My name is Robin Arnold and I’m a self-taught artist living in what used to be the Great Black Swamp in northwest Ohio. Although most of the swamp has been drained and is now farmland, small towns, or cities, the 13 acres I live on is still a marshy area which is a haven for wildlife and inspiration for my art.
I’ve been a serious nature photographer since the late 1970s, but a few years ago, I bought some paints and decided to do something I’ve talked myself out of for decades: try to paint in my favorite medium, watercolor.
I had done some drawing over the years. I still have a set of Derwent colored pencils my grandmother bought me in the ’60s, but I thought watercolor painting was for “real” artists and not for someone, who like me, had no formal art training. But the hundreds of photos I had taken of the area wildlife were begging to be turned into paintings, and finally, despite my lack of confidence, I decided to give it a try.
I began my journey into the world of watercolor by doing very rough sketches of whimsical animals in pen and ink and then painting them with a wash of watercolor. I usually used my photos to get the general shape of the animal but then let my imagination take over. I had a lot of fun doing these and eventually I got up the nerve to post them on Facebook.
I thought this would be a great way to keep track of my progress and also to show my friends—many of whom swore they couldn’t draw—that if I could do it so could they. When I wasn’t sketching I devoured art videos and read every book on watercolor painting I could lay my hands on.
After a year or so of doing the sketches I decided to get a little more serious about my art and do an actual painting. Something I could frame and hang on the wall. I bought better paints and paper and decided my first painting would be a bird, one of my favorite subjects to photograph.
I’m lucky to live in an area that is known far and wide for its birding, so over the years I’ve accumulated a nice variety of photos to use as reference material. I’ve done several birds since that first painting, and have also expanded my subject matter to include other animals, flowers and even some urban sketching.
I always have a camera with me but instead of dragging around heavy professional quality photo gear I’ve switched to an advanced point and shoot camera. I’m much less interested in capturing the perfect photo and more interested in taking photos I can use in my art. I learned over time that instead of using one good photo for my painting I can combine elements of several photos to come up with a better composition.
Because I want to improve my drawing skills I always draw my subject freehand using the photo as reference and then transfer the drawing to watercolor paper. I will probably always use photos as reference but recently I’ve tried to loosen up my paintings and not slavishly copy every detail the photo contains.
My favorite paints are Daniel Smith, but I’ve been trying out some handmade paints and I’ve been very impressed with them. I’ve tried several brands of paper but I always come back to Arches. I use cold press for most of my paintings but I switch to hot press when I do line and wash.
Although I have sold and donated some of my paintings locally, and I do have an Etsy store, my main reason for painting is simple: it makes me happy and as someone who has battled severe panic attacks most of my life it’s also proven to be very therapeutic. I’m looking forward to pursuing my passion for watercolor, and if, along the way, I inspire someone else to pick up a brush that would be an added bonus.Recommended8 recommendationsPublished in