There is a natural beauty about watercolor that thrills me every time I use it. No other medium has such a freshness and immediacy to it. “Watercolor is honest,” one of my students said, and she was more right than she knew. Not only does watercolor, through its transparency, show beautiful rich depths of layers (and thus make it really hard to hide mistakes), but it shows the heart of the artist. I can read uncertainty and doubt in the new artist’s brush strokes, a single hesitant stroke in an otherwise confident painting will stand out like an intruder.
This can feel fearful; if watercolor is so honest that I cannot hide my mistakes or mask my struggles, how can I ever paint something anyone would like?
Fight or Flight?
This is where we can choose to fight or flow (and the right answer is flow). Imagine that instead of spending your painting time working to fix mistakes, you saw new possibilities and opened yourself to them. It’s the “fight or flight” reaction, but with “flight” meaning the opportunity to FLY.
We are natural artists.
A child makes no mistakes in art. Aren’t they so fun to watch, fearlessly splashing paint in delight and fierce confidence? We may not be able to identify the result, but they hold up their creations with such conviction and pride. They are doing something that is instinctive and natural, and it is something that we carry into adulthood, even though it feels out of reach.
When I taught art to elementary and junior high school students, it was interesting to see the way the different age groups responded in class. A class of ten year olds is, in the majority, engaged and energetic. They are itching to discuss their creative ideas and get down to creating the project. But within a year or two, a change takes place. For many students, the energy is replaced with apathy, negativism and self-criticism. It was a battle for me as the teacher to encourage and inspire these junior high students who seemed to have lost their connection to that childlike, natural joy in creativity.
Picasso is quoted as saying, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist after we grow up.” Even though we might feel disconnected from that inner child, under the layers of adult coping mechanisms and busyness of life, it is natural to feel an urge to create. Our creative impulses are not satisfied with observation; we want to ACT. I live for those moments (all too rare) when the world slips away because I am so immersed in the action of painting. Time disappears and often I will come out of a creative reverie with a finished painting and no clear memory of the decisions and actions that brought it about. It feels like it happened by magic.
I call myself a heart-led artist. That means I prioritize the process of painting over the product. Letting my heart lead requires a mindset shift; there is no hiding behind superior technical skill; making the watercolor do what I want. I try to show up in the studio with the intention merely to be present in the painting and “watch the paint.” Simply pausing to see what is happening on the paper without rushing to intervene is so powerful. Happy accidents happen because I let go of my own agenda long enough to let watercolor do what it does naturally.
Picasso knew the secret; letting the childlike artist come forth meant abandoning oneself to childhood’s most natural state; that of play.
Play in watercolor means working with joy and reckless abandon.
Play means leaving ego at the door.
Play means asking “what if” and taking risks and stepping outside of the comfort zone.
My very favorite paintings are the ones that created a physical response. So often my reaction to my best work is, “I don’t know why, but I like this.” These are paintings that are not the most skilled or technically complex, but in choosing a playful, heart-guided painting process, they came alive at the tip of my brush, natural wonders that couldn’t have been planned or orchestrated to life. They live because they show the artist’s heart.
You are here to paint because you have that childlike natural artist living inside. Let that artist come alive in your work. Play, take risks and don’t be afraid. Your inner artist has amazing things to show you!
Today’s video lesson
This week we are continuing to explore beginner watercolor techniques and today I’m showing you how to simplify a landscape scene so that you can paint what you see in twenty minutes or less. This is a one-session painting, so no waiting for layers to dry, just paint, learn, and repeat! Watch the lesson here:
The lessons aired on my YouTube channel during World Watercolor Month are all a part of my online watercolor course for new painters, Learn Watercolor the Heart-Led Way. 10% from any course enrollment on learn.angelafehr.com during July 2019 will be donated to the Dreaming Zebra Foundation.Recommended2 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.