Hello, my name is Cathy Zhang and I’m a Los Angeles transplant living in Portland, Oregon. I create playful and expressive watercolor for the inner child in all of us. (You can find my work on my websiteInstagram, and Facebook). #Doodlewash - Giraffe - #WorldWatercolorGroupI didn’t grow up with any art influence in the family. Before my latest encounter with watercolor, I had a 11-year hiatus from art. After a few B- in college art classes, I was convinced I wasn’t cut out for a creative profession, and hastily changed my major. I then spent the better half of my twenties crafting a resume that would help me secure financial stability and social acceptance. Art did not fit in that formula.

I fit in, but did not belong

#Doodlewash - Watercolor by Cathy Zhang of snow owl - #WorldWatercolorGroupDuring my slow and steady climb up the corporate ladder, I felt my dissatisfaction growing, incurable by new jobs, bonuses, or corporate perks. The more benefits were thrown at me, the more guilt I felt for not appreciating them. I tried to scratch my existential itch with various side hobbies but none of them stuck. I began to dread Monday mornings and lived for weekends. To help relieve the frustration, I joined #the100dayproject.


Rebuilding confidence in my creativity

My first 100 Day Project painting was my first watercolor painting ever. Since I didn’t consider myself artistic, I had nothing to lose for trying. I had no idea how to use the paint correctly and treated it like acrylic. I quickly became hooked on the medium and looked forward to coming home from work and painting at night. After the 100 Day Project, I didn’t want to stop painting. I received positive feedback on social media and I was flattered when friends reached out about purchasing some of my paintings. This motivated me to keep going.#Doodlewash - Watercolor by Cathy Zhang of dinosaurs in the city - #WorldWatercolorGroupMy favorite painting subjects are animals because of their diverse range in shapes, sizes, textures, and expressions. I started off by going on Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration for photo references or examples of other artists’ work. I gradually grew the confidence to trust my own creativity to develop my own style. In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote: “Everyone imitates before they can innovate”. After the training wheels came off, improvement only came with deliberate and continuous practice.#Doodlewash - Elephant with baby carriage - #WorldWatercolorGroup

The risk of not trying

In the beginning, the severity of my job unhappiness was directly correlated with my motivation to paint. After several months of this cyclical (maybe not so healthy) relationship, my gut told me that I could do something more with my art and that all my years of working professionally might have built a foundation to propel me to take action; not trap me with golden handcuffs. I realized the risk of not trying was greater than the risk of failing and if I were to fail, I would fail gloriously after giving it my all. As a result, I recently quit my corporate job and began the process of building my creative business. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve done, but I’m grateful everyday for taking this risk.#Doodlewash - Watercolor by Cathy Zhang of Yogi Pig - #WorldWatercolorGroup

My creative process

#Doodlewash - Watercolor by Cathy Zhang of sea turtles - #WorldWatercolorGroupBecause of my analytical background, I do most of the prep work in my head. I have a general sense of composition for a piece before I start the sketch. I draw inspiration from colors in nature, but like to use both analogous and complementary colors in unexpected ways. I do rough light pencil sketches as a general reference for placement, but let my intuition guide me on where different colors fall. My style tends to be expressive, organic, with details only in selective areas and pinches of color in places they don’t belong. I suppose it’s my artistic representation of being rebellious against the norm.

Watercolor is full of surprises and I’m still learning a lot about different techniques and tools to express myself. Since I’m self taught, I probably miss some of the theoretical guiding principles taught in art school, but I enjoy stumbling into new challenges and figuring it out as I go.

Thank you for reading, and thanks Charlie for inviting me to join this community of amazing doodlewashers!

Cathy Zhang

Posted by:Charlie O'Shields (doodlewash)

Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world!

26 replies on “GUEST DOODLEWASH: The Risk Of Not Trying

  1. Ah, synchronicity – I just read ‘Big Magic’ not so long ago – wonderful book – and here you are quoting from it. I found it on a library in Valbona, Albania, of all places. Good luck with the Creative Business Cathy, and may you court inspiration🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Terri! That is pretty random that you found it in an Albanian Library. Big Magic is such a great book with so many quotables. The other one I liked is about fear: “It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes, too.”

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha, thanks, I’d like to think so…😉. Your puffer fish avatar made me click to your site and your illustrations are so good! I took on a character illustration project recently and it kicked my a$$. so RESPECT.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Cathy, I love the way your paint meanders around your paintings and finds its own resting place. You are a true water-colorist. Your story about finding your way back to art is so interesting. I’m glad early discouragement didn’t confound you forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sharon, I love the way you describe it, as if the paint has a life of its own, as watercolor often does. Thanks so much for your kinds words and encouragement! I’m glad I made my way back eventually too.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. what a wonderful, fluid and subtle style you have. ‘misplaced colour’ was a real eye opener to me Cathy, I really hadnt thought about that much before, tending to try and be ‘accurate’ for the most part. love what you are doing and have done. good for you, and thanks for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Andrew! I’m glad my article has prompted you to think a bit differently about your approach. I’m so fluid with my style sometimes that I think a little bit of precision gives it a nice edge too🙂.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yay, Cathy! I relate to your story a lot. It’s hard to leave a career that you are successful at by all of the external measures that we’re often taught to value. Glad that you followed your heart and your gut and that it’s brought you happiness.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for reading, Jen! I’m glad you find it relatable. I struggled with giving up the “prestige” for a long time and to be honest sometimes still do, but as you said this is what brings me happiness.

      Liked by 1 person

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