A week ago I ventured into a new world, the world of watercolor painting. My art skills include drawing a heart, a happy face and maybe an occasional star, but that's about it. I have no talent in this area, but I still wanted to learn something new.
The instructor said we would be drawing butterflies and shapes. Already I was panic stricken - a butterfly meant two sides pretty much the same. Identical! I'd never get it right. Then Marcee, our instructor, said we could trace if we wanted to and the entire class gave up a big sigh. I wasn't the only one ready to bolt for the door. Marcee laughed and told us to relax, this would be fun.
As I stewed over which butterfly to trace, I realized she wanted us not to get hung up on the perfection of the piece, but to become excited in the process of learning a new technique. I drew a circle on my paper using the lip of a saucer; I traced my butterfly into the cirle I had made; I used only the outside shape of the butterfly and went rogue with the shapes of the wings. It was a challenge in balance, but one I enjoyed. The rest of the paper was for me to do as I pleased.
For a writer, I was pretty dissapointed I couldn't think of any interesting shapes to draw. I settled for wavy lines that ended up looking like ribbons floating in the background of my butterfly. I have no idea how I came up with that idea and that small part of the creative process reminded me of writing and how sometimes, if I am really lucky the best idea just floats into my brain and it's on the paper before it can escape. My background appeared and it was good. Simple, but it had character.
Then Marcee had us paint our picture with water. I felt about three years old painting with no paint, but Marcee wasn't finished, far from it and she distributed dabs of colorful pigment on saucers and instructed us to wash the background with whatever colors we wanted. Except I didn't know what I wanted; I felt unsure and hesitant and only after mulling things over with the rest of the class and each of us deciding what color our butterflies would be could we decide on the background. And just like in writing, the layering process began, one light stoke at a time.
I used washed out colors, then more solid pigment and salt. I never knew one used salt in watercolor painting. The salt reacted to the wet paint and little explosions of color expanded and grew, the colors blending and bleeding into one another in exciting ways. The process gave the picture depth and a richness it lacked before. I really felt like an artist creating something original.
Once the watery paint and salt dried, I moved onto another layer of detailing, much like writers do in filling in the story or plot to make the images more prominent. I grew bolder with the paint, making my lines of ribbon stand out then fade only to stand out again. The butterfly ended up with more than three layers of detail with straight pigment, the bold blending with the washed out colors in ways I never imagined it could.
I used too much pigment and ended up with a blob of navy blue where it didn't belong. Marcee showed me how to wash it away and fix it the way I wanted it to look. I learned there was no wrong way to paint with watercolors. I could always fix what I didn't like. Even after it had dried comepletely. Another similarity with writing.
In the end, I let Marcee detail in the tiny features of my butterfly, her hand is much steadier than mine. I watched her deftly dab paint and a face appeared. She recommended I add bits of green and yellow flowers and vines to the background within the circle where my butterfly was. Again I applied muted colors, barely recognizable, but the contrast added depth to the plain background. The butterfly grew more distinguished and life-like with something for it to rest upon.
I realize one night of painting does not make me a painter, anymore than one day of writing makes me an author. But by being adventurous in trying something different, I have expanded my knowledge and that will enhance my writing skills.
And that is good!
Til next time ~