I’m always looking for ways to expand and improve my art skills. About a year ago, I took a Nature Journaling class at Naples Botanical Garden. It stretched me far beyond my comfort zone into the world of watercolor. This year, I participated in the #100DayProject, a free, global, Instagram art challenge to create something every day for 100 days.
Moving back to MA after a few years in FL re-awakened my appreciation of the seasons. So, I chose “seasonal inspirations” as my theme. I set aside some time at the end of my workday to do a sketch that took perhaps an hour. This art challenge was a fantastic learning experience!
NOTES: Sources for my art included still life, actual objects, my photographs, Peggy’s photographs, and calendars. For this article, I’ve curated the images to give the reader a good overview of the work. To see all of the art for the 100 days, please visit my Instagram page!
Prior to my immersion in watercolors, I was almost exclusively a pastel painter. Since pastels are so dusty and messy (and an indoor health hazard), I am limited to painting with them outdoors during the warmer seasons. Entering this challenge, my experience with winter scenes was quite minimal.
In winter mode, the first thing I noticed was the bare branches of trees. I admired their intricacies. Drawing trees brought me into a meditative space. The ways the branches flow outward from the trunk, overlap, and form a network are like the synapses of our brain. Fascinating!
The boiler for our apt. broke during week 1, on the same day a snowstorm roared thru our region. The entire heat and hot water system had to be replaced: this in itself was quite a challenge to creating art. You can be inspired by all sorts of things: glaciers, gloves, LL Bean packages, space heaters, mountains… ! I love mountain scenes with all their contours and contrasts. My art reflected my vacillation between admiration for nature and basic winter needs.
I’ve drawn but never painted winter scenes before. Imagine my surprise when I finished the first iceberg painting! I was stunned! It bolstered my confidence to continue. And so now I have a new path to follow.
Finding a Rhythm in an Art Challenge
I developed a good rhythm early on in the project. Ending my work day to enter into a time to create became a nice way to wind down. My mind would relax. Quick drawings and sketches freed me to experiment and discover.
This Red Fox was a big hit on Instagram. I’m a bit of a novice drawing animals and certainly never drew a fox before. I was really happy with the results, especially how I captured this creature’s curiosity and attentiveness. It encouraged me to draw more animals.
It was all about amaryllis for the next couple of weeks! Friends and family gave us plants, which filled our home with color and joy from Dec. through Jan.! The petals were so translucent in the morning light. I tried to capture the delicateness, transparency, ruffled edges, and side views. Another intention was to create interesting compositions.
Mixing Things Up
I got back into mixing things up with different subjects and mediums. We celebrated my birthday, too! The tulips, a gift from Peggy, were fun to paint. I had a wonderful time selecting certain groupings and developing compositions. Plus, they smelled so good!
Try It Again
Landscapes are particularly difficult for me in watercolor. I’m much more accustomed to painting them with pastels. But I didn’t let that intimidate me! If something didn’t work out, I often tried it again. I found that when I used the pen to define the shapes, I got better results. My fascination continued with the bare branches of trees. I redid one drawing (day 47), adding snow onto the branches in the second try (day 48). Winter scenes with snow were good practice for leaving the whites.
When spring arrived it was like a dream come true! The daffodils and crocuses began to emerge, enlivening our neighborhood with glorious colors! I got totally into painting the daffodils for a few days. Their happy hues and wonderful shapes are endearing!
When the spring migration began, birds were in the forefront of my mind. As their singing commenced, I thought about all kinds of birds, not just those we see here in the northeast. Their colors, feathers, behaviors, abilities, songs, and stamina are remarkable! Birds and the spring migration make life so cheerful and celebratory!
Leap of Faith: New Tools
I finally took a leap of faith and started using new tools. This was my first painting with my new watercolor supplies! Daniel Smith tubes, Beste Round no. 6 and no. 12 brushes, Beste Flat no. 12, metal palette. The watercolors’ clarity, brightness, and vibrancy astounded me. There was a definite difference from the other watercolors I was using. I was also surprised at how comfortable the brushes felt in my hand: their weight and absorbency were just right. Furthermore, they retain their points (are not floppy).
We recently moved back to MA after a 2.5 year adventure in FL. I had forgotten how incredible the Magnolia trees are! Prolific, colorful, and shapely. What a gorgeous tree! I continued to explore my new watercolor supplies. For these magnolia buds, I used some nice 140lb. Strathmore paper. The bud on the left looks like it’s floating, as the branch extended towards me at a 90 degree angle. The bud on the right includes some branching.
This art challenge forced me to be open to many sources of inspiration. One week, I was attracted to the variety of spring colors and sounds. The next week, my subjects were an odd mix: I guess I was appreciating animals and insects. Sometimes, I was enticed by bold, bright, and highly saturated hues. I just followed what my heart wanted to draw or paint.
Nearing the Finish Line
After painting a couple of cardinals, I think I got this one right! Proportions, features and colors are good. I like his posture and expression. We hear them singing and chirping a lot in New England. Their bright red plumage always brings delight!
It’s funny how unpredictable inspirations can be. This was the week I was interested in Great Blue Herons. I included a study of 2 tomatoes: I loved their interlocking pedicils.
The Azaleas looked glorious! Amazing colors. I also saw lots of Iris. I quickly discovered how difficult it is to paint the Bearded Iris, with all of its elaborate ruffles.
The final piece of the art challenge! I wanted to end with something special. I did several quick sketch studies of Iris and then painted this one using my new watercolor tools. There is much to admire in the Iris, which could very well be my favorite flower!
Quite unexpectedly, I discovered my art style during this challenge. It wasn’t anything I was looking for; it just became apparent. I found that I was happiest when I composed first in pencil, defined the contours, textures, and shapes with pen, then applied layers of watercolor. I’ll continue to use other techniques and experiment. And maybe my style will change and evolve. But, for now, this is my happy place.
One of the key benefits of the art challenge was helping me overcome the internal self-critical chatter and let go of the need for perfection.
Other interesting take-aways:
- Different sketchbooks for different occasions. Three are 9″x12″; two of these have heavier paper, and were used for watercolors. A fourth one is 5″x7″, for simple drawings in the field. On occasion, I’d use watercolor paper cut from larger sheets.
- Explored and practiced with different tools and techniques. The project was a great mechanism for taking risks, trying new things, honing skills, and stretching myself.
- Sketching vs. painting. I enjoyed the looseness of sketching and the more “formalness” of painting. Each approach fed the other. Sketching was often a preparation for painting. Painting revealed things I wanted to refine in my sketches.
- Same subject, multiple attempts. I really began to understand why Monet painted so many waterlilies! Each painting was a learning process. If something wasn’t quite right, I would do a second version to improve it. I might simply paint the same subject from a different angle, with another medium, or a new format.