My name is Birgit O’Connor. I was born in Hamburg Germany and came to the United States when I was 10 months old. My father was a master lithographer and my mother was a housewife and an amazing photographer. One uncle of mine in Germany was a gold medal watercolorist and another aunt here in the states was a graphic designer and watercolorist, so I guess you could say it runs in my blood.
I was an only child and never felt that I was very good at academics, but excelled with painting, arts and crafts, not to say better than anyone else, only what I was best at. Even with all of the creativeness that runs in my family, watercolor always eluded me.
After the birth of my first son, I would stay up late at night and do pointillism paintings of animals, which helped me with perspective. At times, I would try to pick up watercolor again but had no idea why my color was muddy, and the brush didn’t do what I wanted and why I couldn’t get that luminous stacking of color and transparency that I wanted.
So then I would try for awhile and then move on to something else, pastel pencils, (which really helped me with color) oils (but thought they were too thick and pasty) and then for awhile I created a line of children’s tee shirts with cute teddy bears and animals, then designed rubber stamps for a company, and always still wanting to figure out how to do watercolor.
At that time, there were no workshops, and the books were more academic than intuitive. DVD’s weren’t available, but there was Tom Lynch and Bob Ross, which I enjoyed. I tried one college class where the instructor placed a teddy bear and a vacuum cleaner in the middle of the room and said ok paint that – needless to say, that didn’t help, nor did I go back. The light bulb moment came when one artist said to make a color chart, which I did and was then mesmerized by the clarity of color I could get.
I just continued to do what I loved but never thought I could be a professional watercolorist. In fact, when I went to a local showing of watercolor paintings, I mentioned to a lady that I was starting watercolors, and she said, don’t even bother, the only ones that should do watercolor are geniuses and children.
Then others during that same period of time, other artists, told me how I would never make it as an artist, because I did not have the education or degree (as if that really makes you an artist). Then I would join some groups, but found that many times they could be a bit cliquey, so I retreated to my studio to paint and explore.
I really was pretty content to paint for myself but silly me I got a parking ticket, and my husband suggested that I show my work to pay for the ticket. To me that was a horrible thought. I gathered my evidence to fight the ticket, but the idea of going in front of a judge just made my stomach turn.
So, with both of those horrible options, I went to the next town over to ask if I could show my work in a small café on the beach which they were happy to do. From there, my paintings sold, I was offered a one-woman show in Hong Kong, and articles were starting to be written about my work.
When I first started showing my paintings, they were small in size, of local landscapes. Then, as I evolved, my paintings increased in size and my subject changed to florals, then later into more abstracted florals and even larger sizes that would take up entire walls. During this time, I experimented with paper and learned about the sizing and how it affected the results that I was looking for and found that the brushes I used made all the difference in the world.
Depending on the type of painting style that I want to create that will determine the materials I use. For instance, for my floral paintings I like natural white Arches paper 300 lb, along with natural, and (round) sable synthetic blend brushes. The watercolors I use are mostly Winsor & Newton and Daniel Smith watercolors. Then again, for looser landscapes, I like Fabriano 300lb paper and the same color brands with a synthetic flat brush along with (round) squirrel brushes.
I’ve also developed new e-courses that are available in non-interactive and interactive sessions (see below for coupon code!) which allow students to connect with me personally and navigate through this challenging medium of watercolor to find their own creativity, build confidence and be successful
For anyone just starting out, don’t let your fear get in the way. Don’t try to be perfect or you can hold yourself back. Try to think of every painting as an experiment and allow yourself to make those mistakes. And remember, it is the journey, not always the destination.Recommended10 recommendationsPublished in
Creator of Doodlewash®, founder of World Watercolor Month (July), World Watercolor Group™, and host of the Sketching Stuff Podcast. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!