With today’s prompt of “smooth,” I thought of a million different things, so in an effort to stop imagining and just paint something already, I opted for a watermelon smoothie. Though the credit for true smoothness would likely go to the glass in this one, I thought of this just because I like the idea of a smoothie. Plus, it’s a cute word. You literally throw a bunch of ingredients in a blender and pulverize them until they’re ready to drink through a straw. This is something that even I can manage with my not so much limited as non-existent kitchen skills. This is also how I approach my illustrations. I squint for a bit at whatever it is I’m about to recreate on paper and then throw a bunch of ingredients at it with glee, happily blending them together until something new is made. That’s what I love about sketching with watercolor. You don’t have to be exact, you just have to get the illusion of something across. I learned by pulling bits of ideas and techniques from urban sketchers, illustrators, and studio painters. I blended all of this together to make something I call a doodlewash and while it isn’t precisely any of those approaches, it hopefully makes an interesting drink in the end.
One of the things I’ve learned on this art journey is that no matter what you make or how you make it, it’s always uniquely yours. Your hand, your mind, your heart come together to create something that can only be made by you. In art school, instructors may have had us copy a famous painting, but we always ended up with a classroom full of unique interpretations. It’s not skill that makes our work so different. It’s something else entirely. The way we see is the real key to the equation and this is as unique as a fingerprint. We should absolutely learn wonderful techniques from as many of the fantastic artists who share them as we possibly can. But, ultimately, what we make will always be our own creation. This is the amazing thing about art. No matter what you do, you are always taking part in a bit of self-expression. And this is also why I don’t stress too much about technique or whether I’m doing things properly. At the very least, I always know I’m doing things the way that only I can do them.
And so it strikes me that learning to paint is not just about the final results. It’s about the ingredients that you choose to blend together. This is why I love featuring other artists. We have so much that we can learn from the various techniques and pure emotion that they include in their work. Equally, there’s much to understand about the journey that brought them to where they are today. I have to smile when I read the stories of artists who, just like me, abandoned a paint brush for more than 20 years. It’s not so much time lost in our case, as a beautiful enlightenment gained. Each day that I now get to play with paints and a brush is even more of a gift. A discovery that makes my life so much richer, knowing that I’ll be able to make something brand new appear at some point. Some days, the results are far better than others. But, that doesn’t make the experience any less delicious. After all, I’m not making masterpieces, I’m just making smoothies.
About the Doodlewash
M. Graham Watercolors: Pyroll Red, Azo Orange, Permanent Green Pale, Burnt Sienna, and Ultramarine Blue. Lamy Safari Al-Star Fountain Pen – Extra Fine, with Platinum Carbon black ink in an A6 Hahnemühle Watercolor Book.