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12. Watercolor Win or Wash Out?


Growing up, every so often my mom would bring home a Crayola watercolor set from the grocery store. I’d play with it how kids do– just making a mess and having fun– and that is all the experience that I’ve had with watercolor!


Why watercolors now? Because I had foot surgery in late May and neededto be completely non-weight bearing for several weeks. I knew that there was no way I could move around in my studio, finding papers to glue & acrylic paints that would need dedicated clean up. But I could envision that, within a week or so, I’d be able to sit at a table and use watercolors. So for my hard recovery week, I watched how-to videos and started to imagine myself painting. I tell you, I was soooooo good in my mind!

When I got to the table with my paint set, brushes, and paper, I was ready to be FABULOUS. Why would mark-making need practice, my actual hand holding a real brush? How hard could it be to control the amount of water? Naturally my vibrant colors would stay separated versus combine to turn into brown mixes. And then I tried it. Not so easy as it looked in the videos. Imagine that.

But I kept at it. When I was frustrated and wanted to return to my usual creative process, my foot held me up. It was watercolor or nothing, so I’d sit down and watercolor practice. Sheet after sheet after sheet. More videos. More practice sessions.

When I’m in my studio, there’s a 'ripping and slapping down glue' element; there’s a 'dragging paint with a palette knife across open space' element; there’s a physical movement to my process; those elements had to sit quietly in the penalty box while I was healing. I needed less movement and watercolor was a great match.

Overall, watercolor is quieter. More careful. It feels deliberate to me at every step. The little painting series that I eventually did ended up a complete change from my norms. I used neutrals, a lot of white space for breathing room, and worked MORE on contemplated compositions (so less/no use of “free play” creative movements).

My emotional response ranged from curiosity to amusement to pride. It was a great reminder that, when you’re trying something new and feel awkward and inclined to abandon it, you can push through and “awkward” will start feeling “regular” and that’s where I am now.

WHAT’S NEXT: Moving forward, I’ll keep doing watercolor but I feel ready to put more of my own spin on it. Like once I was more mobile, I made these collages from my watercolor papers and that felt “more me.” I can feel a step away from neutrals and back toward color, too.

Basic watercolor painting will be a great variable to add in; but, first, now in my boot and on my feet, I’ve gotta get back to some classic mixed media the way I like to do it. I’ve missed it this last month. The mess in “making a mess” is calling my name.

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