A Year of Watercolor: How Creativity Can Save Your Life

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A year ago, in March 2019, I picked up a brush and started to watercolor. It all started with a modest little painting of a yellow daffodil I saw at the Philly Flower Show.

Flower Show Daffodil, Julicia Rose, 2019

Then, a feather I found on the ground inspired me to pick up a brush.

Feather, Julicia Rose, 2019

An orange koi fish in a pond at Chanticleer. Koi fish at Chanticleer, Julicia Rose, 2019

I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, or why it was so important for me to paint. I just knew I had to and followed my instincts.

Around the same time, I started reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I began to journal daily, writing 3 pages of my stream of conscious morning musings.

To say I was at a crossroads at this point in my life would be a euphemism; there was no road. The road had been totally obliterated, and I was wandering in the wilderness. I didn’t know who I was, or where I was going, or for how long I’d be on the journey. I just knew I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward.

Cameron’s book gently taught me that I was an artist. And it didn’t matter that I was a beginner, self-taught, didn’t have a bachelor’s from a prestigious art school, and certainly did not know how to layer colors correctly. It didn’t even matter that my watercolor paints were a nameless Amazon brand and my brushes came in a 10-pack from Ross.

What mattered was that I was giving my soul a voice and listening to it speak. I was respecting the creativity that was within me, that God gifted me.

Rose Garden at the Barnes, Julicia Rose, 2019

Sometimes, like during this health pandemic, you will be lost. All the things you thought you knew will be blown out of the water. The road you were traveling on will end abruptly, and with one misstep you might find yourself freefalling perilously off a cliff.

How do you regain your sense of self during these times? How do you reclaim your identity?

Expressing yourself creatively can open the window to your heart and reveal truths within you that you didn’t know were there. Exploring a medium that you’ve always been curious about – baking, gardening, woodworking, leathercrafting – can rescue you from compulsive, cyclical thoughts and gently restore you. It will anchor you into the present moment.

I want to encourage you to explore, or continue exploring, a creative outlet that makes you feel alive inside by sharing with you five of my reflections from a year in watercolor. This is a topic close to my heart especially as many of us are cooped up in our homes under mandatory social isolation.

These are the 5 life lessons that my first year of watercolor taught me:

Art is a conversation with yourself.

The majority of my watercolor paintings are of landscapes, flowers, and nature. Doing the work revealed to me my love of being outside, my absolute adoration of gardens. I realized that my soul has things to say.

The creative process is about getting in tune with your inner voice through figuring out what projects you gravitate towards and determining what mediums speak to you. You are learning who you are. Along the way, you will create projects you absolutely love and other projects that you’re kind of “meh” about. The important thing is to trust the process and stay open. Even the projects that don’t turn out well teach you something.

Buy the equipment you can afford and just get started. 

When I was doing research about the best supplies to buy to start painting, I was overwhelmed by how expensive this hobby seemed. There were YouTubers suggesting paper that cost as much as $2 per sheet, paint tubes that were $10 for one color, and brushes that cost as much as $10 each. I thought about purchasing a watercolor class from a popular French painter to learn the basics, but it was hundreds of euros.

I was determined though. I bought a $14 palette with 18 colors, found some brushes at Ross, and started painting in a teeny 5×5” watercolor notebook I found on Amazon. I bought the French painter’s how-to book for under $20. I had a tiny budget at the time, but I made it work for me.

My $14 palette and my Ross paintbrush. My water cup is a recycled yogurt pot.

In the beginning, when you’re just getting started in a new creative pursuit, you don’t need the best, most expensive equipment. You don’t need to purchase the priciest how-to classes. Buy a $15 book off of Amazon and get the nicest quality supplies that you can comfortably afford. And get started.

As I progressed in my skill level, I began to slowly acquire better watercolor paper, higher quality paints, and I only recently (this month) got artist quality brushes from a local art supply store. But it took time for me to work my way there.

It’s easy to get trapped into the cycle of buying all the best products for your hobby in the very beginning. But buying isn’t the same thing as doing. Only doing will improve your dexterity.

Research isn’t practice.

Practice makes perfect, and you don’t have to get creativity right the first time around. But you must keep working at it.

My mistake when I first started to watercolor was watching dozens and dozens of YouTube watercolor videos. I thought that if I did as much research as possible before starting to paint, I would know everything I needed to know and become a master. Lol. 🙂 It’s funny writing that because the reality couldn’t be further from the truth! Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with watching a couple YouTube videos to learn the basics of a new skill. But you have to sit down and get your hands dirty to actually master said skill.

In the book Atomic Habits, the author James Clear writes “It is easy to get bogged down trying to find the optimal plan for change: the fastest way to lose weight, the best program to build muscle, the perfect idea for a side hustle. We are so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action.”

Take action!

Snowy pine trees over a frozen lake, Julicia Rose, 2020

Not everyone will understand your artor why you love your creative hobby so much.

No one has to understand it. It only has to be meaningful to you.

Say you’re into leathermaking. You buy 3 hides of leather at $40 a hide, zippers, and other hardware for to create a crossbody handbag. You spend weeks sewing up this tricky project. When you complete it, you’d be understandably thrilled with your handiwork and want to show your bag to everyone you know. You might show your bag to a friend who gives you a dismissive non-compliment like “Oh, that’s nice” as if your custom-sewn handbag is a crayon stick figure drawn by a 4-year-old. Statements like this can be soul-crushing. They may make you wonder, Am I even that good in this medium? Is my bag terrible? 

Many people will love your artwork. But some just won’t understand it. They won’t “get” it. And that’s okay. It’s not about them. It’s not for them. It’s for and about you.

You are an artist. Own it.

Owning the fact that you have innate creativity within you is the first battle. I highly recommend you check out the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron if you find yourself thinking thoughts like “I’m just not the creative type.”  Everyone is creative in their own way. If you’re curious about the book, check out this post where I talk about that book more in depth.

As I come up on my one-year anniversary of picking up a paintbrush, I can’t help but be reflective. I’m grateful beyond words for all of the beautiful moments I’ve been able to have in the past year, many of which were spent in gardens replenishing my spirit. I was able to relive these experiences through painting, sketching, and writing about them.

I have so much more I want to learn in this medium, and I look forward to growing in wisdom in the years to come.

Not sure where to start in your creative journey? Check out my book Creativity in the Time of Pandemic: An Adult Activity Book. I included a coloring page, designed fun writing prompts, a drawing exercise, and even shared a guided meditation (featuring the voice of yours truly).

Start your creative journey!

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