3 is a Magic Number – featuring Jemma Davies

This series of blogs features the talented artists participating in ‘3 is the Magic Number’ exhibition in Bristol. The exhibition was curated by four Bristol artists – Jimmer Willmott, Jemma Davies, DIFF and GUTS.

Each artist was asked to produce 3 new pieces of work A3,A4 and A5. Let me introduce you to the work of one of the organisers and exhibitor of beautiful watercolours Jemma Davies:

Jemma is an illustrator and designer living and working in Bristol, UK. Alongside her day job as the lead graphic designer for an awarding body, she also take on design and illustration projects on a freelance basis.  Her work has been featured in art exhibitions across Bristol and she sell her designs as stickers, greetings cards, badges and art prints. ‘I’m a Bristolian, born and bred, and I’ve loved drawing ever since I was a little kid.’ She studied graphic design at City of Bristol College and went on to do a BA Hons in illustration at Southampton Solent University. After graduating in 2008 she moved back to her home town.

She says that her  artwork is hugely influenced by the natural world; animals, landscapes, oceans and galaxies are all key features of her  work.  ‘This is probably why I’m never stuck for ideas of what to paint next as there’s just so much to be inspired by! I don’t usually do much prep work, most of the time I start off by sketching the animal or landscape from photographs or videos – National Geographic photography and Attenborough documentaries are usually my go-to sources of inspiration and reference material. I also look at a lot of Nasa photographs for inspiration and galaxies are some of my favourite things to paint. I love the legends and mythology around constellations and they often feature in my work.’

She tends to use traditional materials in her lovely work – mostly inks, watercolour and pen on paper.  Because her day job so centred around digital techniques, when it comes to her own work she likes to do things by hand.  ‘Once I’ve decided on the composition and I’ve got it all sketched out, I start off adding shading and tone with a layer of India ink. Because India ink is waterproof when dry, I can then add colour over the top in watercolours or coloured ink without affecting the layer underneath. I then add detail using micron pens and my trusty white gel pen. Because of my background in graphic design, composition is key for me and I often use a lot of white space in my artwork.’

She says that her style has grown and evolved quite a lot over the past year or so: ‘I think partly this is down to getting more involved in Bristol’s art community. One thing I really miss about my degree is working in a studio with other illustrators and initially I found this quite difficult to recreate when I was painting after work in my home studio. But with social media and a growing group of art friends – quite a few of which also have work in the 3 is a Magic Number exhibition – I’ve had more opportunities to share my work with other artists and get feedback and ideas.’

3 is a Magic Number pieces

Her pieces for the 3 is a Magic Number exhibition feature two animals and one landscape.   ‘I ended up bending (breaking!) the rules on sizes a little – but I still submitted one small, one medium and one large.’

Grizzly – 20x20cm; ink, watercolour and pen on stretched paper box frame. £100

About her bear she says: ‘This was the first piece I finished for the show. Bears are one of my favourite animals to paint and I had this idea of a kind of double exposure image – with the landscape and sky inside the outline of the bear. I chose to have some of the rocks and trees spilling out on to the space around the bear, so it looks like part of the landscape. I wanted to play with the idea that the life on this planet is a direct result of its surrounding habitat and landscape. The bear’s paw contains the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear – also known as the plough and the big dipper.

Of her second piece she adds: ‘This piece (and Billie’s Guardian) is painted on watercolour paper, which has been stretched around a canvas box frame. This is a technique I’ve started using for practical reasons: it stops the paper crinkling when I use wet ink and watercolour washes; it also means I don’t have to frame everything like you would with flat sheets of paper, as framing can get expensive when you have lots of work in a show.’

Snowdon – 23x23cm, 25x25cm framed; ink, watercolour and pen on layered paper. £90

When Jemma is not painting, she tries to spend as much time outdoors as possible – usually hiking, climbing and scrambling up hills and mountains.  Of her third piece she says ‘This piece is based on a photo I took about a year ago when I climbed to the summit of Snowdon for the first time. It was the first mountain I had climbed and we couldn’t have picked a better day – it was clear and bright, warm at ground level and covered with snow at the top. I remember looking off the top and thinking how much the hills below looked like layers of paper, one in front of the other. This inspired me to try out a new technique for this piece – it is made up of four layers, each mounted one top of each other within a box frame, with space between the layers to give the landscape a sense of depth. We’re going.’

Billie’s Guardian – 40x30cm; ink, watercolour and pen on stretched paper box frame. SOLD

‘Red pandas are probably one of the cutest animals on the planet – I had so much fun sketching from source images and videos for this one as every single one was just too adorable! I liked the idea of a curled up red panda that would look like part of the landscape, perhaps a hill or a boulder. As I was working on the piece, I called it Guardian because it looks like it’s protecting the landscape it’s curled up around. It’s named Billie’s Guardian because this piece sold before the show opened (it sold when I posted a work in progress sketch on social media) to a friend of mine for her little girl. Red pandas are Billie’s favourite animal, so after the show this piece will be Billie’s – hence Billie’s Guardian. But shhh, I don’t think Billie has seen it yet!’

You can see these three pieces of work at The Ropewalk in Bristol as part of the ‘3 Is A Magic Number’ exhibition- on till 14 April.

Links for Jemma Davies:





Photography of works by Harry Bristol

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