In my crazy post yesterday about talking animals, I briefly mentioned that I am working on watercolors. This made me realize that I failed to provide an update to my earlier failed attempt to take art classes.

I’d intended to take both Realistic Drawing and Ink Pen + Watercolor from the Corvallis Community Center this autumn, but the classes were cancelled due to low enrollment. Boo! (Apparently this is a thing since COVID, especially in older progressive communities like Corvallis.) Rather than give up, though, I heeded advice of Folded Space readers and looked for alternatives. I found one at Linn-Benton Community College.

I’m now taking two painting classes each week: Jump into Watercolor I on Tuesdays and Jump into Watercolor II on Thursdays. When I registered, I thought they were two sessions of the same class. They’re not. The Tuesday session is “part one” of the course, and the Thursday session is “part two”. The instructor (whom I like very much) offered to let me drop the Thursday session, but also said I could take it with the understanding that it’s stuff I won’t really understand. I opted to stick with it.

So, now I’m nearing the end of my second week working with watercolors. It’s fun. It’s also humbling.

I feel like I’m a freshman in high school taking my first art class. I see what professionals are capable of producing, but as a raw beginner my work is far from their results. I can’t even get the paint to do the simple things I want it to do! It’s as if I’m learning to write and all I can do is produce big blocky letters written in pencil on pulpy paper when what I really want is to write Harry Potter or something.

But hey. This is how all things start, right? You have to learn the fundamentals.

The in-class stuff is tough for me. Most of the other students have some level of art experience. They’re taking this watercolor class to expand their toolbox. There’s one other guy in the Tuesday class who has never done this before. He and I are both slow and methodical, so the class sessions whiz by and we’re way behind. That’s okay. I come home and repeat the exercises over and over again.

This Tuesday, for instance, we were supposed to paint a jellyfish. The other students were able to produce something roughly resembling a jellyfish during our two hours. Not me. My painting looked like a bunch of blobs. So, I came home and did another. More blobs. Then I watched some stuff on YouTube and made a third attempt. Better. Smaller blobs. Today, I’ll make a fourth attempt, but this time I’ve written out a plan — a “recipe”. I know which paints I’ll use in which order and with which brushes. I know when I’m going to let paint dry and when I’m going to paint “wet on wet”. I’ll probably still produce blobs, but I’ll bet the blobs will look more like a jellyfish.

My messy watercolor work area.

I have some other random thoughts about this process after ten days at it.

First, it’s amazing how quickly I enter flow state while working with watercolor. Time breezes by! Our two-hour classes seem like twenty minutes. And when I work at home, I have to be very careful not to miss other scheduled activities. The other night, I almost forgot to make dinner. I went downstairs to the library at 13:30 to begin mixing my paint (my new palette arrived, and I wanted to get my color wheel set up in it). Before I knew it, it was 17:00 and Kim would be home soon. Wow.

Second, I’m being very J.D. about this whole thing. I am a slow learner. When I learn something, I learn it well and often become quite good at it. But it takes me a lot of effort to get there. My learning isn’t linear. It’s more like a cubic curve. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out the fundamentals, which means I lag behind classmates (or co-workers). But once I have everything figured out, I rapidly improve my skill. I’ve always been like this, so I’ve just surrendered to it. I expect I’ll spend the next three months s-l-o-w-l-y learning basic stuff that others pick up quickly. But once I have it figured out, I’ll be able to put it together well.

Third — and this is sort of related to the last point — I’ve found YouTube tremendously helpful in figuring some of this stuff out. As much as I like my instructor, she assumes a lot of knowledge. I have plenty of basic questions, like:

  • How much water am I supposed to be using?
  • Are there fixed ratios for mixing colors? Mixing purple from French Ultramarine and Quinacranone Rose was simple enough. Basically a one-to-one ratio. But getting my green from Phthalo Blue and Lemon Yellow was tough. I had to use way more yellow than blue. (And getting my yellow-green was even more difficult!)
  • It seems like nearly all the watercolor work I see is with paint that is water-diluted, usually with a lot of water. Do you ever work with thick pigment and very little water? I like the intense colors and want to use them undiluted, but maybe this doesn’t work well? (I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t done because they end up bleeding easily when exposed to moisture or something.)

Anyhow, YouTube is filling in a lot of gaps. I particularly like the videos from Liron Yanconsky. Many of them are too advanced for me, but his tutorials are fantastic. I watched this video on how to do a “wash” yesterday, and everything just clicked. It was my first aha! moment with watercolors.

I also like the videos from Dragonfly Spirit Studio. The presenter doesn’t assume anything and gives lots of detail in his explanations. He covers the whys as well as the hows. So helpful for the way my mind works. Here are two great examples:

Those two videos are exactly the basic sort of things that I’m missing from my in-person classes, so I like that I’m able to supplement the things my instructor teaches with the added detail I need.

I don’t just watch basic videos. I sometimes watch professional artists doing amazing things. I especially like when they explain their thought process. This video about painting clouds from Noelle Curtis is great!

Honestly, if my mind worked differently than it actually does, I feel like it’d be possible to learn any sort of art using only YouTube videos. For the past year, I’ve been building a YouTube playlist that I call “art school” with lots of great tutorials on drawing and painting. What’s funny (to me) is that my absolute favorite art channel is Kezoo Sketch, which is entirely in Korean. I can’t understand a thing he says — hooray for subtitles! — but I love the way the presenter works.

Okay, that’s far more than I intended to write about my first ten days working with watercolor. I’m really enjoying it, though, and it’s helped to share this stuff. Right now, though, I need to head downstairs to complete my homework before class starts at ten.

4 Replies to “Jump into watercolor!”

  1. J.D. Roth says:

    Ooooh. It looks like our project for today’s class is to paint an egg. I like it. It’s the sort of thing — like the jellyfish — that I can practice again and again and again. Plus, I can use smaller pieces of paper for the egg. Watercolor paper is expensive!

  2. Gwen says:

    I swear we’re the same person sometimes. I got into watercolors too!

  3. Amanda says:

    Oooh I got into watercolors as well! Currently I’ve had two classes and I’m the only one who has zero art experience. It is fun but very humbling.

    Also, my city has a supply store for teachers and artists that is open to the public. Supplies are still expensive but cheaper than Michaels or Amazon. You might have something nearby.

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