For me, it’s a mountain range. Every year, after having gotten through the valley (of the shadow of bad memories) called Christmas, I set my sights on the upward path ahead and tell myself to gear up for another mountain climb. To me, life isn’t meant to be a smooth, level walk in the park.
I’m speaking metaphorically, of course. I haven’t climbed an actual mountain in years. I’m referring to mountainous learning curves and the need, I find, to climb new ones each year. I enjoy the challenge. It’s exhilarating. It’s also humbling.
It’s especially humbling at this stage of life to be a beginner at something and be willing to make a bumbling fool of yourself doing it. Learning to speak Spanish from scratch in your seventies comes to mind. (I’m still climbing that mountain.) But more recently, there’s my new passion/obsession: learning how to paint with watercolors.
I’ve been stabbing at and dabbling in watercolors for at least ten years now – buying books on the subject, as well as various-size brushes, dozens of tubes of paints, and pads of watercolor paper, in the hopes that these purchases would nudge me to make a breakthrough. But what I really needed, I now realize, was dedicated time. That time, I like to think, has finally arrived.
So I’m standing at the base of this watercolor mountain facing 2022 with my characteristic stubborn determination to climb, or hike, and stumble my way uphill in the year ahead.
I’m grateful to have recently discovered an outstanding teacher, Lois Davidson, who lives on the south coast of England and does loose watercolor tutorials, predominantly of rural and urban landscapes, that are watched by thousands on YouTube. She is, to me, a marvel: clear, patient, kind, unassuming, and soothing, but at the same time immensely talented.
She explains in her tutorials, in her gentle southern-English accent, every step of her process and why. And when we her followers from all over the world share our individual efforts on the group’s Facebook page, she has only positive and encouraging words for each person. She also sets a tone of kindness and supportiveness among the group. I’ve yet to see any negative or judgmental comments on each other’s work. (To see Lois’s YouTube videos, go to: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxOwiRkms9atuVFiYORU9SA .)
So with Lois as my guide and her many appreciative followers as my hiking companions, I plan to make headway on this climb in the new year. I’ll continue to watch Lois’s tutorials every evening (instead of the horrid world news on TV) and try painting a smallish watercolor exercise each night. I’ll stick with it (she says to herself emphatically). I’ll progress!
Why, you may wonder, should I bother? Why not just spend my days lolling in a hammock here under Mexico’s sunny skies reading good books?
Because, I’ve found, painting is – perhaps as are all right-brained, creative efforts — joyful. And joie de vivre seems to be in short supply these days. I often think now of what my mother, an amateur oil-painter, used to say to me, when I was young, preoccupied, and inattentive to her gentle suggestions: “You should try painting, Bon. It’s so relaxing. When I paint I don’t have a care in the world! It makes me happy.”
Fifty years later I’m learning she was right. When I’m focused on my watercolor painting now, in that “zone,” there is no room for anything else in my brain: Sadness about the past, worries about the future, heartaches, headaches, stomachaches — none of them exist. I am transported. This is true, even when the painting I produce turns out to be mediocre, as most do.
The other night, for example, I painted a bouquet of flowers that looks like it was done by an eight-year-old. But I taped it to my refrigerator door anyway to honor that eight-year-old. She’s in third grade now, but by next year she’ll surely be in fourth. I’m confident she’ll make progress in the coming year.
And even if she doesn’t, who cares? My watercolor painting skills may never improve much. Maybe just the joy of doing it will be sufficient for me –playing with the paints and brushes and water, seeing the colors dance and shimmy and disperse on the paper, slowly but steadily learning the intricacies of creating real (or imagined) landscapes and still-lifes on white paper.
I’m not out to win prizes — or other people’s praise — nor make money by selling what I’ve painted. My paintings will never carry price tags, so they’ll always remain “price-less” to me. Maybe I’ll simply give the better ones away as gifts, keepsakes, to friends.
I read somewhere on Facebook yesterday that painting “has the power to bring you into the present and become a transformative and healing experience.” So far, for me, this is true.
But do these peculiar artistic urgings only apply to so-called “right-brained” people like me, I wondered? I did some research and learned that the two (right and left) hemispheres of our brains are tied together by bundles of nerve fibers, creating an information highway; and although the two sides function differently, they always complement each other.
“Whether you’re working out a complicated algebraic equation or painting an abstract work of art, both sides of your brain are actively participating and providing input. You’re not truly left-brained or right-brained, but you can play to your strengths and continue broadening your mental horizons. A normal, healthy brain is capable of lifelong learning and boundless creativity.” (For the whole, fascinating article, go to: https://www.healthline.com/health/left-brain-vs-right-brain#takeaway .)
Wishing you all a new year filled with boundless creativity and painterly joy!
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For a few of my previous posts on the subject of watercolor painting, please go to: