GUEST ARTIST: “When In Doubt… Donuts” by Kelsey Nolan

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor by Kelsey Nolan - Doodlewash

Hi everyone! My name is Kelsey Nolan, and I’m originally from New Hampshire, but have lived in Roanoke, Virginia for the past thirteen years. I’m an illustrator, writer, wife, and mom, and I’m absolutely thrilled to share my art journey with you.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor by Kelsey Nolan - Doodlewash

I haven’t gotten over the surprise of this yet. Even just two years ago, I could have given you a long list of things I might have become by (nearly) 30, and “artist” would not have been on it. I’ve certainly always been a creative person, and I’ve played around with a lot of crafts over the years, but my chosen outlet has always been writing.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor by Kelsey Nolan - Doodlewash

In July of 2016, I was a stay-at-home mom to the easiest, happiest ten month old on the planet, and I needed a hobby, because she was too good at entertaining herself. I bought a nice sketchbook and, completely on a whim, a beginner’s set of Royal & Langnickel watercolors, which came with ten colors, brushes, drawing supplies, and a bare-bones artist’s guide. I hadn’t used watercolors since probably age seven, so I didn’t want to make a huge investment right away.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor by Kelsey Nolan - Doodlewash

My goal was to keep an illustrated journal, with the paintings serving as an accent to the writing, and to share pictures of it on Instagram. I did start that way, but it very quickly became clear that I was enjoying the painting more than the journaling. It wasn’t long before it was really just a sketchbook.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor by Kelsey Nolan - DoodlewashWhen I found World Watercolor Group a few months after I started, my work became more focused, and I started making so many wonderful friends on Instagram. You couldn’t ask for a more supportive community of people! I’m grateful every single day for their encouragement. The sense of togetherness and willingness to share our struggles kept me picking up my brushes every day.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor by Kelsey Nolan - DoodlewashIt became less and less a hobby, and more the thing I shaped my time around. Since then, I’ve painted just about every single day, often several times a day.

I try to experiment with different subject matter. I love to paint silly interpretations of characters from movies and tv shows, snails with desserts as shells, and illustrated lists, which I still think of as being connected to my original goal of art journaling. But I always come back to food. I’m the type of person who remembers events by what I ate. As a kid, I hiked to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, and, other than the wind, the thing I remember most is that I ate my very first cheese danish at the summit!

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor by Kelsey Nolan - Doodlewash

Most of my childhood movie and book memories are centered around the foods that the characters enjoyed. The waffles, ice cream, and pizza in All Dogs Go To Heaven. The dollhouse food in Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Two Bad Mice. The beautifully described cakes, cheeses, creams, and fruits in Brian Jacques’ Redwall book series. The birthday cake and golden honey from Winnie the Pooh. I distinctly remember being confused the first time I tried honey as a kid, because watching Winnie the Pooh had given me the impression it would be something like nacho cheese.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor by Kelsey Nolan - Doodlewash

Food has a unique ability to bring us comfort and happiness, to evoke the past, and to help us celebrate. I paint out of joy, and food brings me joy. My most popular posts on Instagram are all about food, and I’m always humbled and excited to find that a food painting that holds very specific meaning to me still strikes a chord of comfort with so many other people. I try to make my work warm, cozy, and welcoming. Like a homemade cookie or a cup of tea. Food is both highly personal and universal, so for me it’s the perfect way to tell a relatable story, which is really my ultimate goal. But I absolutely do make myself hungry with my art! Sometimes I just like to look at a good, chocolatey donut!

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor by Kelsey Nolan - Doodlewash

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor by Kelsey Nolan - DoodlewashMore often than not, I’m going for a certain level of realism when I paint, especially with foods. I don’t want it to look like a photograph – I still want to know it’s a painting – but I do want to capture the texture and dimension of a thing in a way that gives it some weight on the page. My inability to do that was my biggest frustration and biggest motivator in the early days. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I was moving forward, but I kept trying.

I think there’s something nice about being self taught. You can’t help but to develop a style that’s all your own, and there’s so much joy in making something you know is a true expression of yourself. But I often felt held back by not knowing the simpler mechanics of how watercolor was traditionally used. I felt like I was fighting with the paint.

I definitely wasn’t taking much risk or painting with confidence. I couldn’t afford to take a class, though I would still love to, so I had to look elsewhere for information.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor by Kelsey Nolan - Doodlewash

Eventually, I made a point to learn as much as I could from other artists, and I watched countless tutorials and did exercises from drawing and painting books. It made all the difference. Seeking out information from other artists, even those who were figuring it out as they went like I was, was eye opening, and it changed my work for the better.

I can’t express strongly enough the importance of talking to other artists. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been painting, whether they’re professionals or hobbyists, or if their style is light years away from your own. Talking to other artists helped me see the importance of patience, of investing my time, and of sharing the pieces I didn’t think were so great.

We are so harsh on ourselves, and I’ve found that when all I can see is what went wrong, my artist friends are always able to remind me of the parts that succeeded. And they usually have practical, clear advice to get over the hurdles that tripped me up in the first place.

You don’t need to have the best materials or endless free time to make room for art in your life. I still use those same Royal & Langnickel paints every day, with a few Reeves colors thrown in. I’ll probably upgrade to more professional quality supplies eventually, but those little tubes seem to last forever! Only the burnt umber I use to paint chocolate is running low at all. I use inexpensive brushes, because I can’t seem to make myself take care of them properly, and for most paintings I use Canson XL paper, which is affordable and stands up reasonably well to heavy washes. I’ve got a two year old running around, so I paint on a clipboard on the couch. It’s not glamorous, but it fits my life.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor by Kelsey Nolan - Doodlewash

When I get messages asking for advice, which I’m so honored to be asked, the thought I always come back to is this: If you enjoy it, it’s worth it. Paint things that make you happy or that you wish you could be surrounded with. Talent requires cultivation and practice, but a painting doesn’t need to be a masterpiece to have value. I truly believe in my heart of hearts that time spent with art is never time wasted. And you really can’t paint too many donuts.

Kelsey Nolan
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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! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!

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39 Comments
  1. rubiescorner 4 months ago

    I love your drawings. They are simple, unique, and cute.

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoy them!

  2. Sharon Nolfi 4 months ago

    Thanks for sharing you work! I especially like the cookie paintings.

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you! It always makes me feel cozy to paint desserts and treats.

  3. Sandra Strait 4 months ago

    Kelsey, your work is amazing! I could spend all day looking at it …except, now for some reason, I’m hungry and must go find donuts! Lol. Thank you for sharing your artistic journey with us!

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you, Sandra! I honestly do make myself hungry with my art all the time haha. I keep a lot of fruit on hand to combat it 😉

  4. Pamela Smith 4 months ago

    I love your approach to art ,your work is great…thank you for sharing.

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you so much!

  5. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 4 months ago

    Kelsey, your work is such a delight to see and your upbeat story gives much weight to painting for the joy of it and learning the skills of watercolor as a happy by-product. Here’s a sweet donut to you.

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you, Sharon! It has been a joyful journey!

  6. Jansi King 4 months ago

    I really enjoyed your story of your journey and your wonderful, illustrative sketches! I think it’s terrific that you enjoy painting foods. You are very resourceful and an inspiration to others.

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I love to celebrate the small, daily pleasures in life!

  7. Kaye Boggs 4 months ago

    Kelsey: I like the way you think and your paintings look like you have fun creating them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you, Kaye! I was happy to share!

  8. Delores Azary 4 months ago

    Love your paintings!

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you!

  9. M. Caulder 4 months ago

    What delightful paintings, and inspirational article. Thank you for sharing! 💕

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you so much!

  10. Sandra Gilbert 4 months ago

    I love your story and paintings. You sound so much like how I have been stumbling /finding my wings in watercolor. 😄

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you! That’s what I love about Instagram. Everyone is just trying to find their way and is quick to offer help!

  11. MMcBuck 4 months ago

    Love your paintings! Love your inspiration! Should have read this after breakfast!! Made me hungry!

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you! I have that problem myself. Definitely make myself hungry!

  12. Janneke Booister 4 months ago

    Your ability to paint such delicious cookies and other food is amazing! My food always gets eaten before I can paint it 🙂
    But now seriously: your art really is great and your story is inspiring! I cannot wait to see more of it.

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you so much! The key has been painting what I love, and I definitely love dessert! 🙂

  13. Susan Cuss 4 months ago

    I so enjoyed reading about your art journey and seeing your yummy paintings! But, now I’m hungry!!

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed it!

  14. SnehLata Maheshwari 4 months ago

    Kelsey it’s amazing art n the bakery work also how could you managed the time. Really, the matter of learning from you
    Fantastic i liked it.

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you so much!

  15. Jill Gustavis 4 months ago

    What wonderful light-hearted paintings! I love reading through all the pieces in a “collections” painting. Especially when they’re cookies or art supplies, hehe. 🙂

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you, Jill! Those are some of my favorite pieces to work on!

  16. Beverly Wong-Kleinjan 4 months ago

    I enjoyed your feature! And your paintings made my hungry! 🙂

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you, Beverly!

  17. Kim Craige 4 months ago

    Kelsey, I feel lucky to have made your cyber-acquaintance through Instagram, and enjoy your paintings every day. My painting story is similar to yours, in that I began an art journal and the art part blossomed. I agree wholeheartedly that talking to other artists, no matter how new or experienced they are, is helpful. Your story has encouraged me since I began last fall with Inktober, and then the Cornucopia Challenge. It’s nice to know others are painting with simple products, a simple spot on the couch, and sharing the wonderful images that result! Cheers, Kelsey. And keep sharing 🙂

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you so much, Kim! Daily support like yours has made all the difference in keeping me motivated and passionate about painting!

  18. SeemaMisra 4 months ago

    These are so bright and beautiful (and have left me drooling!!!)

    Its inspiring to hear what you have to say about being a self-taught artist. I often doubt myself, as I have no art education. But keep reminding myself that its all a learning journey and about finding your own stroke!

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you! That’s exactly right! Having no training will never make you any less of an artist! It’s all about loving what you do.

  19. Cindy 4 months ago

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us! It’s always reassuring to discover others who are self-taught and have achieved success! Love your art!

    • Kelsey Nolan 4 months ago

      Thank you, Cindy! Being self-taught is definitely a challenge, but it’s been such a fun journey!

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