The first painting I ever made was, unfortunately, a copyright violation. Not that I knew it at the time. I was sixteen years old, and for my birthday, I’d been given a set of watercolor pencils. On the box was a painting of the Matterhorn, and I painted my own version using my new pencils. It was so exciting to realize that my new tools were helping me create the best painting I’d ever made, and that success motivated me to continue painting.
Some paintings are just special, and as I think about my twenty-four year painting journey, there are a handful that really stand out in my memory, and they do so for a variety of reasons. I want to share a few of them here, and as I do, I encourage you to think about what your most memorable paintings are, and why they are significant to you. I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Paintings That Inspire
My Matterhorn painting mattered so much in my watercolor journey. It gave me hope that I could make good art, even though, years later when I found that painting in storage, it was painfully more amateur than I remembered. It’s a little embarrassing to look at now and remember how good I thought it was at the time. I’m showing you, because I don’t believe in being ashamed of past art. Rather, I see it as a mile marker showing the progression of growth. When I feel like I’m not painting any better, I can look back and see that change does occur and trust that growth will continue to happen as long as I am painting.
Paintings That Assure
My first “real painting,” that is, one that I composed myself and successfully completed, was this botanical style floral that I painted when I was twenty-one, after taking watercolor classes and working to learn watercolor techniques. The burning question I lived with at the time was “Am I good enough to call myself an artist?” and this painting symbolized the “Yes” that I needed to hear.
I was confident that this painting showed enough skill and potential that I could take the next step I was yearning to take, and so I framed it, joined the local art society and began participating in member shows at our local gallery. This is the painting that gave me permission to own my dream, and while today I believe that if you are making art, you are an artist, at the time it was the nod I needed to be able to call myself an artist.
Paintings That Prod
I never finished this painting, and you’ll never see it in a frame, but when I look back on my artistic development, it was this painting that changed my direction to a more heart-led personal style. As I worked on the first layer of this painting, the colors flowed so beautifully, and I was so happy in the result. I remember thinking, “I wish I could call this painting finished right now…but no one would understand it.”
I kept painting, and overworked the painting. I was never able to bring back the joy I had felt in that first layer.
That dissatisfaction was a major impetus for change. It didn’t happen that day, or even that year, but every time I thought about the way that promising painting had failed, I grew more frustrated with my desire to paint for others rather than for myself. As I became aware that in seeking to please the expectations I assumed from my audience, I had ignored my own instincts and failed to trust myself, I realized that only by painting to please that inner voice would I be able to develop a truly personal style.
Paintings That Hold Memories
I’m not a portrait artist, so you might not see the faces of my loved ones in my paintings, but when I look at this scene, I think of my friends. We hiked together through the forest on one of the last days before they moved away, and when I painted this scene, I poured into it a tribute to the closeness we cherished. I think of them when I see it, and it makes my heart happy.
Paintings symbolize my roots. A simple painting of a fence post that reminds me of the farmers who homesteaded this land, my grandfather and our history in this country. A painting of the ditch on the road to town is about the daily search for beauty as I watch the seasons change through that simple curve of weeds and sky.
I’ve realized that all of my landscape paintings are connected in some way to my memories and emotions of time and place. This helps me connect with art collectors, because I know that my paintings will speak to people who similarly hold dear to their roots and relationships.
Paintings That Make Magic
If only I could say that every painting I create has this quality, but not even Picasso could hit a home run every time. Especially since he’s not known for his ability to play baseball. As a professional painter, I might paint a hundred paintings every year. Many of these are sketches from which more “serious” paintings are developed, but from the ones that I might consider “good,” I might get lucky enough to see one that is really special. This would be a painting that is truly memorable, one that encapsulates who I am as an artist and a person, that shows my heart in unguarded self-expression, while also conveying something of the beauty of watercolor.
Most of the time, I go to the studio and paint and I just hope that magic will show up. Often it doesn’t, or only reveals itself in tiny glimpses. When the magic comes, it usually feels accidental, often almost an out-of-body experience. It’s so elusive! When magic comes, you can’t grip it too tightly. Give in to the freedom and beauty, and be thankful for the wonderful gift that watercolor is, for the luminous color, the movement of the water and paint, for the release of pouring yourself into that white sheet of paper and finding joy in the process.
Paintings Yet To Come
Each of the paintings above have one thing in common, and that is that I didn’t know they would be significant when I was painting them. Hindsight may be 20/20, but the path ahead is cloudy and indirect. You don’t get to know which paintings will matter, which ones will mark a breakthrough or a pivotal moment in your artistic journey. In fact, often my grandest plans were followed by failure. The big sheet of paper that was going to become that year’s masterpiece turned into a disappointment, and the quick sketch that was supposed to be a warm-up holds unexpected and memorable beauty.
Let the promise of paintings yet to come inspire you to keep painting. We don’t know when it will happen, that magical painting, but we paint in faith, believing it will happen if we hold on, paint more, and watch for the magic.
Painting Your Heart
Often we think of our special paintings as being the ones that show the most skill, but there’s more to it than that. Looking back, I can see my journey as an artist in my significant paintings. The ones that stand out show where I have come from and who I am as an artist. I can see my heart in the paintings that mean the most to me, and that has helped me develop my style and paint with authenticity.Recommended9 recommendationsPublished in
Angela Fehr is an internationally known watercolour artist and instructor living in in northern British Columbia, Canada. Teaching over 5,000 students in her online school, Fehr emphasizes fluid and intuitive painting, teaching technique clearly and encouraging students to explore their own unique style as they develop watercolour skills.