GUEST ARTIST: “Just Add Water, Silly!” by Jennifer McLean

Hi, my name is Jennifer McLean, everyone calls me Jenn. I now live in Beautiful British Columbia, Canada in the city of Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island. It took all of my childhood and moving to more than twenty houses (my parents were house flippers before that was a thing) to get back to the West Coast.

Drawing by Jennifer McLean - Doodlewash

I was so happy to make it back home before finishing my degree in Psychology from the University of Victoria. Growing up in a house full of creativity and design, where I watched my father build the walls & structure and my mother make the house around me a show home, helped fill me with a need to create. My mother is an artist so as a young child I watched her paint and I wanted to be just like her. I wanted that so badly I ached.

It thrills me to finally be able to call myself an artist. It’s taken many years to get here. I’ve always wanted to be an artist, but I was so afraid. I was afraid that if I tried to paint and wasn’t good enough, then my dream would die and I’d never truly be happy with myself.

I figured that as long as I hadn’t failed to achieve my dream then there was still hope.

So instead, I funneled my need to be artistic into a plethora of other activities. I have dabbled in so many kinds of crafts that I don’t think I can name them all: Flower arranging, macrame, rug hooking, cross stitch, calligraphy, sewing, ceramics, pysanka (Ukrainian egg painting), crochet and designer wedding cakes just to mention a few. None of them filled the desperately empty need to paint. 

Painted Paint w_shadow
Basket of Flowers Cake Jennifer McLean

About seven years ago, after closing my wedding cake business, my mom bought me a few days of painting lessons with a well known local artist. I had tried for nearly eight years to build a designer wedding cake business but unfortunately, I started to have health issues. The cold porcelain flowers I created for the cakes just weren’t fulfilling that all consuming need to paint either. I finally had to admit that if I didn’t try painting, I was never going to be happy.

It was three little words that changed everything for me. That local artist, after listening to my fears and excuses for not painting said to me, “JUST PAINT, JENN!!!”. That same day, as I struggled to start the assignment the artist had given me, my mother yelled, “Just add water, SILLY!”. And that’s all it took. Within a week I had a blog and I was painting.

Heart Art Supplies

I chose watercolors as my medium because of the beauty and translucency of the paint on paper. I loved how they moved in water and that I had to learn to give up a little control, I’m a perfectionist after all and therefore giving up control is a good thing.

I have fallen in love with Daniel Smith and Schmincke watercolors but I don’t discriminate and have Winsor & Newton, M. Graham and Sennelier artist grade paints in my palette.

The Pen Lineup

I find that it really depends on how a brand handles a color that makes me fall in love with it. The more transparent the better. I was so lucky to get a limited edition set of Schmincke that Wet Paint assembles every year or so. It was such a fantastic deal, hopefully they’ll do their custom set again soon as they just sold out of 2017’s version. If you’re interested, they recommend getting on their list to be notified.

Six Minus One

I have definitely learned my lesson about buying the best, not just the best you can afford. I started off with student grade paints and paper.

Then I struggled to get the depth, beauty and flow that I craved until I upgraded to the above brands of paint and Arches hot pressed 140 lb paper. For journals I have three favorites that I have switched between. Moleskine WatercolorStrathmore 500 series mixed media and Stillman & Birn journals. I also couldn’t live without my Masterson Rinse Well and the Da Vinci Maestro 1503 travel brushes.

Now when I can’t afford what I want, which happens a lot, I save for it until I can get it. Although it’s always hard, I recommend if money’s an issue, wait for a sale then get only a few colors. Learning which colors I loved and about a split primary palette helped me figure out what colors to start with and what to hold off on. I also really recommend trying to get dot cards from good paint companies like Daniel Smith. You can also try and convince your watercolorist friends to make you a dot card of the paints they recommend.

Watering Can

I am self taught and credit four artists for inspiring me and helping me get to where I am today. Marit Barentsen, creator of Featuring Magazine, asked me if I wanted to write for her art magazine after I submitted an article on The Butterfly Project. It was amazing to be the Canadian Contributing Editor! I got to learn about and write about other artists and it was thrilling to have my byline in a magazine. After several incredibly fun and fulfilling years, Featuring closed it’s doors due to the European financial market.

I was hungry to learn and I happened upon Sketchbook Skool created by Danny Gregory & Koosje Koene. I started from “Beginning“, they’re first course, and was thrilled to find hundreds of other artists struggling like me. I continued with “Seeing” and was surprised to find talent I thought I didn’t have by doing all the interesting lessons they provided. Danny helped me to stop being a perfectionist and it was thrilling to fill my first sketchbook with art I was proud of. But what I had learned wasn’t enough.

I had so much more to learn and I knew it. Roz Stendahl helped me see that when she taught a little about color theory in her class. Her blog is a fountain of information about paint, paper, pens and skills. I had not found my style at all and I still considered myself ignorant about paint but just painting and drawing successfully filled me with joy.

Colorful Carrots

I had finally bumped my nose against all I didn’t know about watercolor. Now I wanted skills, serious skills. I wanted to know the secrets that the practiced artists and professionals knew. In came one of my most lovely, brilliant friends, Tracey Fletcher King. She had just come out with a new course called Delicious Paint and I jumped in with both feet. I can honestly say I’ve never learned so much about how to paint successfully and in such a short time.

Tracey taught me all about underpainting and layering/glazing paint. She taught me about shadows and how to make a painting pop. But the biggest thing she taught me was to relax into who I was as an artist. It freaked me out how much I loved painting fruits and veggies but she made me realize that it doesn’t matter what I paint as long as I put ME into it. Once again, she was telling me to JUST PAINT and the rest will come.

Baby Bok Choy

She was right. With the skills learned under Tracey’s careful and fun tutelage I have blossomed into a more confident artist. I embraced my almost obsessive love of color and I stopped punishing myself about what I should paint. I paint what I think I can and just a little more. As my skills improve, my scope of work broadens.

Tracey told me to “Lean into discomfort” and I try to do that every time I put brush to paper. Painting like that makes each painting about who I am because I’m pushing myself to feel the discomfort of creating. That’s what puts me into my art.

I’m inspired to paint when the line or shape of something intrigues me. I am gleeful when I see good strong shadows in and around an object that also has cool and interesting lines. When all that good stuff is also connected to vibrant color I just can’t help myself, I have to paint it.

Deconstructed Lemonade

That’s probably why fruits and vegetables inspire me so much. Their rich color, their undulating lines and, in the right light, the shadows they throw are so incredibly interesting that it inspires me to pick up my paintbrush and get out my palette. Although Sketchbook Skool tried to teach me to put down the pencil, I find it’s one of my favorite tools.

I love all the shades I can get with the same hue. The pencil allows me to bring out my perfectionistic side for a little playtime without it infecting the  way I paint. I want to paint loosely and allow the water to work with me to create something awesome but sometimes I crave the precision of a drawing so I indulge that side of myself. I never want my art to be just a photocopy of my subject so I try to find a good balance between realistic and painterly. Everyday is a new adventure in paint.

Spoon & Tomato

Right now I’m focused on honing my skills and I know that only comes through repetition. I have recently been diagnosed with cancer but I find filling as much of my day as I can with painting helps me stay positive. Sometimes, I struggle to find time to paint because much of my day is taken up with this illness but I’m always pleasantly surprised how creating art allows me to go to another place, my happy place where nothing but color touches me.

Tomatoes Scanned

I find painting all the things around me and bringing out the color in everything makes me happy. There’s nothing better than that. Ok, maybe it can be improved with a good strong cuppa hazelnut coffee… oh, and a book. I do LOVE to read, alas you can’t read and paint at the same time. If I could, now that would be a perfect world.

Thank you to Charlie O’Shields for asking me to participate as a Guest Artist. You can find me at the following places, I’d love it if you’d stop by my blog and say hello!

Jennifer McLean
Doodlewash Gallery

Recommended7 recommendationsPublished in Featured Artists

40 thoughts on “GUEST ARTIST: “Just Add Water, Silly!” by Jennifer McLean

    1. Thank you so much for the compliment Laura. It took me a while to work it out, I still have tubes of paint that I shun even though it feels wasteful. But they’re not translucent enough for me. Thanks for reading my article!

    1. Thank you so much Teresa, I sure appreciate the support. I went to your blog and saw your wonderful one drawings, they’re fantastic. I always loved the quote “a drawing is just taking a line for a walk”. And you knit too, I can only manage crochet as I totally suck at the tension of knitting, lol. Thanks for reading my article!

  1. Jenn, your artwork is truly beautiful, especially as you bring out the beauty in simple things. Your journey toward learning art was engaging to read about, and I like how you credited so many other artists – beginning with your mom. Being self taught doesn’t mean that one invents art, and you’re gracious in explaining it.

    1. Oh you’re awesome Sharon, thank you so much for your lovely comment. You know they say it takes a village to raise a child, well it also takes a village of giving artists to “raise” another artist. I couldn’t have done it without so many people. By the way, I stopped over on your blog, you’re a stunning writer. The homeless man is lucky to have met you just as you feel lucky to have helped. I love your sentiment and whole heartedly agree. I have written down your Hebrew quotes so I’ll remember. Thank you for your lovely words to me here.

  2. So nice to hear the whole story in one read. We do tend to wind around and not come to it until later, you and I!
    I LOVE your images and was delighted to take Tracey’s class with you!
    (BTW, I own the top image and it hangs with Tracey’s above my studio desk!)
    You are now in my prayers…

    1. Hi Kate, so nice to see you here. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post. I loved doing Tracey’s course with you and we seem to follow one another around the web on a daily basis, lol. You’re right, we’re a lot alike, I think that’s a good thing. I do love thinking of my art in friends’ houses and beside Tracey’s work is an exhausted position to be in indeed! Thank you ever so much for your prayers, I cherish them. :o)

  3. Love your work, Jenn. Personally, I’ve (partly) solved the reading/painting dilemma by listening to podcasts or audio book while painting! You have to choose depending on mood and stage of WIP!

  4. That’s a great idea M.L.! I’ve actually never listened to a book before. I do have a bunch of podcasts by Malcolm Gladwell that I desperately want to listen to but haven’t found the time. YOUR idea will solve my problem! Thank you for your compliment and your wonderful idea.

  5. I love each of your paintings! Gorgeous colors! Wonderful details. I can so relate to your story. I was the math and science twin while my sister got the art and music gene. I could never do anything as artistic as she did so didn’t bother trying. I did start scrapbooking and in my own way, created. Two years ago my job was eliminated. I took a painting class at community ed. I have joined the local art group and sell my mixed media canvases. I am still trying to find my niche and want to get some lessons this fall. Congrats! You are inspiring!!!! PS i have had cancer twice. You are strong. You can do this!

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely words. I think what we take on as children can be tragic, one person’s words that I trusted stopped me painting in my teens. I didn’t pick it up for another 20 years, to my chagrin. I wanted it so badly but what that man said made me question my own self. I’m so glad to hear you’ve jettisoned the idea that if your sister does it, you couldn’t compete. All art beings light to the world and if you are inspired I think that’s a gift from the Universe and it behooves us as good stewards to use our gifts even if they’re different than our neighbors’ gifts. Besides, art is my happy place and I’m guessing it’s yours too and who wouldn’t want to visit our happy place as often as possible? Thank you for your words of encouragement on the cancer, it help immensely to hear of survivors like yourself. I can’t wait to join the “survivors” group soon!!!

  6. I enjoyed reading about your art journey, Jenn! 🎨👍 I have also dabbled in many different art forms. 😊 I sometimes struggle with watercolor but I like your idea of leaning into the discomfort. Your art is all so beautiful! Thank you for sharing your talent with us! ❤️

  7. Thank you so much for your lovely comment. I found watercolors the most difficult kind of art I’d ever attempted. It was the first thing I actually had to struggle to learn. Everything else I kinda just picked up and did without training. It was so well worth the struggle. If you do have an interest, I’m not affiliated, but the course Delicious Paint that I mention above is spectacular and it’s just doing another run right now with I think Tracey mentioned to me yesterday that she got 5 new students in the course so she’ll be happy to oversee it again right now. Happy painting, your blog showed lovely colors and I especially loved the birds and feathers. Have a great weekend Jill!

    1. Aww Sandra you’re such a great friend! Thanks for stopping by here and reading all about me, lol. Hehehe, beeeeautiful, love it, you remind me of Tracey with her clever puns. Thanks so much for caring. Hugs to you my friend.

  8. Wonderful post, Jenn….you are a very talented and inspiring artist! I loved the story of how you got started and how the title of your blog came to be. Keep up your amazing work and wishing your all the best on your cancer journey…you can beat it!

    Love and hugs xo

    1. Thanks so much Serena. Sorry I didn’t get back to you last week, I don’t get these comments to my blog and it was only today that it occurred to me to look and see if anyone commented last week. I sure appreciate your wonderful words and I’m working diligently on the cancer. Our newest venture is to build back the micro biome of my gut. Newest research says that after checking everything else, if you just cannot lose weight you probably have seriously below par microbes. Crossing my fingers! Thanks for commenting my friend!

  9. Hi Jenn. Followed your comments on my Doodlewash Feature to find your story. I really enjoyed your message and your paintings, too. They glow! And, I can see we share a love of color. I look forward to keeping in touch. All the best with your health challenges. Cheers, Pat

  10. Jenn, I enjoyed reading your story, and most of what you said is so similar to my story. My mother painted with oils, and to this day she is my favorite artist. Sadly, she was so critical of her talent, she convinced herself that she wasn’t talented at all. I knew I wanted to paint as a child, and mother allowed me to dabble some, but only when her paints were out. Expense was also a factor. With oils, as you know, boards are expensive, and as far as I know there aren’t any journals. That’s why I love watercolor. The paints can stay on my desk, I can pick the brushes up when I want, the art journal is very forgiving…I have tons of “practice pages” in them and others that I’m quite happy with for now. Your story and your search is encouraging me to keep going!

    I’m sorry to hear about your illness, and I pray that you are healed and back to health soon. As for reading while you paint, I recommend Audible!!! I didn’t think I would ever love listening to books, but I can say that if the hubs is out hunting, I’ll likely be ‘reading’ and painting at the same time!

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