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Art for everyone

By AnneePublished 9 months ago 3 min read

My watercolor journey started with a kit from the five and dime that came with twelve sticky, faded colors and a plastic-bristled brush that splayed out from its handle like an old scrub brush. There were no instructions on the box. There was no mixing palette. I “painted” on pulp construction paper. My supplies were, and for a long time remained, limited to those I received as holiday gifts and those I hoarded from holidays past.

Planning Ahead and Making Mistakes:

I gave up on watercolor painting rather quickly, and it wasn’t just because of the low-quality supplies. I didn’t want to play, I wanted to make art.

I never took the time to plan ahead, and painting over my mistakes after the fact wasn’t possible. On days when I could get our antennae to conjure PBS on the television, I’d watch Bob Ross with awe. He didn’t plan ahead! He was able to cover any mistakes he might make! With all of my mistakes visible and all my muddy colors scratched into the paper, my art didn’t please me. My trees and clouds were anything but happy. I remember thinking it all looked like I’d tried to use my paper to mop up the last bit of ink in some dried-up old markers.

My perception of watercolor painting — that it was either for kids who had no “standards” or for professionals who had the time and patience to plan ahead and never make mistakes — persisted a long time. For decades I stuck to acrylic painting. There’s never a need to plan ahead with acrylics: There’s a half-gallon gesso and “give it another go.”

But last year? Last year I got closer to fifty than to forty, and that’s come with some benefits.

Financially, I’m stable for the first time ever. For me that means two things: better supplies and less hustle. I'm able to afford the good stuff with little to no spending guilt, and I’m able to take the time to plan ahead because I’m not constantly worried that I’m using time that should otherwise be spent supplementing my income. I can take the time to research supplies, buy the tools that make me and my trees and clouds happy, plan time for tutorials (without having to wait for the wind to push the antenna in the right direction), and patiently prep and produce each painting properly.

Watercolor Painting as a Contemplative Practice:

More meaningfully, though, I’m changing, and watercolor painting, maybe because of its nature or in spite of its nature, is teaching me to love it as a contemplative Practice with a capital “P.” I’m learning to embrace it as, ironically, play.

I’m not making art to sell, to impress others, to prove that I have a particular identity or belong in a certain social circle. Instead, I’m painting postcards I can send to people randomly just to make them happy. Not only can I afford lots of stamps, but letting friends know I’m thinking of them fondly in a tangible way is incredibly important to me these days.

I also don’t mind sitting still for a few hours and sketching or planning in a journal or on my iPad. Not only do I have the extra $12.00 to get another pack of 50 postcards if I mess up, but I don’t even mind so much if I mess up. It’s as liberating as admitting when I’ve made any other kind of mistake.

I’m playing outside, paying attention to the color of a bee’s bottom and to the shape of the blossoms on my okra plants. I’m counting my cat’s whiskers. I’m slowing down and paying attention to all the things I’ve always loved as ideas, but never took the time to get to know up close. I’m spending time on social media telling people, strangers, what I love about their work.

I’m practicing negotiating the boundary between spontaneity and quieting my mind. I’m practicing gratitude. I’m reaching out and connecting with my community, practicing generosity. I’m playing with watercolors, and it’s making me both incredibly calm and incredibly proficient.


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