Cat Looking Up watercolor painting by Lavonne Cookman

GUEST ARTIST: “Watercolor Dreams” by Lavonne Cookman

The room was quiet. The sun had not yet come up. Everyone in the house was asleep, except the little girl, barely four years old, still in her nightgown, standing on her bed using the top of the dresser as a table. The warm light from the lamp showed her small hands holding her favorite crayon: Magenta! And there were other wondrous colors scattered nearby. She enjoyed making the white paper come to life with color, and she concentrated hard to stay in the lines.

With a mother’s sixth sense, it wasn’t long before her mom woke up and came into the room. She stood for a moment, watching her daughter’s little fingers moving quickly, her nose nearly to the paper, oblivious to her surroundings. The little girl startled when she felt her hair lovingly moved aside. “Shhh,” her mom whispered, so she wouldn’t wake the other kids asleep in the same room. “Let me see what you are coloring.” The little girl’s heart pounded with excitement. “You’re doing a beautiful job, Lavonne.” And, this was when a seed was planted in the little girl’s heart: She wanted to be an artist.

Bear in Willows watercolor by Lavonne CookmanHi. My name is Lavonne Cookman. I have lived in Northern California all my life, and I am the hopeful little girl from the story. The encouragement from my mom changed me, because in my family, compliments were rare, and we never talked about dreams. We were poor and took one day at a time. It was enough to be fed and clothed. To my mom, that powerful compliment was insignificant – she doesn’t even remember it. But, it changed me, and throughout my childhood into high school, art was a passion.

Crab watercolor by Lavonne Cookman

Time ticks away, as we all know, and it seemed that in the blink of an eye, I was a mom myself. The seed from my childhood was neglected, as I went about the business of raising my kids. My priority became them, and like so many others in the world, I quieted my desire for art and focused on parenting.

With time still flying, in my thirties, my dormant dream to become an artist nudged me again. I enrolled in art courses at our Junior College. I took classes from local artists. For twenty years, I dabbled in artistic endeavors, always telling myself, “I wish I had more time, because then I could do it properly.” The truth is: I needed to make time.

Flowers Watercolor by Lavonne Cookman

My mid-fifties came at me like a jet, and with five grandkids, I realized that I had actually been a wisher for too many years. Mid-fifties! How did this happen? Time hadn’t been waiting for me, while I was waiting for the perfect time. The perfect time would never just plop in my lap. I had to find it! Sheer desire wasn’t going to make me an artist: I had obviously proven this.

I began to attend workshops from professionals. It was scary at first. I felt very under qualified to be among such talent. And, a magical thing happened. In a workshop given by Bev Jozwiak, she told us that “miles on the brush” would make us all better painters. I remember thinking, “Whoa! Really? That’s it?” It’s another way to say practice, but practice just sounds tedious and boring. Miles on the brush sounded exciting!

Bev also said that if the majority of artists are honest with you, they will admit that their success is a result of tenacity over talent. Again, I was struck with a thrill! “Tenacity? I can do that!” I knew without a doubt I could be tenacious! If that’s what it took, I was in!​

With a newfound joy in myself, I set out to tenaciously put miles on my brush. Those quotes resonated within me. I was now solidly determined to paint a little or a lot every single day and no matter what the outcome, I would be happy, because I had put those precious and valuable miles on my brush. That seed planted over 50 years ago in my little girl’s heart had finally germinated and was about to grow.

My Journey

For the past three years, I have painted almost every day, fully committed to make it a priority. My hope to become a better painter, my dream to learn art, and my wish to understand watercolor, is now reality. I discovered that watercolor paint produces magic when it is allowed to dance with water, so my particular style tends to be looser and splashy with bits of realism.

I want my result to clearly look like a painting, and I want the subject to be obvious, but I love to incorporate movement and interesting colors. I prefer to paint animals and people and even insects, because there is personality in those eyes. They lived! They breathed! If one day, I can find a way to paint a landscape or a floral or a still life with a fun personality, I will do those as well.

Pink Poison Insect Watercolor

An unexpected dream has also happened. I now teach online watercolor classes. One of my free classes has over 2,000 members. My main goal for the students is to encourage them to become happy painters. I want them to go from doubting to daring to doing. No procrastinating – like I did. We never retreat: we always advance. I sing for them, and I dance for them, because I believe they need to be cheerful and love themselves when they paint. “Be your own best friend,” I say. This includes complimenting your own paintings – as a friend would do. My course titles include the words joy and happiness, so there is no mistaking what we will be doing.

My Technique

I start with a great photograph that is interesting to me. It could be the light or the composition, but it needs to capture my attention. From there I draw it out. Afterwards, I set about asking myself how I can change it. What do I need to keep? What can I leave out? Shall I give it a new color? Should I splash the background? I am not aiming for photo realism – after all, I already have a photograph.

Irridescent Bear Watercolor Painting

As I said earlier, I prefer to paint a subject that lived and breathed, so I typically start with the eyes. This may be the only part of the painting that I want to be as realistically accurate as possible. I enjoy this part tremendously – I feel like the painting has begun watching me, cheering me on to finish, and also becoming my friend. I know that’s a silly thought, but it makes me happy. Many artists leave the eyes for the end, as these are details. There is no right or wrong way, but I don’t like looking at a painting where the eyes are white spaces, and everything else has been painted. If the eyes are the window to the soul, I want to see the soul of my painting as soon as possible.

Cujo Pet Portrait Watercolor

I then move on to bigger areas of the painting and prefer using wet into wet to get some color down. I am just looking at the shapes of the values – the darks and lights. I bounce from place to place in my painting and try not to get tunnel vision on one area. Splashing paint helps! And also, giving myself mental breaks – both the painting and myself appreciate it. I often tell my students: step away from the painting! It’s not going anywhere without you. When you come back, the painting often surprises you with its progress.

As soon as the values are painted in, the painting immediately begins to take shape. The darks especially define spaces – they could be called the drama queens. They draw your attention to the area and push the lights forward. If your painting seems bland, ask yourself if you have been brave and bold enough with your darks.

Then it’s time to begin the details. Again, I bounce around on the painting, and my brushes get smaller, and the paint generally gets thicker. I often take a painting to a mirror to see how it looks. Or, I take a photo of it. Both of these will give you a new perspective on what’s happening.

Hummingbird watercolor by Lavonne Cookman

To finish a painting, I look for areas that “jump out at me.” It’s almost always an edge. This is typically where the contrast also shows. Then I ask myself, “Do I want the attention there?” If not, I go about correcting it. I will either blur it or help it to become a lost edge. If I want the attention there, I leave it alone. My painting is like a cookie to me – a bit underdone is always better than overdone. Leave something for the viewer to wonder about.

My Mentors

Although, I am not formally trained, I have many mentors who taught me. I believe we should always give credit to other artists from whom we’ve learned. Mine include: Carol Carter, Meeta Dani, Bev Jozwiak, Susan Harrison-Tustain, David Lobenberg, and Nita Engel. Some I have met in person, and others only through books, DVDs, or email. It is critical to your growth to invest in oneself, and I happily paid for their expertise. Their support, they gave for free.

Watercolor portrait by Lavonne Cookman

Carol Carter is the artist who also instilled in me one of the things I repeat to myself often. Value does the work: color gets the credit. She taught that a painting needn’t be photo realistic. It could be fun and vibrant and saturated with color. At her workshop we were given templates. My heart practically stopped, because prior to that, I had been spending as much (or more) time on my drawing as I had the painting. The template gave me the freedom to just paint and let the water move! My mind was blown, and I couldn’t stop smiling in the workshop.

Crane watercolor by Lavonne Cookman

After that, there was no looking back. Although I sometimes sketch free hand, I currently use a projector to transfer photographs to drawings on paper. This procedure helps me to not let the drawing become so precious that I am uptight when painting. Watercolor is best when the artist is relaxed. I include lots of detail on the drawing, but when painting, I always remember we are telling a visual story. So I leave out what might over-tell the story. A viewer loves the mysterious parts of a painting.

The mentor who pushed me the most was Meeta Dani. She inspired me and taught me how to become brave enough to teach online courses. Without her expert guidance, I would never have had the courage or knowledge. She is a force in the art world who helps artists to value themselves and their art. As a result, I am now a GAWA Certified Online Art Mentor.

My Materials

Get the best you can afford. Invest in professional grade supplies as soon as you can. Watercolor is challenging enough without the added obstacles of pilling paper, chalky paint, or shedding brushes. However; don’t let a lack of supplies hold you back. Use anything you can find. Use coffee! Use a makeup brush. Use any paper you have. Get creative. But paint, paint, and paint some more.

Malachi and Samson - Warholish Watercolor Painting

My favorite brands of paint are M Graham and Daniel Smith, but I use Winsor & Newton, Sennelier, Holbein, and American Journey.

For paper, I mainly use Arches and Fabriano Artistico – both cold and hot pressed. I’ve also had fun experimenting with Yupo.

My paint brushes of choice are by Rosemary, and Co. I also use Da Vinci brushes, Winsor & Newton brushes, and inexpensive Chinese calligraphy brushes.

My Encouragement

I want to end with this: procrastination is the slow killer of dreams. It can eventually turn dormant seeds into dead ones. I want to motivate you to stop hoping for “one day” to come. You need to make it happen! Truly every minute on your brush will lead you closer to becoming an artist. If I had only painted 30 minutes a day during all my years of dreaming, I would have logged 3,600 hours, which equals almost two years of full-time work weeks. Think of what I could have accomplished with that daily, small amount of time! Think of what you could accomplish with only 30 minutes a day, starting now!

Long Tail Rooster Watercolor Painting

I don’t know what your dream is. But, I know this: Time stops for no one. Don’t make excuses like I did. It’s not too late. If I can do it, you can do it. Your dream lies waiting in hopeful soil. You just need to fertilize and water it a little each day, like I did, and here’s why:

I still wake up before everyone else in the house. It’s still dark outside. A white piece of paper still sits on a table for me. My hands still move in the warm light of a lamp. But, instead of holding a crayon, they now use a paintbrush to joyfully splash on beautiful paint. I get to watch watercolor dance as I create stories of illusions on paper. My dream has come true, and I feel like that happy, excited little girl again. Watercolor dreams are good for the soul! May you find yours!

Hugs and happy painting

Lavonne Cookman
Lavonne Cookman Art
Lavonne’s Free Online Workshop

Recommended3 recommendationsPublished in Featured Artists

70 thoughts on “GUEST ARTIST: “Watercolor Dreams” by Lavonne Cookman

  1. Hello Ms. Lavonne,

    How beautifully you’ve shared your journey and so honestly! You had me captivated with your opening line. I love the quotes you shared and you may not have noticed but you are pretty quote-worthy yoursef. Thank you for sharing your process. I am an absolute beginner and was fretting over my inability to paint from memory. Looking at an image and trying to paint something similar felt like cheating but not anymore, all thanks to you. I too will try putting ‘miles on my brush’. Thank you for being an inspiration.


    1. Dear Mugdha –

      I wish you could see this massive smile on my face right now! You have made my day. Just this comment alone is enough to keep me smiling for at least the next year or so. lol I’m so glad to have encouraged you, but know this: you have encouraged me in return!

      I’m so excited for you. An absolute beginner is at the most magical pat of watercolor – everything is new and amazing. Enjoy this journey into color and movement, because watercolor is the medium that has the most life! Happy dance when you paint! It will make everything even more fun!

      Hugs and best wishes.


    2. Lavonne, you are such an inspiration. You are delightful, always cheeful and fun! You always give more to your students than they pay for and you always return questions very quickly. Your energy knows no bounds. I have learned so much from you, it still amazes me all that you share with us to make painting seem so easy and fun. Your encouragement is priceless. Anyone reading this, please know you will surprise yourself after taking her class. Thank you, Lavone!!

    1. Hi Zertab –

      Thanks for taking the time to write me. I am so happy that some of my words have given you encouragement. I’m just paying it forward, because it truly works. Big hugs and best wishes that you keep your brush moving!

      Stay safe,


    1. Hi Laura Kate –

      What a cute name you have! Thanks for your kind words and for taking the time to write to me. It was a lot of fun to be able to share with Charlie’s people on his site.

      Have a wonderful journey with your own watercolor, and may you always be inspired to paint.



  2. Love your work, love your style. Is there a way to watch your free workshop video without having a Facebook or Instagram account. I’m not a social media person. Maybe access through your website? Thank you.

    1. Hi Michelle –

      Thank you so very much. I have used Facebook Live as the platform, because I think it is the best one I’ve been exposed to, so far. I’m able to organize content in Units and it really is wonderful. I set up private groups, so no one who is not invited can come in.

      If I could find a way to do something similar on my website, I would definitely do it. I have a few videos on YouTube, but they are not extensive. I hope to upload more someday.

      I sure appreciate your asking and completely understand and admire your avoidance of social media.

      Please email me, and I’ll keep yours on file for any future platform changes.

      Best wishes to you on your art endeavors. Smile as you do it! Everyone always turns out better.



  3. Hi Lavonne ! You moved me to tears with your story. I have restarted painting seriously at the age of 61 , served in similar roles as yours , a wife , mom and doctor.
    I want to go on record saying that you have been an inspiration to many with your happy style of painting and the constant encouragement that you give to one and all. I don’t know how you do it but you have time for all , everyone, anytime and a heart of gold to add to your painting skills.
    The happiest painter I have ever seen , kudos to you for being a constant inspiration to me …🙏🙏🙏. Humble thanks.

    1. Dearest Dr. Jo –

      You are a light in my life, and isn’t it amazing that art brought the two of us, on opposite sides of the world, together? What an unexpected blessing in our lives. That’s what art is capable of doing. It somehow offers hope and healing. Of course happiness is also there – as we know. (Hey! I see three H’s – Hope, Healing, and Happiness! Yay!) But on top of all that – a friendship, It’s just so amazing.

      So, thank you back, sweet sister. Among the gifts that each of us has received, I believe I have received the bigger.

      Thanks for taking the time to post a comment! Big fat juicy hugs to you and your sweet family!


  4. Lavonne has been my inspiration for many years… Literally growing up together from young mothers to grandmothers of many cherished “Littles” . Her art is a mirror of her entire life. She has always desired to be creative in all things. Always desired to improve upon herself. Always desired to share her inspirations with others. Always desired to push herself further… always succeeding in these desires BECAUSE she dares to step forward one step at a time, one sweep of the brush, mile after mile…. Today she AND we reap the benefits of those miles, now at the pace of a race! Miles upon miles she has put on her brush and the proof of it is the joyful art she creates!

    I am so very proud and excited that Little Lavonne took that crayon gripped in her tiny hands and her Mother’s encouragement forward to become an amazing, excited, fearless, colorful and inspirational artist that we now all so very appreciate!. Her life is exactly as her art, beautiful and inspirational. Standing so faithfully beside her is Tom, the love of her life, always supportive, fearless of laughter or criticism, to join in the joyful creative experience of Lavonne’s “Watercolor Dreams”.

    I proudly hang her pictures in my home and feel blessed to call her friend and I’m sure each and every person she meets feel the same.

    Paint on my Dearest Friend! Keep inspiring us and I promise I’ll soon push my fears and timeline aside to put a few miles on my own brush!! xoxo T

    1. Aww, Teresa!

      What you’ve written is so, so eloquent. Thank you so much, my dear, dear friend. How possible it is that we’ve lived through more than 30 decades together. Ha ha It certainly boggles the mind.

      Thank you for sharing your heartfelt words. They just make my smile get bigger and bigger, because they are touching and cute. I love you!

      May we continue to healthily grow older together and increase in both wisdom and grace. Waiting for you to retire, but I hope you get that brush moving sooner than that!

      Love and hugs,


    1. Hi Sandra –

      Thank you for you nice comment and for taking the time to write me a sweet compliment. I hope the story helps anyone lollygagging (that word makes me laugh) about like did, get their brushes and paper out and throw down some paint! Boldly! lol

      Big hugs to you!


    1. Thank you, Lisa, both for the kids words and for taking the time to write them.

      May you always have an idea for your next painting, and may the one before make you dance with joy.

      Best wishes to you,


  5. Lavonne, most of the time when I view guest artists, I feel bad because they are so good, and I am not. I am 61 years old, just began painting 3 years ago on my own. I guess I’m better than 3 years ago, my husband tells me weekly, and at the heart of it all, while having a lovely or unusual painting is my “end all, be all,” it really isn’t that at all: I’m simply addicted to that pigment-loaded, juicy brush poised over a scrumptious piece of glorious watercolor paper. For me, for now, it’s the journey not the end destination. I can only hope God gives me a better back and a lot more years to paint, because I cannot fathom a life without painting watercolor. It’s my 24/7 obsession, and my doctor said that it’s a healthy passion, so not to worry. Not that I was really.

    I was happy to read your story, view your lovely art work (the crab got me–I’m from RI!), and let myself view ALL of your paintings and not feel bad at the end, but rather happy for you, for me, for folks just like us who are starting out in our mid-years. Thank you for sharing, full circle, your journey. It gives me even more hope, moreover, I am SOOOO happy for you because I understand! Congratulations on your success, both inside and out. What a ride, eh?

    Fanna Turano
    Denver, CO

    1. Hi Fanna –

      I am so glad you are feeling even more excited. It’s so nice to be able to paint something that makes us smile. It truly is a healthy passion and does feed our soul somewhat. Creativity always has for me, and I can’t imagine life without it.

      I wish you all the best as you continue enjoying the process and watching the paint dance with the water. I say paint is the dancer and water is the music and we are the choreographers! Yay!

      Have fun and keep painting!



  6. Lavonne I love your style. The colours lift my spirit and the freedom in them inspires me. Like many others I have just hit semi retirement and am finally taking me time to play with art. Thanks for the inspiration to keep at it.

  7. Hi Levonne,u have penned such a beautifully light and interesting story of ur delectable journey.I am a doctor and Professor and have experienced the healing and inspiring effect of watercolour art in my life.I understood that it is now or never,so stranded in a different city, caring for my unwell husband I joined Meeta Dani to learn to b a Master artist.Enrolled myself in a PG diploma in Painting,online,learning textures from famed artist Angus Mcewan and also fundamentals from a dedicated artist Vikrant Shitole,I have opened myself to the Universe of Art.My tragedy n ill health forgotten as I play with watercolours and write my soul story with a brush. It is so wonderful and liberating knowing I can do it and I am doing it. Wish I cud teach more souls to live and enjoy the peace and beauty of watercolours.God bless u and wish u all success.
    Dr Madhmeeta Banerjee

    1. Thank you so much, Dr. Madhmeeta. Your words and encouragement mean a lot. May you find lots of joy in your own watercolor journey and may you inspire others to feel happiness as well. Lots of love and best wishes. ❤️

  8. Thank you for your story. Also a dormant artist since my schooldays, but getting a family full of kids also took up most of my time. Now and then my art surfaced and I drew my children, or made self portraits. Never very long, too busy, too many distractions 🙂 Then I was suddenly 67 and I realised if ever… now was the time to get to draw and paint.I lived alone by then. Kids grown and their kids grown, now I had the time and place to nurture it. And like you, I try to paint, also watercolour, every day. It works. I am getting better, following courses, tutorials on YouTube and Skillshare.
    So your and my story had lots of similarities, and it made me smile. I will keep on going, nothing can stop me now, and if I get as gooc as you are, I will be very happy. I love your use of colour and I will definitely use some of the hints you put in your story. Thank you!

  9. Lavonne, you are not only a gifted artist, you are also an inspired storyteller. It has been a pleasure to read your words, to linger over your gorgeous artwork, and to be imbued with the magic of believing that you can achieve mastery by painting those thousands of hours on your brush. I’ve learned much from this brief view of your journey.

    1. Hi Sharon!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to write me a very nice comment. I’m glad you found something interesting to look at or read. I am so happy I kept trying. I had a really bad experience in one workshop. I didn’t share that in the story, because I didn’t want someone to recognize themselves. (Not likely, but just in case.) Anyway, I felt like giving up. It was the first workshop, with an amazing artist, and I was clearly in over my head. It cost a lot and it was over sold and too crowded, and just all-around not a good experience. Afterwards, I was really sad. I tried to laugh, but I just couldn’t. Anyway, it took awhile, but I decided to just keep trying, and I’m super glad I did.

      May you find joy in own journey! Keep laughing – it makes everything more fun!



      1. It’s so good that you didn’t allow that one terrible experience to cloud your dream of painting and learning to improve your skills. Perhaps this is an even better lesson, to know that like so many of us, you suffered a failure but didn’t let it define you. Now your mastery defines you.

  10. Lavonne,
    ” … watercolor paint produces magic when it is allowed to dance with water….”

    Stunning words. I am just now learning such magic from Jean Haines, master impressionist and teacher. Yes let’s stay with it and be the best we can be.

    Thank you.
    Linda M. Gigliotti

  11. Your art is amazing. But so is your storytelling. I think you could easily write a best selling book, and even illustrate it. Your story would make a lovely children’s book (we know that adults also love children’s story books) that would leave young readers to truly believe that perhaps they too could become an artist. Incorporate exactly as you have written here, the story of your life and your journey to become an artist. It is so inspirational. A very lovely and joyful combination of art and storytelling that can be helpful and hopeful as well as entertaining. Thank you for sharing your talent.

  12. I love your art! It was wonderful to read about your journey, and I’m so happy that your dream has come true. I try to create daily, as well, and I know the value of doing so–not just for the improvement in my art, but also for the joy in my soul. Always make the magic happen.

  13. Hi Lavonne, these watercolors are just wonderful. You really get the spontaneous moment of the picture and those faces are so expressive and for real. The girl and boy sitting by the lake with the sun out makes me feel like I have seen this before. Just wonderful. Don’t ever stop.

  14. Your art and your words are truly inspirational. Your use of colour and your descriptive language could come together in a beautiful book. Perhaps a new goal for another day…miles on the pen… Thank you for sharing your amazing artwork and your amazing story.

Leave Me A Comment!

%d bloggers like this: