I love, love, love watercolour. It’s unlike any other medium to me, and while I have created many things in many different outlets for creativity, watercolour is the one that satisfies me most. There is a beautiful magic to “collaborating” with fluid colour and water, responding to what is happening on the paper in a back and forth dance between maker and medium. Sometimes I don’t know how a painting came to be; there’s just a haze of emotion as I fell into the painting.
But when I’m teaching and a student is struggling and frustrated, I have to look back to the days when it didn’t always feel like magic. Sometimes that means looking back to just yesterday because as a lifelong watercolour learner, I am always seeking to challenge myself and grow, to paint better, and growth can’t happen without struggle.
It Takes Faith!
I love using the phrase ‘trust the process,’ because in those words contains the same kind of belief that motivates a gardener to plant, a pianist to practice, and a hiker to keep walking. Believing that doing the right thing over and over will bear fruit is what keeps us going when we can’t really tell if it’s working or not. Somehow, we find it easier to do that when it comes to music and sports than when talking about creating art.
There is magic there for even the beginner painter but you need to trust that the moments may feel short-lived, or that your enjoyment of the time spent creating will be diminished if you let your mistakes supersede the joy you find in the process of creation. Sometimes an hour of happy painting will feel completely wasted when a painting gets swallowed up by mistakes; it’s so hard not to let them preach “failure” to you when painting seems so effortless to others.
Remember that when my brush strokes seem effortless in my painting, it’s because I’ve moved my brush that way a thousand times before. As I write this, my daughter is practicing piano. She worked on one song for an entire year before her recital in the spring, and what sounded flawless and natural on stage was the product of hundreds of practice sessions, and thousands of drills.
Love Makes You Willing to Do the Work
I have two simple questions for anyone wondering if they can master watercolour.
Do you love it?
Do you love it enough to keep painting and not quit?
This hasn’t just been a watercolour mastery principle for me. It’s influenced how I approach my relationships, how I became a runner at age 30 after years of sedentary activity, and in a host of projects that I was tempted to quit when they felt too hard.
Love Means the Result Isn’t Always the Goal
If we only loved the end result, I think there are a lot of things that wouldn’t be worth the effort it took to get there. So we don’t just focus on “slogging through” so we can celebrate that silver wedding anniversary or retirement dinner. We look for ways to enjoy the journey and enrich the day-to-day.
I’ve declared my painting studio a “boredom-free zone.” As soon as a painting starts to bore me, I have given myself permission to immediately quit that painting, or (and this is what I prefer), to take a big risk that changes it dramatically. While I know this feels at odds with my talk of drills and “doing the work” but because we choose painting as a way to express ourselves as well as to relax and be creative, where the “work” comes in is in avoiding doing anything that diminishes our creativity. If the “drills” that some instructors recommend feel too stifling for you, your creativity will suffer, so find a way to learn those techniques through a method that feels more fun!
Look for Magic
Magic won’t show up if you don’t look for it. You won’t know until you start painting that today is the day everything will come together until it surprises you while you are already painting. You won’t win the prize if you don’t buy a ticket, and you won’t find the magic if you aren’t painting. So paint! Play with paint. Do the parts of painting that are fun to get you excited and stay motivated, and challenge yourself when you are feeling adventurous.
Change the Rules
Make your own enjoyment the measure of whether your painting session is successful or not. There are mountains carpeted with wildflowers out of sight of the most intrepid adventurer, and if the Creator is filling the world with colour for his own enjoyment, whether anyone sees it or not, we can do the same with our paintings and know the same kind of joy.
My course, Watercolour Workout, is all about exercises you can do to have fun with watercolour while honing your skills in technique. I recommend it if you need to get out of a rut, or are looking to grow your abilities while still feeling like you’re playing. Enroll here.
Here’s a great article on being patient during the journey to mastery.