invite me over to pick a leaf myself 😉

Realistically, I spend over 90% of my life within a 1km radius, mostly between my home and my studio, so you can expect that most of my leaves will be found in midtown Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada.  As some of you reading this from similarly arctic climates may already have clued in, this also means that my leaf selection for several months will be …interesting (for select values of interesting where interesting mostly means dry, brown, decayed, and found in a snowbank).  This is part of what makes this project so cool (Right?  I hope? Somebody reassure me please!)


Why a daily challenge?

grid200I am a strong believer in the  power of daily habits, both in art and in life generally.  I’ve been impressed with my progress during past daily challenges Inktober 2017 and September Watercolour Challenge 2016.

My daily art pieces are a reflection of my environment.  My daily pieces are also particularly affected by other factors such as my mood, time constraints or just new materials and techniques I am eager to try out.

Why leaves?

Leaves are a very popular and very feared subject for artists.  They are deceptively complex, and can be difficult to render right.  They are also plentiful and diverse, and in a variable climate like here in Kitchener-Waterloo, the appearance of leaves offers a unique way to track the weather and seasons.

By painting a leaf every day, as well as documenting it’s location and species, I expect by the end of the year to have created a unique yearlong “journal” snapshot.  This project will be a diary of the changing seasons and an insight into biodiversity focused in a small urban area.  It will also serve as a record of my own development as an artist over the course of the year.



How (The Rules!)

  1. Each day I will pick up a leaf.
  2. I will collect my leaves outdoors (no houseplants)
  3. I need to collect and photograph one leaf each day.  If I’m really sick or really grumpy I may fall behind on illustrations, but each day I need to collect and photograph a leaf.
  4. At the end of 2018, I will  have 365 illustrations.  Like in previous month-long challenges, I won’t beat myself up over falling behind, but I will catch up.
  5. My leaves may be collected directly from plants, or  from the ground.
  6. Leaves may be in any condition.  Chewed up partial leaves, leaf skeletons and soggy decomposed leaves are  leaves. However, compound leaves with multiple leaflets count as one leaf
  7. I will photograph each leaf and record the location where it was collected
  8. I will attempt to identify the species of each leaf.
  9.  I will illustrate each leaf on watercolour paper.  I am free to experiment with different painting/drawing media and illustration techniques throughout the year.
  10. Illustrations may be different sizes, and I may choose to create larger compositions with multiple leaves spanning several days.
  11. I will post my progress on social media with the hashtag #dailyleaf

What Else ?


I’m not sure yet what will come out of this project.  An exhibition?  A book?  An interactive map?  I am open to suggestions and opportunities – let me know in the comments below what you think, or hop on over to my Ko-Fi page to show your appreciation with some creativity fuel.

At the start of this new year and new project, I am committed to letting go of anxiety and logistics concerns, and  focusing on creation. I’m diving in, and committed to creating some great art and great habits every day in 2018.

Daily art challenge by Lee Angold- painting a leaf every day in 2018.
Daily Leaf 001 : Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) January 1st, 2018.

Oh… you didn’t think I would end this post without a leaf, did you?

Without further ado, here is my first #dailyleaf of 2018.

Daily Leaf 001 is a Norway Maple leaf picked up around the corner from my house.

Of course, I couldn’t just pick a simple flat leaf for day 1, I had to go for a huge crumpled up palmate leaf. This sketch is rendered in a little bit of everything – graphite, blue col-erase coloured pencil, watercolour, and ink – a reflection of how buzzy and excited I feel right now!


Why paint from life

Like many botanical and scientific artists, I prefer to paint directly from life rather than photographs.  Wherever possible, I try to have real physical subjects and specimens when in the studio with me when I am painting.  Many people have asked me why I prefer not to paint from photographs.  In this post I will discuss the reasons for my preference, the advantages of painting from life, and some strategies for working with photos when I cannot paint only from life.

We often think of photographs as a perfect copy of real life.  However, in reality, photographs are an interpretation of reality, just like paintings and drawings.  Each photograph has unique lighting conditions (based on ambient light, flash, exposure, etc) as well as a colour balance introduced by the camera and/or photographer.  Each photo also has a unique focal point and focus type (for example, flowers are often photographed with a macro setting, with a very small sharply focused area and blurred out surroundings to introduce a sense of depth in a small subject).

Banner Image Lichen on Branch
Lichen on Elm Branch – Painted Entirely from Life

Photographs are rigid – with an established angle and composition.  With live subjects you can spin your subjects around to find the best angles to show what you wish, or arrange several subjects together to get your desired composition.  My preference, whenever possible, is to collect live subjects and bring them to the studio, completing the whole painting process directly from life.


Inktober022 - Study of Degraded Wild Rabbit Skull
Decayed Wild Rabbit Skull Study

This way, I can choose throughout the painting process how to represent areas in shadow, which areas to focus on and draw attention to, and how to tweak colours to convey the look and information I intend to. I can use my sense of touch or a magnifying glass to learn more about the texture of the subject and then try to convey that, as I did with the degraded rabbit skull to the left.

For very long-lasting subjects such as minerals, skulls, fossils, tree bark, or dried pods, I don’t bother with photography at all, painting my entire painting directly from life.

Actaea pachypoda – White Baneberry


In many cases, for delicate or rare subjects, it is not possible to paint entirely from life, even if I have a live reference to work with.  For example, some delicate fruits and flowers won’t last more than a couple hours before wilting dramatically, or in some cases my reference is a rare plant which I found in the field.

If I can bring my subject into the studio, I try to get photos of the exact composition and lighting I intend to draw, as well as get as many sketches and colour studies in as I can.  When I cannot bring a subject into the studio, I try to gather as much information as I possibly can from my reference in the time I have.  I sketch on the spot, do small colour studies, take multiple photos from different angles.

For the white baneberry illustration on the right, I found my reference in a sensitive environmental area and did not want to pick any plants.  I took about 50 reference photos from different angles as well as completing a few sketches and colour studies in the field (a strong constitution and tolerance of bug bites helps) before taking it all back to the studio to assemble into a painting.

Dutch Iris
Dutch Iris – Watercolour on Paper by Lee Angold


When painting from a photo reference, you are painting an interpretation of another interpretation of your subject.  If you photograph your own subjects and then paint from your own photographs, you can make many of your choices at the photography stage.  In the spring and summer, I carry around a good camera to take reference pictures for illustration, which I can use throughout the winter or when a chance to paint a specific subject comes.

Sometimes when I see a very promising composition out in nature, I will photograph it with the intention of painting it later. The dutch iris to the left was painted entirely from a single photo reference which I took with the intention of painting.

The photos I take for painting are different from what I would take for independent enjoyment, as I focus on areas of the plant which are botanically interesting and would make an interesting painting composition.  Nonetheless, there are drawbacks to painting from a reference photo.  Notably, in the dutch iris above, I found it difficult to convey the translucency of the white petals, as the original photograph had a background of the green grass in the garden these irises were originally planted in.  In transposing just the floral stem to a white paper, I lost the context of the green.  I tried to adjust the colour of the back petals but they still came out looking darker and less translucent that the front petals.

Heirloom Tomatoes - Watercolour on Paper by Lee Angold
Heirloom Tomatoes – Watercolour on Paper

My least favourite way of painting is using photo references from other photographers.  Not only does this limit your creative expression as a painter, but if you use photo references from other photographers, you must be very careful to transform them (by changing the composition, colour, setting, etc) dramatically, or else risk running into legal trouble with copyright and intellectual property.

However, frequently I receive an assignment to paint a specific kind of plant which is not in season/locally available, and which I do not have appropriate photos of my own for. In these cases I do use reference photos by other photographers.  I try to montage several photos together, rotating and adjusting colours to achieve a pleasing composition with consistent lighting and colours.

Photographers put a lot of thought, effort and creativity into their work.  As a botanical and scientific illustrator, I do feel comfortable using reference photos to better understand the structure of a plant and how it interacts with light, but I try to be careful to not accidentally steal the composition and creative choices of the photographer. My aim when using reference photos is to transform them to the degree where the original photographer(s) would not immediately recognize their own work when looking at my painting.

In the heirloom tomato painting shown above, 5 of the tomatoes were painted from photo references by other photographers. However, each of the 5 references tomatoes was from a different photo.  I started this painting by painting thumbnails without direct reference, creating a composition entirely my own.   I then sought out images contain the specific shape and colour of tomatoes I had already decided on, rotating, resizing, changing stems, and adjusting the colours to fit into my work.  Most of these images were of a cluster of different tomatoes, or of a tomato plant, where I only used a single fruit, and then transformed that image to fit into the composition I had decided on.

This process is my least favourite for three reasons.  First, as a realist painter I am always hyper-aware that my paintings can be too close to their reference images for comfort and I am always concerned with whether I have transformed my references enough.  Secondly, it can be very difficult to merge multiple references together such that the lighting still makes sense.  It is much easier to paint with live references directly in front of me.  Finally, the light and shadow and angles of a photograph can obscure details which might be interesting to convey in a botanical or scientific painting – in the case of somebody else’s photo, I have not handled or sketched or even walked around the subject to notice these things.

However, all of these methods are useful to learn, and necessary to use.  While I find painting from photos a more stressful process, it is an interesting challenge, and I have produced some of my favourite work by pushing through the challenge.




Pigment Comparison by Brand Spreadsheet

We’ve all been there – our artist friends are raving about XYZ watercolour brand, or the local shop is running a great sale on brand ABC.   We’d love some new paints, but how to decide which paints to buy  from a whole new brand?

The Problem

The trouble is, each brand makes up their own names for paints. It can be hard to tell which paints we will like best. Often, brands offer paints with completely different names that are identical, or paints with identical names that are completely different.

Pigment information on Nickel Azo Yellow Tube from Da Vinci

The good news is, there’s a much better way to sort your paints, which is by pigment number.  Artist quality brands have pigment numbers printed right on the tube, which describe the chemical compositions of each paint.

However, trying to remember the pigment numbers of all of our paints (was that PR254 or PR255?), or finding pigment numbers for a different brand we’d like to try can be tricky.

The Solution

I’m here to help.

I’ve spent the past few weeks compiling the Pigment Comparison by Brand spreadsheet.

This spreadsheet lists every single-pigment paint produced by 16 major watercolour brands.  The paints from each brand are sorted by their pigment number.  This allows you to look up a paint and find all of the other paints made with the same pigment!  Best of all, it’s completely free for the whole world to use.

How to Use the Pigment Comparison by Brand Spreadsheet

The Pigment Comparison By Brand spreadsheet is very simple to use.  Each column is a brand, and each row is a pigment.

Screenshot of Pigment Comparison by Brand Spreadsheet

Scroll side-to-side to see the paints from a specific brand.  Brands are sorted alphabetically.

Scroll up and down to view paints made with different pigments. I sorted paints alphabetically by pigment index number.

In cases where one pigment is used to make several different shades, multiple rows will be joined together to show all of the pigment variations.  The convenient alternating colours allow you to see at a glance when multiple hues are made with the same pigment.

Search the spreadsheet by pressing Ctrl+F on your keyboard, and typing in your search terms.  To look up a paint, search either the pigment number (found on the tube or packaging of all artist grade paints) or the name of the paint.  Then scroll left and right to find other paints made using the same pigment.  If your search returns multiple results, press Enter until you find the correct one.

This spreadsheet does not contain paints made with multiple pigments.  However, if you have a mixed paint you like (for example, a specific brand of Sap Green), you can still use this spreadsheet to find the single pigments to mix your own.  Simply check the tube or packaging you have at home to find the pigment numbers, and look those up in the spreadsheet.

The Catch

The catch?  There is no catch!

However, I am an early-career artist working very hard to “make it”. If you are using this spreadsheet to help you with your paint shopping, consider using one of my affiliate links. It won’t cost you a penny  and I get a small percentage of every sale I direct.

 Jackson’s Art: This is where I buy the majority of my watercolour paints.  Jackson’s offers extremely competitive prices on all of the European brands of watercolour, and very affordable shipping (even to Canada!) Tax is deducted on international orders, which makes them even more affordable.

Amazon (Canada, US, UK):  For assorted art supplies such as palettes, sketch paper and books, as well as all sorts of other products, I shop on Amazon.  They sometimes also offer competitive prices on some watercolour brands, particularly American brands on the USA and Canada sites.

If you think I’m super cool and would like to reward me for my time and effort, you can support me on Ko-Fi 


What’s Next

In the future, I plan to build on this spreadsheet.  I want to make a simple search interface, and links to my colours swatches and reviews for each pigment/paint.

I am planning to incorporate lightfastness information for each pigment. Manufacturers can be inconsistent and misleading in their own documentation.

I will add more brands, particularly smaller, independent watercolour brands.  If you have a brand you’d like added – please send me a message. All I need is an up-to-date paint list with pigment numbers.

Feel free to contact me about any mistakes or suggestions for improvement.  I searched the most up-to-date information from all brands and organize multiple hues of the same pigment in logical way, but I’m sure I wasn’t quite right in all cases.

More Info

While compiling this spreadsheet, I refered heavily to the Color of Art Database for in-depth pigment information.

I also referenced Jane Blundell‘s colour swatches and paint listings.

I strongly recommend both these websites to anyone who would like to learn more about watercolour pigments.







What is artistic style? Do I have one? Should I care?

As a new freelance artist and illustrator, it is very hard to resist getting sucked into worrying about “artistic style”.

There’s no denying that creators with a distinctive and cohesive “look” to their pieces have a certain edge in selling their work – viewers who are attracted to one of their pieces will likely enjoy all of them.  The repetition of showing visually cohesive work tells a story and creates a brand.  People will recognize an artist with a distinctive style by their work, even without seeing a signature.  Customers will feel like they are purchasing a true insight into the artist when they buy a piece that is part of a larger visual narrative.

But what is artistic style, and can it be cultivated?

Continue reading

Gift Guide: Well designed gifts for watercolour artists

The holiday season is gearing up.  Every year, around this time, people start asking me what they should gift to the artists in their lives. in particular to loved ones interested in watercolour.  I always find this such an awkward question.  Art materials (and budgets!) are so individual!

I’m going to be blunt for a moment.  If your artist is a professional watercolour artist who has been working in the medium for a while, I would stear clear of gifting art supplies unless they have requested a specific item or you are VERY familiar with their practice and coveted materials. Artists can develop very specific preferences and each artist is unique.

However, here are a few products that caught my eye as good quality giftables for artists of all levels:

For the art student:  St. Petersburg White Nights set of 12 – Price £15.60(~$21 USD, $26 CAD incl. VAT)

St Petersburg White Nights : Watercolour Paint : 12 Pan Set

This is set of 12 watercolour (whole pans !) in a plastic carrying case.  It is made by St. Petersburg White Nights.  White Nights is marketed as a professional grade paint.  They have a bit of a cult following among students and other deal-seekers.  This brand is valued their very low price point (below most student brands) and easy-to-rewet, saturated colour.

I would hesitate to classify White Nights alongside other artist grade paints.  They feature quite a large number of pigments that have been phased out by other watercolour brands for poor lightfastness.

However, the paints are a pleasure to use.  They are very easy to rewet, and are bright, strong colours.  For a university student who is using watercolour primarily for sketching and non-archival class work, White Nights definitely offers a great product at an amazing price.

This set of 12 whole pans packs a whole lot of paint (including some expensive cadmium pigments) into a portable, affordable package.  It is perfect for the student on the go.  It is a great first palette for a new artist.  It would also be a great stocking-stuffer upgrade for someone who has been painting with student-grade/craft paints.




For the bookworm (or artist of any kind): James Gurney Art Books $17-25 CAD ($12-$17USD)

My two favourite art instructional books are both by James Gurney.  Gurney is the illustrator behind the Dinotopia series.  He is a well-respected urban sketcher/plein air painter, and has also done work as an illustrator for National Geographic.

Colour and Light: A guide for the Realist Painter

My most referenced art book, Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter is absolutely packed with information.  It is an extremely useful reference book for even the most advanced, professional painters.  It is also clear and understandable enough to be useful and inspirational for even complete beginners.  This book is packed with beautiful illustrations.

The first part of Colour and Light deals with different kinds of light sources and lighting conditions.  It covers a wide range of lighting conditions from sunny days, to indoor candlelight, moonlight and luminescence. For each type of lighting, Gurney gives illustrated examples, and tips about how to visualize and represent this kind of light in a painting.

Imaginative Realism : How to draw what doesn’t exist by James Gurney

The second section of the book deals with colour choices in painting.  The topics include choosing pigments, gamut mapping, effects of colour on the mood of a scene, contrasts, etc. The final section of this book deals with special lighting effects – dappled sunlight through leaves, reflections, shiny surfaces etc.  Again, the whole thing is thoroughly illustrated with great examples.

The second book of Gurney’s, Imaginative Realism: How to draw what doesn’t exist is equally good.  It is less relevant to me personally because I mostly draw what is directly in front of me.  It is a great reference for any fantasy artist or paleoartist looking to bring realism to their work with useful advice on finding and altering references, building models, lighting conditions, blending reality with inventions, etc.  It is also useful for botanical and other realist artists as a reference for how to work with imperfect references (painting subjects out of season, building compositions, etc)






For the avid sketcher:  Stillman & Birn Beta Multimedia Sketchbook

Stillman & Birn : Beta Papers : 270 gsm Natural White Cold Pressed

Watercolour is a great medium for sketching with, because it is so compact and portable.  However, most sketchbooks contain lighter weigh paper which will warp and buckle when painted on.

If you know someone who sketches regularly and recently started watercolour, consider gifting them a sketchbook in their preferred size from Stillman and Birn

The Beta series has a lightly textured surface between a standard cold press and hot press watercolour paper.  It is a beautiful, heavyweight paper which takes watercolour well, yet is smooth enough to draw pen/pencil details on and write on easily as well.


For the minimalist artist on the go:  Schmincke Horadam 8-colour set Price £69.00 (~$90 USD, 115 CAD incl. VAT)

Schmincke : Horadam Watercolour Paint : Metal Set : 8 Half Pans

This 8-colour mini travel-palette can actually fit up to 12 regular half-pans, and it comes with a built in water flask and clip-on water cup.  It is less than a quarter the size of the 12-pan set above.

The Schmincke  palette I linked is a good option for an artist who is just starting out with plein air or urban sketching in watercolour.  It is most appropriate for hobbyists who don’t yet have an artist quality travel set.

If your giftee is an artist who has been sketching outdoors for a while, they may already have paints they prefer to use. However, most urban sketchers would still appreciate the small form factor of this box.


In this case, it may make more sense to buy a cheaper empty version of this palette.  The same palette is available as an empty tin with and without the built in water flask at Cornellisen’s

I own the version without the flask.  I use it as one of my travel palettes.  I love how compact this palette is, and how all kinds of different brands of half-pans (which are all subtly different sizes) are held neatly and securely by the simple fastening system.








For the professional artist who hunches over their work:  Tabletop Painting Surface Price: $44 USD

This tabletop painting surface may not be the cutest or most glamourous gift.  However, it can make the biggest difference in an artist’s life.

When I became a full-time illustrator,  within a couple of months I was experiencing tightness in my shoulders and shooting pains in my spine.  These were cause by hunching over large, detailed watercolour pieces for long hours at a time.

My tabletop easel/drawing surface was a belated birthday gift.  Months later, I can’t imagine life without it.  I am looking at buying 2 more.  I could use one for my secondary desk at the studio and one for home.

A large size and adjustable angle are key to a good desk easel.  The brand is not important.  Due to the large size of these, you may find a cheaper alternative locally than Amazon shipping outside of the US and Canada.

For the enthusiastic new botanical artist and vivid colour lover:  Billy Showell set of Sennelier Watercolour Paints -£60.00 ($80 USD, $100 CAD)

Billy Showell : Sennelier Watercolour Paint Set : 12 10ml : Tubes In Case

Botanical artists tend to share slightly different paint preferences than other watercolour painters such as landscape or portrait painters.

Botanical painting tends to involve lot of bright, vibrant colours to render the full range of colours seen in flowers, leaves and fruit.  Transparent colours are best as they have excellent glazing properties.

This selection by Billy Showell contains a great range of vibrant and transparent colours selected for painting botanical subjects.

My own colour selection is quite different from this set.  However, when I was just starting out in botanical art, these colours would have been a godsend.  They look much more satisfying and fun to work with than the generic starter set I had.  The colours in this are mostly single pigment paints, mostly transparent with a good range of hues, and no white/black/blackened neutrals.

Sennelier is a good, artist quality brand.  Sennelier’s honey-based paints rewet easily and glaze beautifully.  They are perfect for many botanical art techniques. The paints in this set would all fit neatly in 12 half pans in the little Cornellison tin linked above.  What a fantastic splurge gift for the ambitious beginner!

For the very spoiled pigment magpie: 48 Half Pan Watercolour Set in Wood box with Ceramic Palette- £239.00 ($315 USD, $400 CAD incl. VAT)

Schmincke : Horadam Watercolour : Wooden Box Set : 48 Half Pans

Remember when I said “you shouldn’t buy paints/paper/brushes for an artist, we mostly already have specific preferences”?

This is true.  There is one exception, and that is over-the-top giant sets full of pretty artist-grade colours.  Luxurious wood boxes with perfectly fitted ceramic palettes also help. I know very, very few artists who wouldn’t look at a set like this one and be delighted.

I already have all the colours any regular human needs. My studio palette is larger than any of these sets.  It contains a personalized selection of colours from many different brands.

This Schmincke set contains lots of colours I have no intention of buying, or have tried and don’t use much. It is not remotely a sensible purchase, and yet it makes me drool.  Just look at it!

Sennelier Set of 48 Paints

In a similar vein, Sennelier also makes a lovely set of 48 half pans.  Theirs is presented  in a tin palette.

Sennelier sets all come with a laminated colour chart showing all of the colours in the set.  Given my preference for swapping out paints and mixing and matching, it isn’t a particularly useful feature.  However, I really appreciate this attention to detail and it is a neat design element, particularly in a gift set.


I’m a (full-time) artist and illustrator!

As some of you already know, I have decided to take the plunge and develop my illustration career full-time.  I am ridiculously lucky and privileged to have this opportunity.

Up until February of this year, I was building my art career around a day job at a local tech company, which enabled me put the initial investment into starting the KW Artists Co-op, and helped Jordan and I buy and renovate our home.  I did not expect I would be able to give up that income and stability nearly so soon.

I am so thankful to Jordan for working hard and making sacrifices to support my dreams.  I am determined to make the most of this opportunity and work hard to build my artistic career.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve watched my shared art studio,  the KW Artists Co-op, develop from an idea and a desperate gamble into a thriving, self-sustaining artistic community and vibrant, inspiring workspace I am excited to visit every day. I am excited to bring the same drive and dedication to my art and illustrations.   I have already seen so much improvement, and had the chance to experience some really interesting projects in the short time since I started, I can’t wait to find out what the future will bring.

Lichen and Cup Fungi on Elm Branch by Lee Angold
Crustose Lichen and Cup Fungi on Elm branch 

Here’s how you can get involved:

  1. Commission an illustration for your business or event:  I specialize in botanical, natural science and food illustrations.  Do you own or work for a farm, cafe, bed and breakfast, space exploration company?
    Custom Wedding Invitation

    I would be delighted to illustrate your product packaging design, menu, advertisements, etc.  Do you have a big event coming up, such as a wedding, graduation or milestone birthday?  Contact me about commissioning custom stationery. 

  2. Buy or commission an art piece for yourself or a loved one:  I would love for you to have a piece of my art to call your own.  You can view a selection of my pieces on my Portfolio page, visit one of my current exhibitions,  or contact me for a personal tour.  I also have small original art, prints and cards available through my Etsy shop.  Do you have an idea for the perfect, meaningful piece you’d like me to create?  I am currently taking private commissions, and would love to work with you to make your vision a reality 🙂

    Fine Art Commission for Private Client –  Watercolour Gladiolus
  3. Signal Boost:  I am currently active on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as well as this blog.  Follow me to get updates on new projects, a peek into my artistic process and studios, geeking out over pigments and science.  See something you like, or reminds you of a friend?  Like and share the posts that interest you, it really helps me reach a wider audience.
  4. Tell me about your wacky ideas and opportunities:   Some of the most interesting work I’ve been offered are things I would never have expected.
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    Cake Painting by Lee Angold

    Did you know that cakes can be painted using food dye and vodka like watercolour? Neither did I, until I was asked to run a cake painting workshop (by the way, if any of you are bakers, holla at me, I would LOVE to do cake-painting again).  I am happy to teach, try different media, participate in collaborative or residency projects, etc.  If you have an idea for a project that could use an artist or illustrator, saw something cool on the internet, or would just like to bounce ideas off me, get in touch.

  5. Support another artist: No doubt some of you really love the concept of supporting me or artists in general, but don’t find my art interesting or appealing.  That’s absolutely fine!  Art is super personal.
    Image result for i'd rather be than everyone's cup of tea
    Actually, I really love tea, but you get the idea

    If I could ask one favour, please attend a local art fair, festival, get in touch with artist friends, and support another artist.  If you’d like some pointers, I would be happy to suggest some artists you might enjoy more.  Let me know if you’ve found  a great artist or art piece, I would be happy to share your find and help promote them as well 🙂