As artists, we each have our own approach to drawing, painting, and other forms of expression. We have our own methods and our own rituals. We also each have our own unique learning style. What works for you might not work for me, and what works for me…well, it would probably make you laugh, the same way it made my husband laugh when he discovered my way of painting.
I was working at the kitchen table — where I always do my watercolors — and my husband came over to admire the painting. He glanced down, noticed the printed pages I had beside my palette, and read aloud.
Birch Tree Recipe
Yep. You read that right. I have recipes for painting. I thumbed through the pages on the table and showed my husband my “art” cookbook, as I call it. I have recipes for skies, for water, for mountains…all those things I’ve been diligently practicing. I have an autumn tree recipe, a winter tree recipe, and many more.
It makes sense, really, when you know me and my love of cooking. But I didn’t set out to consciously create art recipes. It happened more or less by chance.
I was watching an online tutorial one evening, and I wanted to try following along. The problem is that my computer is here in my art room, and my watercolors are in the kitchen. That’s where I do my painting because of the lighting.
I would watch a minute or two of the video tutorial, and then I’d go to the kitchen and try to follow along. Sometimes — I hate to admit this — I’d forget what I was supposed to do by the time I got to the kitchen. Or maybe I’d remember what to do but forget what color to use, or maybe I’d forget a little bit about the technique used. Another big problem was that a lot of the tutorial involved wet into wet applications, and by the time I went back and forth between art room and kitchen, my wet paper was no longer wet.
After a bit of frustration, I started typing out the tutorial instructions. I watched the entire tutorial, wrote out all the directions, and then printed them out. Armed with those directions, I headed back to the kitchen and began by gathering up my ingredients and my utensils. In other words, I assembled my brushes and palette and prepared the paints I would need.
Then I followed along step by step. I was pleased with the results. So, I returned to my art room, found another watercolor tutorial and repeated the process. At once, I saw my watercolors getting better. I was enjoying the process more, and I loved looking at what I’d begun calling my recipes.
For me, painting with a recipe works. It’s the best way for me to approach watercolor. I was the little girl, remember, who loved digging out cookbooks and planning huge meals. I was the little girl who loved her first cookbook…and whose love of cooking continues to this day.
Because I began learning to cook at such a young age, I think my brain naturally adapted to the step by step approach found in cookbooks. Of course, when I was starting out, I was careful about measuring ingredients exactly, using only the specific ingredients called for, and dutifully following every direction to the letter.
Now, though, I rarely measure anything, feel free to make many substitutions, and am always changing the recipes I use for cooking. I’m comfortable in the kitchen. I know what I’m doing.
I think it will be the same way with watercolor. Right now I need that one step at a time recipe to follow. I need specifics — such as what brush to use and the proper consistency of the paint — much as a beginning cook needs to know what size pan is needed and how high the oven temperature needs to be.
In time, though, I think I’ll be able to make substitutions, stop “measuring” precisely, and trust my own judgments with watercolor. But I’m in no rush to get there. I’m thoroughly enjoying my art cookbook and the many recipes I’ve collected, such as that Birch Tree Recipe my husband noticed. It comes from an video tutorial by Edo Hannema.
I was very pleased with the result.
If you happen to watch the video, you’ll notice that I did vary a bit from the original, but mostly I followed “the recipe” as closely as possible. I liked the result so much, I used the same recipe a second time and painted this birch tree as a present for my father-in-law on Sunday:
In the end, you might laugh a little at the idea of painting from a recipe, but it’s what works best for me. So I’ll go right on collecting recipes and improving my watercolors.
We each have our peculiarities and quirks. We have ways of learning that work for us, and those that don’t. I was lucky to find what works for me. I hope you’re able to do the same.