GUEST ARTIST: “Watercolor Wanderer” by Lisa Spangler

Watercolor by Lisa Spangler - Doodlewash

Hi y’all! My name is Lisa Spangler and I think of myself as a watercolor wanderer — or maybe I should make that a wonder-er, because watercolors never fail to fill me with joy and wonder — even when they’re misbehaving. I’m originally  from Northeast Ohio but I’ve been living in Austin, Texas for over 20 years now, so I guess you could say I’m from Texas. Full confession though — while I’ve taken to saying y’all I’ll always call a can of a fizzy carbonated beverage “pop”.

The watercolor bug bit me back in high school (not saying how long ago that was, but it’s been a while!) and I can’t believe I actually still have my very first set set of watercolors — one of those Crayola sets!

I was working at a dry cleaners and picked it up a drug store so that I could use it on my breaks or when it was slow. Best palette ever! It’s not actually half bad and I still break it out now and then when I’m just messing around.

Then I went to college and got degrees in mathematics and computer science and time for art kind of went out the window, except for little doodles in my notebooks during class.

Watercolor by Lisa Spangler - Doodlewash

Next came 10 years of working in the tech industry. Making time for art in the evenings and on weekends became my way of reducing stress. Being out in nature has always been important to me, and doing little sketches of flowers and leaves really helped me slow down, get away from a computer, and relax. Plus I got to know our native Texas flora through sketches – we have so many amazing wildflowers here in spring and fall.

One thing lead to another and I worked for another 10 years for a company in the arts and crafts industry where I designed and implemented their website, plus I got to do a little art on the side. One of my proudest moments was when a sketch of a maple leaf that I did while on vacation in Quebec was made into a stamp!

Maple Leaf Stamp and Watercolor - Lisa Spangler - Doodlewash

Maple Leaf Stamp

365 Project

In 2017, I decided to get serious and do a sketch everyday for the whole year. When I started this project I never could have dreamed about all the places I’d be sketching and how much I would learn — more about myself than about sketching.

Watercolor by Lisa Spangler - Doodlewash

I learned that sketching helps me feel more connected in a way that taking a photo or writing can’t do. Seems like life just goes by faster and faster anymore and this way I can slow down and savor the moments. I found myself noticing the color of a leaf or the curve of a petal and wondering at the beauty of it all.

I didn’t have a plan other than to do a sketch each day. I went about my routine and something would call me to sketch it — so I would. Looking back it would have been better to have a list of ideas ready to go, as there were a few late night sketch sessions haha! — but I loved the freedom of just going with the flow.

All of the sketches were done in sketchbooks so that I’d stay organized. I love flipping through them!

And I have to say is that it’s really true — practice really does make a difference! I got faster as I went along and my confidence grew. Towards the end of the project I would go for a sketch that I never would have dared to even attempt back at the start. I highly recommend doing a sketch a day. Don’t worry about making something amazing, just keep putting brush to paper. At the very least you’ll have a project to be proud of!

Tiny Sketches

I wanted to keep up my daily practice after the 365 Project ended, but I wanted to incorporate it more into my daily routine — so, enter the Tiny Sketches project! These sketches are about 2.5” x 3.5” and I did most of them on my daily walks around the neighborhood.

When I started this project I asked myself “How small can we go?”

How small of a sketch can we make and have it still satisfy that need to put brush to paper?

Turns out, we can go pretty small.

This project has also helped to keep me motivated to keep doing my rehab. I’ve had 6 leg surgeries for a torn ACL and stopping for just a few minutes while I’m out on my walks is good for morale! It’s like a little reward, built right in.

Plus since these tiny sketches use minimal supplies you can do one just about anywhere. A water brush, a 2-color palette and paper. When I first started out I just held the paper in my hand, but now I use a nifty piece of coroplast. And I have a handy clip-on water cup when I use my regular travel brushes.

The small size also makes it where I’m forced to edit what I sketch – there’s just no way I can include every little thing. It’s five minutes well spent.

Postcards From The Pond

In this series I did a sketch of a little pond in my neighborhood everyday in June 2018 as part of Marc Taro Holmes#30x30DirectWatercolor2018 Challenge. The pond is a mile from our house in Austin, TX and it’s really just a water retention pond — it’s for when we have one of our epic downpours after a drought and water runs everywhere. At first glance it doesn’t seem all that exciting, but I’ve done over 30 sketches there and feel like I’ve barely made a ripple.

Watercolor by Lisa Spangler - Doodlewash

My goals for this project were to better know this place close to home and to practice sketching outside — in wind and rain and weather. Temperatures are already up in the 100s F (38 C) and some days my brushstrokes are drying as fast as I can paint! I plan to pick this project back up again in fall. Everything is kind of brown and crispy now ha!

I recorded little notes on the back of the postcards and mailed them to myself about what I saw that day and other observations. It’s such a feeling of accomplishment to open the mailbox and find one there.

I also wanted to try and get looser with my sketches. For the 365 Project I was trying to be more realistic, but for these I just wanted to let go and let the watercolor do it’s thing! After all, that’s what I love about it.

All in all, I just have to say that I feel so lucky I found watercolors. They’ve changed my life for the better and I’ve made so many friends through this medium. And committing to doing a sketch a day really is all that they say! If you’ve been thinking about doing a project like this I say go for it! Can’t recommend it enough, especially if you can get outside in nature.

Thanks so much for joining me and please let me know if you have any questions. See you around Doodlewash!

Lisa Spangler
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Recommended7 recommendationsPublished in Featured Artists

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!

37 Comments
  1. Mary Roff 3 months ago

    Lisa, thanks for sharing your story, great ideas and beautiful work. Can’t wait to try some more minis and you’ve inspired me to do some.

    • Lisa Spangler 3 months ago

      Thanks so much, Mary! I love the minis — the only trouble is that they’re kinda addicting hahaha! Some days I can’t stop at one. 🙂

  2. dmpatteson 3 months ago

    Love your work! How do you keep it in the lines? Every time I try to water color, I get the brush too wet and it bleeds across the line.

    • Lisa Spangler 3 months ago

      Hi! Are you working on dry paper? That helps with control! Also if you feel that the brush is too wet you can try touching the part of the brush up by the handle with a paper towel or rag to sop up some of the water — it will leave the pigment in the brush. I also like to roll my brush on my palette so it forms a nice point before putting it to paper. And who says you have to stay in the lines anyhow! Hope that helps! And just keep painting 🙂

  3. Posey Gaines 3 months ago

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  4. Sandra Strait 3 months ago

    Lisa, both your ‘sketches’ and your artistic journey are amazing! I love how you’ve incorporated the daily painting into your life. Great idea sending them to yourself as postcards!

    • Lisa Spangler 3 months ago

      Thanks so much, Sandra! Full confession, when I first started sending postcards to myself I felt a little guilty if that makes sense? But now I like it, feels like it adds something about the journey — sometimes they even get a little mangled or stray ink/postmarks but I like that too!

  5. Joan Bardee 3 months ago

    this was a lovely read. your journey towards watercoloring and sketching was interesting and inspiring. beautiful work!

  6. mstrendy01 3 months ago

    It was lovely reading your post. So inspiring!!

  7. Sharon Nolfi 3 months ago

    Wow! I love those tiny watercolors. Working with projects sounds like a great way to stay motivated and have fun.

    • Lisa Spangler 3 months ago

      Hi Sharon! Thanks so much! Tiny watercolors really are a great way to stay motivated —and if it doesn’t come out how you want you can just start a new one! 🙂

  8. Janet Salmons 3 months ago

    Thanks Lisa, you have given me a lot of ideas. Beautiful work! Can you say more about your little palettes and tins? And colors?

    • Lisa Spangler 3 months ago

      Hi Janet! Thank you so much! For painting on the go I mostly use my pocket palette from Expeditionary Art or a gray/black palette from Greenleaf & Blueberry — you can find out more about them on my blog — just look under Gear up at the top and then I have all my palettes listed. Hope that helps! https://sideoatsandscribbles.wumple.com/category/palette/

      • Janet Salmons 3 months ago

        Thanks! I had a chance to hear the Greenleaf & Blueberry folks speak at Two Hands in Boulder. Beautiful paints– but quite pricey. I love your work and resonate with your attitude towards your painting.

        • Lisa Spangler 3 months ago

          Oh that would be a dream to hear GB speak! I’ve never been to Colorado but hope to get there someday — another dream! For now I’ll just enjoy their watercolors 🙂

          • Janet Salmons 3 months ago

            “Friend” me and let me know if/when you come to the Denver/Boulder area. Lots of amazing places to paint!

  9. Laura Hale 3 months ago

    Great art and post. Thank you for sharing the link to your blog and the other helpful info.

  10. Bekki Page 3 months ago

    Thanks for sharing your art and your heart. This post made my day 😁

  11. Linda Baker 3 months ago

    You are so talented and inspiring! Love your work.

  12. Alice 3 months ago

    I am encouraged by your Tiny Skeches project. that is something I could do. thanks for sharing. I enjoyed reading your post very much.

  13. Lisa Spangler 3 months ago

    Hi Alice! Yes, I feel like tiny sketches have something for everyone! And most of all they’re fast and fun 🙂

  14. SHARON A HASCHALK 3 months ago

    Hi Lisa, I love your work and admire your dedication to sticking to sketching something every day, and that’s the way to learn more and more as you go. I checked out your blog and the information you posted is really informative about the materials you use – and fun to read, too. Thanks so much for sharing your talent!

    • Lisa Spangler 3 months ago

      Thanks so much, Sharon! I really feel that sketching everyday makes a big difference. Plus I notice I get kinda cranky when I haven’t done a sketch yet haha! 🙂

  15. Beverly Dyer 3 months ago

    Nice! Love your sketches. Sometimes I work on index cards.

    • Lisa Spangler 3 months ago

      Oh index cards are a great idea!!! Thank you! The wheels are turning…!

  16. swanlady21 3 months ago

    Wonderful Lisa! Lovely to hear of your path … and an inspiration to follow.

  17. Heidi Alcala 3 months ago

    Enjoyed your article. I am new to painting with water colors. I can relate to a lot of what you shared. What kind of brush/ size do you use? What is the brand name for your journal?

  18. Lisa Spangler 3 months ago

    Hi Heidi! For smaller sketches I mainly work with a #6 sable pocket round brush — this is one of those nifty brushes that has a cap that you can take off like a pen cap — it protects the bristles while in my backpack. I also have a pocket mop brush that I use for skies. For larger things I like to use a #8 round brush and lately I’ve been branching out and tried a #3 mop! I’ve really been enjoying playing around with it! My sketchbooks are by Global Arts Materials. Lately I’ve been making my own from “real” watercolor paper to practice skies. Hope that helps! You can find more on my blog under Gear! https://sideoatsandscribbles.wumple.com/

  19. Janneke Booister 3 months ago

    This is great! And I really admire your strenght to paint every day! 🙂

  20. barbara lassiter 2 months ago

    Loved reading this Lisa. You inspire me with your watercoloring.

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