There was a time, years ago, when I visited San Antonio Texas and was treated to a prickly pear martini. I knew that these were those strange little things at the end of a cactus, but didn’t even realize they were edible. As it turned out, the martini was not only delicious, but was one of those purple-pink ones that made the color an other-worldly shade. I opted for the sunnier yellow, orange and green version for this doodlewash as I’m still trying to ward off the actual winter weather here. But, the glittery lights of San Antonio’s River Walk certainly added to the magic and made that drink actually glow like a lava lamp. It was a wonderful memory indeed, although I can’t remember much else about that trip other than a quick visit to the Alamo and the extreme heat. I’ve not even had a martini in years, perhaps because there could be never one to compare to that one. And mostly because I just like wine much better. I would later learn that the prickly pear cactus is both a fruit and a vegetable and both bits are edible. Though I didn’t leave San Antonio with the thought of adding a lot of cactus to my diet, I did end up enjoyed it in other versions. Most notably the various dishes served in Mexican restaurants. Every version was indeed delicious, so it’s no wonder this plant has such a precarious and barbed defense mechanism.
This, of course, caused my mind to leap in a completely different direction. I got to thinking about my own defense mechanisms and things I do in an effort to protect myself. Some are good, like avoiding too much sugar in my diet or carrying a small bottle of disinfectant around during the winter like it’s a pocket pistol. But, I have to admit that others are a bit questionable. When it comes to my daily sketching, I tend to avoid certain subjects and will even reinterpret my own prompts a bit to sketch something else entirely. Today, when met with a prompt of cactus, I almost came up with something else. I don’t have anything against the plant, it’s just that I worry that I can’t make it look interesting. The spiny bits are definitely in my wheelhouse, but the softer flowering bits cause me to be a bit shy. My style isn’t soft or gentle, it’s mostly about high contrast and graphic lines. In many ways, I’m a sketcher first and foremost and my adoration for watercolor came from the wonderful pairing of the two. Something I called a doodlewash. I adore the style of pure watercolor paintings, but it’s just not something I enjoy doing on a regular basis. Which is a lot to admit when you’re the guy who founded World Watercolor Month. But, what I love about this and all paint mediums is that, as an artist, you get to choose how you use it and find the way that personally works best!
That’s the idea, anyway, but sure, there are purists out there who deem anything other than pure watercolor to be something of secondary worth. Purists, to me, are the biggest buzzkill one can encounter in any endeavor as they always threaten to suck the creativity and fun right out of things. Yet still, I get it, watercolor is unique and wonderful on its own and using it that way can produce some of the most stunning and incredible works we can imagine. I feature tons of artists on this site who can do amazing things with watercolor and have so much to teach us! What I’ve learned is that even if you don’t paint like a particular artist, there is still much that you can learn from them. And it’s always good to attempt every technique or approach that you find and jump outside of your comfort zone. But, when you find your fit and style that works best, I also think there’s merit in chasing after it. I continue to play, but I’ve learned the methods that bring me the most joy. These days, I just keep pushing myself to use that style on subjects I would normally avoid. To lower my own defense mechanisms, just a bit, so I avoid approaching each little sketch like a prickly pear.
About the Doodlewash
Da Vinci Paint Co.: Aureolin, Leaf Green, Vermillion, Cobalt Turquoise, and Cobalt Blue. Lamy Al-Star Safari Fountain Pen with black ink in an A5 Hahnemühle Watercolour Book. Want to purchase a print of this doodlewash? Send me a note with a link to this post, and I’ll add it to my shop!
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!