I taught myself watercolor painting at 40

Originally published by Philstarlife.com on 20 May2022.

Shortly before I turned 41, I picked up a watercolor set for the first time as an adult. I didn’t do a survey, so I do not know if wanting to have something tangible to show for during their “life begins” year is still a thing. 

But as I write this piece, it has been seven months of churning out an artwork almost daily or at least multiple times in a week. To my pleasant surprise, I have also received commission inquiries and sold several art pieces.

I look back at this unexpected turn of events with wonderment, because I never imagined I had talent for the visual arts. 

First of all, starting painting when I did last September was unintentional, because I never had the inclination for it even as a child. Drawing or painting is not an old hobby that I just picked up again. I do not have 30+ years of cumulative hours doodling in my notebooks. After years of playing Pictionary or Draw Something I would probably have some clue that I could be good at drawing, but nobody ever guessed my awful drawings and I just plain believed I couldn’t draw or paint.

In fact I bought the watercolor set not for myself, but for my dad who I wanted to have an avenue to practice hand and arm movements as part of his physical therapy. Alas, painting was not to his liking, and I ended up using the paint set instead. 

My first watercolor set – a Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketchbox.

I was determined to give this a go. I read blogs and watercolor tutorials on YouTube, and created a dedicated Instagram account for artworks and have been posting almost every piece of work on my social media accounts, with my real-life and online friends bearing witness to my new journey.

One of my first paintings. I wanted learn coffee and food-related illustrations.

I signed up for the free trial on Skillshare and devoured watercolor tutorials to help me learn techniques as a beginner. I noticed that my Netflix watch hours dropped to almost zero, replaced by constant studying. 

Progress is the best motivation, says Anthony Roebuck of watercoloraffair.com, one of the best watercolor for beginners online resources I discovered. He never assumes that his reader already knows terminologies or techniques, hence he can give easy to follow instructions and speak to the true beginner. Among the exercises I’ve done from his website include this top view coffee cup and this coffee mug and cookies with “lost edges.”

One of my favorite tutorials, one that helped me learn the concept of lost and found edges in watercolor

Because I saw that I was able to achieve the lessons, I felt that I was progressing in my own self-structured syllabus and it motivated me to continue practicing. More so, when I first received an inquiry to buy one of my drawings. I feel so thankful to my first buyer because of the value he put on my work. He even messaged me how much they loved the work so I was happy that the pieces will be well taken care of in their new home.

My painting and drawing discovery coincided with Inktober, the month where illustrators challenged themselves to produce one drawing daily for 31 days. Because of the progress I was seeing, and because I had the whole world to draw with, I happily joined the one-month challenge. It was so easy to look at each day’s prompt and say to myself that it’s too difficult or it’s beyond my capabilities. But, I remember noticing the change in my own mindset – I was thinking, “can I do this?’ and I was answering myself with, “yes I can!” It was refreshing not saying no and cannot for a change!

Day 1 of Inktober 2021
Days 30 and 31 of Inktober 2021

If anyone reading this is also curious and would like to try painting and drawing, I am here as a living testament that learning a new skill is not age-related. Painting and drawing are not related to talent, they are skills that can be learned – as long as you have not already pre-decided that you cannot learn it. 

Let me share how I prevented being overwhelmed and just went ahead and created stuff:

  1. I did not expect anything from myself. I did not subconsciously set conditions that I should create anything pleasing. I focused my energies on going through the actual motions of creating. Seeing the movement of the paint on paper, drawing curved and straight lines. The important thing is to pick up the pen and brush, use my observation skills, and put ink and paint to paper.
  2. Post everything and then move to the next drawing. I did not wait to create a good-looking drawing or painting before posting. I did not repeat the same item and then posted the best version. I looked for something to draw, searched for a tutorial to teach me how to draw said object, and went ahead. And then I drew the next thing. I found out that many people are afraid to share their stuff for fear of receiving unkind comments online. My answer to that was to continue posting, but to change your friends.
  3. Pick one specific aspect of the drawing or painting process to learn at a time, and draw or paint that lesson already. Do not wait to “read up” on all the techniques before drawing. You will find that you’ve spent hours watching and reading with nothing to show. Instead, draw along with the Youtube tutorial as you watch. You will find that at the end of the 30-minute or one-hour video, that you already have a finished piece in front of you.
  4. There are so many resources and great artists who share their knowledge online and I have not tried all of them. I am sharing a handful of those that have helped me in my first three months:
    1. @SISCAWUNGU on Instagram is a Malaysian artist who posts art card tutorials. With one image, she provides step by step instructions on painting food. Sometimes I have no patience for video tutorials. I liked that I can look at one page and just follow what it says. I learned to paint lemons, bread, and this candy wrapper through her posts.
    1. For clear instructions on how to draw human figures and buildings, urban-sketch style, search for the classes of Lasse Voss on Skillshare
    2. For one of the best teachers of urban-sketch styles and capturing the energy of a scene, take up all of the classes of James Richards on Skillshare
    3. Here is a compilation of some of the most useful tutorials I have tried to date
@siscawungu tutorial on IG
@siscawungu tutorial on IG
From James Richards’ Skillshare Class

Last year, a friend gifted me with Rick Warren’s book, Purpose Driven Life. I was reading the section on the 4th purpose, being shaped to serve God, at around the same time as I stumbled upon watercolor painting and ink drawing. Pastor Rick mentioned a factoid in one of the audio sermons that the average person has 700 skills. I will be honest, I googled to check and I only found one website that mentions a similar number. Regardless of the accuracy, I agree that God has given us many gifts and it’s not unreasonable to believe that every day we spend on earth is a new day to discover these gifts. So, my view here is, if I were made to learn this skill at this time, and I happen to exhibit above average aptitude, then it is my duty to be the best I can be and eventually I hope that I can use this skill for the Lord.

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