GUEST ARTIST: “How Art Helps Me Through the Difficult Days” by Brenda Jiral

Sunlit Tulips - Watercolor Painting by Brenda Jiral

Hello, my name is Brenda Jiral and I am originally from Rochester, Michigan. I currently live in Hamilton, Michigan with my husband and two of my three children. I have been drawn to art for as long as I can remember. I see beauty in things that most people would simply pass over or dismiss.

Like the way bright sunshine creates the most beautiful shadows; full of color and life. Or the multitude of color shifts that are in the human eye or a flower. I am frequently mesmerized by the dazzling light that bounces off a lake in the morning sun, and the range of colors in every rock and weed under the water’s surface.

Enchanted - Trees Watercolor Painting by Brenda Jiral


I have been “making art” since I was a child, so, it was a natural progression for me to become an artist. I believe it’s what I was created to do. I studied fine art at college, but after three years, I decided to put higher education “on hold” in order to pursue my other dream: motherhood. I got married, had three beautiful children, and devoted my life to my family. The only creative outlet during those years were the many craft projects I would do with my children.

Dogwood Leaves Watercolor Sketch by Brenda Jiral

Dogwood Leaves

Once they were all in school, I was finally in a position to dust off my dreams of creating art and see what I could do with it. After taking the few watercolor painting classes that were available at our local art center, I was left to my own devices. So, from then on, I became self-taught. I poured over every book and video I could get my hands on at the local library, and watched every You-tube tutorial I could find. And I experimented: A LOT!

Sunlit Shore - Landscape Water and Trees Watercolor Painting by Brenda Jiral

Sunlit Shore

My father was also an artist, and one of the things he said all of the time is that “art is 10% talent and 90% work” -Alfred M. Ponte.  That doesn’t dismiss natural, God-given talent, but rather, it puts the emphasis on what you DO with that talent. You can either sit on it and do nothing with it, or you can work your tail off to develop it and share it with the world. I’ve chosen the latter, I worked hard, and now I enjoy teaching others what I’ve learned. “Your talent is God’s gift to you; what you do with it is your gift back to God.” -Leo Buscaglia.

Pomegranate Watercolor Sketching Art Journal


For the past two and a half decades, I have lived with chronic pain and illness. To say that it’s been hard would be a gross understatement. I don’t share this often, because most people really don’t know what to do with that information. And honestly, I’ve been judged harshly all too often.

And I don’t share it to get attention or because I feel sorry for myself. I share it in hopes that if there is someone else out there, struggling with health issues, my story would give them hope. That maybe there’s a purpose for this struggle and something good can come out of it.

I don’t have one of those inspiring, miracle stories. I will most likely be in pain and ill for the rest of my life. And I have come to terms with that. This story is more about how art has helped me through some of the darkest days of my life.  Art has been a blessing in so many ways. I am so very grateful for the gift it is in my life! There have been days that, because of the pain or the endlessness of it all, I felt really down.

And rather than dwelling on that and allowing it to get out of control, I would go downstairs to my studio in an effort to take my mind off of the pain. At first, it can be like pushing a rope. I may not “feel” inspired or excited about what I’m doing, but I choose to do it because I know I need it. I may be just doing a little sketching in my journal or pushing some paint around on a scrap of watercolor paper, or whatever.

Trees Hills watercolor landscape painting

Trees & Hills

But at some point, I realize I no longer feel down. Don’t get me wrong, the pain is still there, but my heart feels a little lighter and I am excited about what I’m doing. And that’s when the paint has begun to work its magic on me. I feel joy and peace and alive again! And that’s when I remember: I’m going to be ok.

In spite of the health issues, I still try to teach a few classes or workshops per year. It’s not nearly as much as I would like to be doing, because I love to teach, but for now it will be enough. Maybe someday, I will enjoy better health and be able to do all of the things I want to do with my art, but for now, my life is full.

My Process And How I Got Here

When I was in high school, my art teacher expected a sketchbook full of drawings every term. How I dreaded that deadline! I really didn’t like to draw. I know that sounds crazy, since I am so passionate about All-things-ART. But I really didn’t like to “waste time” in my sketchbook. (That’s the way I felt about it then).

I wanted to do the serious art, not sketch! How silly I was back then; I cringe when I think about how much energy I spent avoiding my sketchbook. I’d wait until the day or two before the deadline and just throw it all together, giving only the bare minimum in order to get the grade.

Kohlrabi watercolor Journal Sketch


Fast-forward to my early days learning to paint in watercolor. I would get so frustrated with my attempts to draw something in order to then paint it. All I wanted to do was paint, but my efforts showed my lack of drawing ability. I was reminded of my art teacher’s insistence on mastering the basics, and realized that I had failed to build a foundation before I started to “build the house”.

So, I went back. I began the discipline of forcing myself to draw at every opportunity. After all, I had a lot of time to make up! I put a sketchbook in my kitchen, so I could draw during breakfast and lunch and one downstairs, in my studio. I also put one in my car to draw while waiting for my kids to finish sports practice or orthodontist appointments. Eventually, I began to love to draw. I began to see the wisdom of building a foundation of this basic skill. Now, I don’t go anywhere without my sketchbook or watercolor journal.  I travel with it and record memories and I draw, draw, draw.

My creative process varies on the project I am working on at the time. If I am looking for a new painting idea, I will often go to my sketchbooks and “mine” them for inspiration. I will also pour over the thousands of photos I have taken over the years for just the right image that speaks to me. I also keep a running list of painting ideas, and sometimes I fear that there won’t be enough time to do them all.

Like I said earlier, a lot of my paintings begin in my sketchbook or watercolor journal. Some of my favorite ways of drawing is contour drawing, blind contour drawing or continuous line drawing. I am drawn to this technique because there is a decisiveness and character to the line that otherwise wouldn’t be there. Rather than a sketchy line, which is hesitant and unsure, the contour line that I employ feels confidant and sure. And rather than going for a photographically realistic look, or an architecturally accurate line, this line expresses more of the freedom I’m after and attracted to in nature. It feels more organic and personal to me.

Over the years, I have tried many different brands of paint and watercolor paper and I have no plans on settling on any one kind. I’m all about experimenting and exploring. In fact, I don’t consider myself a traditional watercolor “purist”, but rather, an experimental, mixed media artist, because I will never stop experimenting with new mediums and techniques. That’s what excites me the most about art: that I will be learning until the day I die!

When it comes to watercolors, I mainly use Daniel Smith and Winsor & Newton paints. And for paper, I love Arches cold press and Winsor & Newton brand. In addition to those, one of my favorite discoveries a few years ago is mineral paper. I am so in love with this surface! It’s smooth and so receptive to watercolor and ink line drawing. I have found two brands so far: Yasutomo Mineral paper, which comes in only two sizes, and Terraskin Stone paper. (This one is a little more difficult to find, but what a gem!)

I also love to use Caran D’Ache Neocolor II water-soluble wax pastels, Derwent Inktense Blocks and watercolor pencils and a variety of water-soluble ink pens. And I can’t leave out my trusty fountain pen that I use for a lot of my drawings in my watercolor journals!

Yellowstone Landscape watercolor painting by Brenda Jiral


In closing, I would like to thank Charlie at Doodlewash for allowing me to share my story and my love of art with others. And thank you, fellow-art explorer, for taking the time to read my story.

Benda Jiral

Recommended8 recommendationsPublished in Featured Artists
  1. Sandra Strait 3 years ago

    Brenda, I love the way your work catches the light and displays such depth. Thank you for sharing your artistic journey with us.

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      Thanks so much Sandra! I really appreciate your kind words!

  2. Mary Roff 3 years ago

    Brenda, thank you for sharing your inspiring story!! Your work is beautiful!!

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      Mary, thanks so much for taking the time to read my story and for the kind words about my art!

  3. Zertab Quaderi 3 years ago

    Your work and your art journey – both are amazing!

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      Thank you very much Zertab! And thanks so much for taking the time to read my story!

  4. Carol Rieger 3 years ago

    Brenda, beautiful work and an inspiring story. I am impatient, mainly because I have never set aside time for art. I want to do things quickly as I have a hard time settling down and am always thinking of the 50 things on my list. I struggle with calm. I connected with your realization that sketching the foundation made the difference in the satisfaction with your art. I will take that suggestion to heart. Thank you.

    It has been a busy, busy summer and fall for us, and in November I will reconnect again with Doodlewash and a daily practice. I need the prompts and the discipline that will make me “slow down”….also love Sketchbook Revival and Find your Flow with Karen Abend as my motivators.

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      I’m so glad to hear that my story made an impact, thanks for taking the time to read it! I too, struggle with calm. But I have found that if I “put myself on the calendar” and actually schedule time for art, then it’s so much easier to push all other thoughts and obligations aside for that period of time and focus on taking care of me. I bet if you do that, you’ll find that you have much more calm for the other things in life. Best wishes to you!

  5. Lisa Ann Ulibarri 3 years ago

    Greetings Brenda, It is so lovely to read about your journey. Your art is breathtaking!!!!I am glad you are not letting your health issues stop you from creating. I wish you all the best with this as well. Acupressure can be a lovely thing. it has been a blessing to me and mine. 🙂 <3

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      Hi Lisa! Thanks so much for your kind words! Have a blessed day!

  6. marshathepainter 3 years ago

    Hello! I appreciate the suggestion to carry sketchbooks to the various places we sit down to wait – the doctor’s office, etc. Even waiting in line at the grocery store, why not? I’m loving your watercolor style – so inspiring for me!

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      Thanks so much Marsha! I do find that if I have one handy, I’m more likely to pick it up rather than my phone during those down times.

  7. Karen Fortier 3 years ago

    Brenda, thank you for sharing your story and your art with all of us! Being able to loose yourself in your art at least for a while is such a gift. It is so great when we can do that.

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      Hi Karen,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my story! I am very grateful for the blessing that it is in my life to escape into my art for a while!

  8. Susan Cuss 3 years ago

    Brenda I love your art! It’s beautiful! I, too, have found that creating is healing, and I’m so glad that making art brings you pleasure, and joy, and takes you away from your health issues for a little while. Experimenting with different products and techniques keeps the excitement growing, and the soul perking. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      Thank you so much, Karen! And thanks for taking the time to read my story!
      Yes, experimenting does keep the soul “perking”.

      • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

        I’m so sorry, I meant to say “thank you Susan”. Please forgive me for the blunder.

  9. Ann 3 years ago

    Beautiful art, Brenda. It’s very inspiring. Is there a specific brand of watercolor journal that you’re especially fond of using? I like trying different journals that people recommend.

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      Hi Ann,
      Thanks so much for the kind words!! Yes, I do have a few favorites: Stillman & Birn Zeta series, if you like Hot Press paper and do a lot of ink drawing, it can take some watercolor as well. I also LOVE Winsor & Newton Professional watercolor journal, but it’s only offered in one size, I think, but the paper is amazing!!! It’s very,very similar to Arches cold press paper. And I also like The Moleskine watercolor journal. It’s so nicely made, with an elastic strap to keep it shut. It’s a thinner paper than the 140 lb ones, but it does handle more paint than I would’ve expected.
      I have recently begun making my own journals, so I can have exactly the kind of paper I want in each one. AND I can make the cover pretty, which makes me happy!

      • Ann 3 years ago

        Thank you so much. I haven’t tried the Winsor & Newton journal — I’ll check it out. Your work is beautiful.

        • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

          You’re welcome. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! Especially for watercolor, it’s really great paper!

  10. Prerana Kulkarni 3 years ago

    Gorgeous paintings!! Love the light and shadows! Thanks for sharing your story. And it is so true – “art is 10% talent and 90% work”.
    “Your talent is God’s gift to you; what you do with it is your gift back to God.” -Leo Buscaglia.
    Above quotes are take away for me after reading your article.
    Wishing you the beast of health and happiness.

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      Thank you Prerana! I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed my story, thanks for reading it! Best wishes to you as well!

  11. Lin Powell 3 years ago

    I love your art and your story. Both are so inspiring.

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      Thank you Lin, for your kind words; I am humbled and grateful!

  12. Lisa 3 years ago

    Excellent work. I have MS and pain and I find the same is true of me, art helps.

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      Thank you Lisa! I’m sorry to hear about your health issues, it’s not an easy life sometimes. But I’m so glad to hear that art helps you as well. All we can do some days is to keep taking the next step, and take care of ourselves. And for those of us that are creative, art is a gift beyond measure, in the sense of what it does for us individually. Best wishes to you in your art journey as well as your health!

  13. Laura Kate 3 years ago

    Hi, Brenda. I really like hearing about your process. As a beginning artist I am keen to learn about different techniques and methods. Thank you for sharing.

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      You’re welcome, and thank you for taking the time to read it. Best wishes to you on your art journey, and never stop learning; it keeps us young and vibrant!

  14. Walks in Watercolor 3 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful art with us, Brenda. Your forest scenes are amazing. I especially like how you deal with dense foliage.

  15. LoriCtoo 3 years ago

    Brenda, your story is so inspiring. I love how you shared your pain story, in hopes of reaching out to someone. People do not realize how art can transform you into another world and take you out of a situation they may be struggling with. I love your style. simple, fun and sketchy! Thanks for sharing!

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      Thank you! Yes, it is amazing how art can really help when things get hard. Thanks for taking the time to read my story and for your comments!

  16. teresam61 3 years ago

    I LOVE your work!!! And OH MY what an INSPIRATIONAL story that touched me on so many levels!!! I can identify with so much of your story. I too was always into art and “artsy stuff”…..but never pursued it, instead going into nursing and never doing anything in the way of sketching and painting very much in my early years. Fast forward 30 years and now I’m at a point where I can finely teach myself to sketch and paint and am loving getting back into it. However, I was diagnosed with a severe form of arthritis this year and, as things sometimes happen, the worst of the pain is often in my right hand and wrist…..the VERY area to interfere with my newfound love! Your story gives me so much hope, though, and a new determination to forge ahead and make the best use of my time and abilities, however they may wax and wane. Thank you so much for sharing the details and the “behind the scenes” information….it is so helpful!!!!! And thank you Charlie for sharing all your great work and for bringing out to our attention other inspiring artists as well!!! 🙂

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      Wow, your comments really touched me, thank you! I’m so glad you have found your way back to art: I hope you can keep at it in spite of the pain. I’m so sorry to hear about the arthritis, I hope you find something that helps, so you can keep pursuing creative endeavors. Best wishes to you!

  17. Julie 3 years ago

    I started painting with 10 minutes a day at the dining room table while my son was doing homework and on the other side of the table I would do watercolours. Eventually with the encouragement of a weekly art group at our church it developed into a practice of painting an hour or two a week on our weekly assignment for “show and tell”. But it started out with 10 minutes a day in between making dinner. The freedom found in painting is inspiring within itself. Thanks for sharing Brenda what art and painting has meant to you! You have put into words what I feel! I too like blind contour drawing a lot!

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      Hi Julie,
      Thanks so much for your kind comments and for sharing your story of your art journey as well. Best wishes as you continue on your art journey!

  18. Sharon Nolfi 3 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your personal story along with your work. I love you your botanical paintings!

  19. Margaret(Cifani) ODonnell 3 years ago

    Brenda , I have admired your work since Janet Davison made me aware of it a few years back. Your work is delicate and detailed in such a beautiful way . You are truly a wonderful artist ! I throughly enjoyed this article on you . It spoke to me in many ways!!
    Thank you for your openness …

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      I can’t thank you enough for the kind and positive comments on my artwork and my article. Thanks for taking the time to read it and to reply!
      I think I heard that you are taking lessons from Janet? What a blessing that must be! Best wishes in your own art endeavors and thanks for reaching out!

  20. beverlydyer 3 years ago

    Nice work! And your story is an inspiration to others living with chronic health conditions! Art can boost our mood and help us find joy each day! Cheers, bev

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      HI Bev,
      Thanks for taking the time to read my story and for the kind words about my work! Have a great day!

  21. Janneke Booister 3 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful art and your inspiring story! 🙂

    • Brenda Jiral 3 years ago

      Thanks so much, Janneke! And thanks for taking the time to read it!

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