When it comes to art, it’s good to know how to do something… like watercolor. But it’s important, too, to know why we’re doing it.
Earlier this morning I was reading along in No Fail Watercolor, and I stopped in my tracks when I came to these words:
Keep reminding yourself why you want to learn how to paint with watercolors in the first place.
I didn’t have any good answers, however. At least no immediate response that came to mind. I had to stop and think about it.
Mostly I thought about all the reasons why I might not want to learn watercolor. I wasn’t being negative, just looking realistically at my past experiences and comments I’ve made through the years since I began pursuing art.
- I don’t want to be a watercolor artist, really.
- I’m not serious about learning watercolor.
- Watercolor is far too tricky for me.
- I’m just not good with watercolor techniques.
Those are valid points, to be sure. Yet at the same time, I find myself coming back to watercolor over and over again. I have fun with watercolor. Even though there are frustrations, I think the fun factor outweighs them.
I enjoy watercolor, I think, mostly because I don’t take myself seriously with it. Whatever I do with watercolor — or usually with my gansai — is done for fun. I’ve also found watercolor a good way to “get started” with art whenever I’m feeling reluctant.
Think back to the spring and summer of 2020. We’d just purchased our lovely “grandma-grandpa” house (as my husband calls it) and for the first time I had a real art studio — and was so intimidated I was afraid to do anything! Watercolor helped me break in my studio. I had fun making colorful bookmarks, playing with abstract expression, and sharing my paints and brushes with the grandkids.
Following last spring’s flooding here in the studio, I once again turned to watercolor to help me ease my way back into working in the studio. It was simple enough to grab my gansai and a waterbrush and just enjoy painting.
As I drew my way through a summer crash course in graphite, I enjoyed coloring in many of my bad drawings. Color didn’t make them any better, but it did make them brighter!
I like watercolor for a lot of reasons. First, of course, there’s my gansai. I doubt that I would be having so much fun with watercolor projects if I were using traditional transparent “western” watercolors. I love the Japanese set with their slightly more opaque colors. Using gansai has made watercolor much more enjoyable.
I like watercolor, too, because — as I pointed out in a recent post — I can do it very inexpensively. Because I’m not striving to master the medium, I can have fun with cheap papers and cheap brushes.
Another advantage is that watercolors are convenient. While I love working in my studio, there are times when I do want to paint in other locations. I like sitting on the front porch, drawing and painting. I enjoy taking my gansai upstairs to the kitchen and making colorful pictures with the grandkids. When I go to art club meetings, my gansai always goes along, and oh, how I enjoy heading out to the hiking trails with my nature journal and my Japanese watercolors.
Another reason I enjoy watercolor is because I can do a lot of practical things with it. Besides the colorful bookmarks I made last year — everyone in the family has a set — I’ve also used watercolor to create covers for the notebooks I’ve bound, and for the tops of the origami boxes I’ve now learned to make. I’ve used watercolor to create Christmas cards, and I’ll be doing a few Halloween cards in coming weeks. I’ve even made several gifts with watercolor, such as the little “doodles set” I made for my mother-in-law last year.
Using watercolor well is tricky, yes. At the same time, using it casually is actually a fairly simple thing. And with my new “just let it be whatever it is” attitude, it’s getting easier all the time. I’m not fretting about mistakes. I’m not trying to create watercolor masterpieces. I’m simply having a good time playing with paints.
So, if I’m content with what I’m doing now, why am I wanting to learn more, improve my techniques, and push myself to become a better watercolor artist? Whoa… let’s back up there a bit. Indeed, I do want to learn more about watercolor, gouache, and gansai, and sure, I’d be happy to see improvements in watercolor techniques like creating flat washes or doing color gradients. But pushing myself to become a better watercolor artist? Nope, that’s not really part of my plan.
Let me go back to what I said earlier. I don’t want to be a watercolor artist. Not really. I don’t want to “get serious” about watercolor. I just want to know enough to enjoy the medium, to improve my techniques enough to get better results, to have more knowledge I can share with the grandkids when we paint together.
Why am I learning watercolor? Because it’s helping me develop a lot of the right attitudes about art. It’s teaching me not to take myself seriously. It’s showing me that art really can be a lot of fun. That’s my why of watercolor.