4 Conditions to Create Abundant Growth in Watercolor

What if all you had to do to get GREAT at watercolor was to USE IT?

If it didn’t matter how you used it?

If it didn’t matter whether your results reflected growth?

If you could just do whatever you wanted and could know you were getting better?

I know a lot of artists who have worked really hard to grow skill. Many of them find that they have invested in controlling a medium that is more beautiful when it is set free. In my online school and community, watercolor lovers come to find out how to loosen their grip on the brush and let watercolor flow more freely than they ever thought it could. I believe that it’s the right mindset that can make our most optimum growth in both skill and expression happen!

Process or Product?

Almost all of us start painting from a deep inner motivation; we want to paint because of the process. We start out painting because we find the act of painting to be deeply satisfying. We get sidetracked when we start to focus on the product, desiring a good outcome, and sacrificing the joy of the process to this new goal.

Not everyone understands what is meant by this idea of choosing to focus on process over product. Let’s define it a bit:

Process: our action word – moving the brush on the paper. Watching the movement of pigment and water. Seeing beautiful “happy accidents” work like magic on the page. Losing track of time and getting lost in a creative reverie.

Product: our distraction. Our adult self barking, “Make something good! Don’t waste paper! Don’t waste time fooling around! You need a product to show off to justify all this self-indulgence!”

Which sounds more meaningful? Which focus is more likely to create a safe space for you to be truly free?

Don’t watch the clock.

We do this when we think, “Okay, I’ve had fun with these warm ups but now I need to paint something real.” We diminish the value of experimentation and play. We try to fit it to our timeline.

We watch the clock; “I’ve been painting for X years/months, I should be better than this by now.” Can you force growth?

Well, can you? Can you force growth? That’s a legitimate question.

Can you make a plant grow? We can water, fertilize, set the temperature and lighting to create optimum conditions for growth, and this does affect the rate of growth, but how long it will take to see that apple seed become a fruit-bearing tree can only be estimated.

What are our optimum conditions for growth?

Soil

Sometimes we think our fertilizer is our tools, and we buy brushes, paint and paper, looking for a magic combination that will give us results like our mentors. Certainly good tools help, but I think they are a smaller factor than we expect. Let’s think of tools as soil; raw material to receive our seeds of inspiration.

Fertilizer/Water

Another source of growth is technique. We grow when we master technique. I have changed my understanding of the basic techniques over the years; perhaps there are only two techniques; how much water & paint I’m using, and how I’m moving my brush. The diversity of these two gives us an infinite combination of effects and results. This is why I can say, “It doesn’t matter HOW you use watercolor, just USE IT.” Notice what it does and experiment! Hours are more important than how-to’s. Hours can represent water and fertilizer; as we invest those hours, our raw material becomes more abundant with possibilities.

Light

We need light in order to grow. For an artist this could be represented by input/inspiration/instruction. Seek out instruction from diverse sources and look at lots of art, from traditional to weird. Feed yourself from a multi-vitamin of sources. Notice the light and color in the world around you and drink in tiny moments of unnoticed beauty. And just as the sun rises and sets, allow time to step away and rest, absorbing information and processing it to suit your creative impulses and learning style.

Shelter

Finally, and most importantly, we need shelter/safety. None of the other conditions matter if this need is not met! When my children were toddlers, on more than one occasion I found them at my house plants, digging furiously, uprooting tender plants that I hadn’t protected from their busy hands. We need to be wise to protect our tender, timid growth from a freezing blast of too-harsh criticism (so often we are our own worst critics!) or overwatering with an overzealous approach to learning. Will any plant survive being watered by a fire hose? I have gained so much by being gentle with myself and making my studio a safe place to show up without expectation.

Stop watching the clock. Become a patient gardener of your gift and let it grow with a balanced approach; light, food and shelter. Feel the sun on your face and enjoy the processes that lead to growth. You might not be seeing any fruit right now, but you can create that healthy environment for growth.

Can you add to this analogy? What factors have fed your growth as an artist? Let me know what has created growth for you by leaving a comment below!

Recommended2 recommendationsPublished in World Watercolor Month
9 Comments
  1. Sandra Strait 2 months ago

    Another wonderful explanation of the creative process! You are always so inspirational, Angela!

  2. Francoise Blais 2 months ago

    Angela you should write a book and share your beautiful work and knowledge

  3. Leslie A Waite 2 months ago

    I began watercolors a little over 5 years ago.i found you on YouTube..I have ,I believe, all of your lessons..and watch all of your YouTube’s demos/tutorials..it never fails, just when I need a pep talk , you write a blog ,that I feel like was written for me! So I say that You are in my” tool box”
    Thank you Angela
    Xxleslie

  4. RuthB 2 months ago

    I love your words of wisdom! Thank you

  5. charmsabout 2 months ago

    “Notice what it does and experiment! ” Written down and taped to my computer screen!

  6. Elizabeth Hicks 2 months ago

    I read and reread this blog and will revisit in future. Such a constructive analogy of nurturing creativity and nurturing organic growth. The need for shelter was what I related to most . Although I live in a zone of safety, stimulation and access to many “lessons”, I struggle to map out time and priority to paint. Need to resist the external and internal pressures that draw my attention from studio time.

  7. Barb 2 months ago

    Process over product. When I taught young children, our goal was process over product. I remember the children who cautiously approached the art area, the children who didn’t want to get messy, and the children who immersed themselves into the paint and wore some of it home. Your conditions remind me of the process children go through in their developmental stages. Thank you Angela for bringing this to light.

  8. Mireya 2 months ago

    Yes process is everything. I realize that there are no mistakes. Even the pieces that appear to le a lost cause have great ideas. This is what I blog about at creativelyhue.com.

  9. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 2 months ago

    I call it journey over product, but essentially the same idea of letting the experience take you to unknown places of creativity. To-may-to or to-mah-to, an outstanding article to make me rush to paint. Thank you for the inspiration, Angela.

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