When watercolorist Claire Simpson Jones first committed to renting a studio in the River Arts District and painting full time, she had no plan for how to sell her work. “People started coming in and buying,” she recalls. “I have an attitude that you just have to let go and let the universe take care of you. As long as I don’t worry, people purchase my work.”
But it took decades and several eureka moments for Jones to receive the freedom to let go. Born and raised in Canada, she was in second grade when her art teacher saw a little girl who needed encouragement and caring. “She made all the difference for me. I liked making pictures, but I was in a dysfunctional family. With her, I found a place where I was seen and appreciated, so I kept with it and art became a passion for me. My next-level teachers continued to encourage me.”
After high school, she spent five months solo-traveling through Europe before enrolling in California College of the Arts. It wasn’t a good fit, so she returned to Canada and studied at the Ontario College of Art & Design University. “As soon as I was introduced to watercolors, I fell in love with the freedom, spontaneity, and unexpected surprises in the medium. I always wanted to paint, but then I married and had children and they were my world.”
A divorce sent her to back to school to study graphic design, and she began working — successfully but not happily — in that field. A relocation to Florida was even less fulfilling. “I took a little trip through the mountains here and said to myself, ‘This is home.’” Back in Florida, she got her BFA from Florida Atlantic University, packed up her degree, her belongings and kids, moved to Western North Carolina, and got her teaching certificate at the University of North Carolina Asheville. She applied for a position at North Buncombe High School and remained there for 24 years.
“I never expected to be a teacher, but from day one I loved working with high-school students. I was determined to rebuild their art program to one to be proud of. When we had to go to online teaching, I just couldn’t do it, so I decided to retire. The timing turned out to be right.”
She got her studio in June 2020 and went from painting two pieces a year to two a week. “I love painting everything,” she says. “I do landscapes, figures in landscapes, portraits, nature, and travel painting. I get fidgety if I work with something too long, so I’m always changing subject matter and color palettes.”
Inspired by the world around her, she often seeks natural surroundings, equipped with her plein-air supplies. When she travels, she does color sketches and small paintings in her sketchbook. A signature member of the Watercolor Society of North Carolina, she received their 2022 Holbein Award for her piece “A Time of Innocence.”
Simpson already has her plein-air bag packed for four weeks in Croatia and a seven-day workshop in Wales. “Creating is all about the experience. I always told my students not to be afraid to explore and have fun. Be passionate and do it.”
Claire Simpson Jones, Asheville, studio at Riverview Station (191 Lyman St #117, River Arts District; clairecsimpsonjones.com). Simpson is represented by Blue Moon Gallery and Frame (24 East Main St., Brevard, bluemoongalleryandframe.com). She also sells work at OOAK Gallery (573 Micaville Loop, Burnsville, ooakartgallery.com).