The Beautiful Planet project sees Paintings in Hospitals, in partnership with Four Seasons Health Care and brighterkind, bring artworks from our collection and specially-designed creative activities to 160 care homes across the UK.

One of the artists featured is Annabel Church Smith. Here, she reflects on capturing the feeling of being underwater and being inspired by Gustav Klimt in her painting, ‘Mrs Klimt Swimming’.

When I immerse myself in water, it is either to swim or to have a bath. Swimming is a strenuous form of exercise for me. I try to improve my time, my strokes and my figure. On the other hand, having a warm bath feels luxurious and relaxing. It involves no exertion whatsoever apart from heaving myself out. I do like a bathtub with taps you can operate with your foot for a top up.

In my painting Mrs Klimt Swimming, Mrs Klimt is enjoying the sensation of being underwater. She could perhaps be in a spa pool on holiday, but she certainly isn’t competitively swimming.

Annabel Church Smith, Mrs Klimt Swimming, 2003

Annabel Church Smith, Mrs Klimt Swimming, 2003

There were two things I wanted to portray in creating this painting: the figure in the water and a reference to the designs of Gustav Klimt. Klimt uses swirls, shapes and lots of gold in his work. This is easy to capture. 

What is more difficult to achieve is an impression of immersion and serenity.   

However you portray being underwater it is a good idea to think how it feels rather than just how it looks. In 'Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)' by David Hockney, we can see a complete contrast between the figure looking into the water and the swimmer. We know the swimmer is under the water by the bits of blue and the white lines on the body. Pretty simple really … but I would have tried to make it far too complicated.

Water is one of the most versatile things to paint. It has no colour, but can reflect what is above or around it. This is often the sky which is why I paint it blue.

When portraying being underwater, it is a good idea to think how it feels rather than just how it looks.

The most important thing about your painting is that you enjoy creating it. Don’t worry in any way about it being good or bad or something to frame. Experiment. You may surprise yourself. I have made some absolute horrors in my painting life. I still exhibited them because I enjoyed painting them. Sometimes I paint something that only I like, and that’s fine too.

Let the paint flow, use plenty of water and immerse yourself in the sensation of floating. 

Annabel Church Smith, Swimmers

I was inspired to paint Swimmers as I was swimming quite a lot at my local pool and at the Olympic pool at Stratford. Don’t imagine for one minute I am a really good swimmer - I stick to the slow lane and on a bad day it can feel like a small tug pulling the Queen Mary through treacle. I just enjoy an occasional swim and the Olympic pool is so large it never feels remotely crowded. It is also very long so you don’t have to turn round so frequently.

Swimmers is painted in Gouache. This is an opaque water based paint which was necessary for the bodies of the swimmers. It can be watered down to behave like watercolour. I had to make decisions about what to include as there are many elements of a swimming pool - the reflections, the ripples, the patterns of the water and the little waves created by the swimmers. In the end I didn’t put in anything other than a slightly blotchy background to give the feeling of transparency. I used wet-on-wet technique and, if you look closely, you can see my fingers on the right hand side... Oops!  

I then went on with this theme of swimmers to make some Lino print cards which were really difficult. But in the end, with persistence, I got there.

Here is the work in progress which I think just proves you sometimes just need to keep trying until you eventually get it right!

Find out more about our Beautiful Planet project with Four Seasons Health Care...