I’m often asked how I learned to paint . . .
When I first moved to Martha’s Vineyard, Norman Rockwell was alive and well and living in his beloved Stockbridge, Massachusetts home. It occurred to me that I should probably try and go see him; I could picture myself walking up his driveway to shake his hand so clearly that it still seems it might have really happened. The sensibilities behind his art were so wonderful, and exactly how I felt. His paintings made me fall in love with his understanding and view of the human heart. But of course, I never went there, I didn’t want to bother him. Joe and I have now been to Stockbridge many times, have visited his museum and studio; I picked this stick up from the front yard of his studio to save. One of my prized possessions. My Norman Rockwell Stick. I photographed it where it lives, on my art table, hopefully osmosing genius out into my studio (in my “House of Creativity”) like gamma rays. The paper it’s sitting on is one of the throw-away scraps I use to check colors on my brush and test my pen to make sure it isn’t going to drop a clump of ink on the watercolor I’m working on. I like to think Norman Rockwell had one of these too. ♥
So I thought today, I might give you a tour of my watercolor world. And you don’t have to come all the way to Martha’s Vineyard to see it, I’m only as far away as your computer! Above, is a photo I took when I was working on the page I did to honor Tasha Tudor — this sweet corgi (hopefully like one of hers) and one of her lovely quotes I did for my December 2011 calendar page. ♥ I’d never painted a corgi before, but now I would like to stop everything and ONLY paint corgi’s, he was so fun to do; his colors are beautiful, but my favorite is his nose! Have you noticed that Corgis are like little tea tables? They have such wide flat backs, they could be like a hassock or an end table. You could put a tray on him. ♥
After I finish doing a page for a book or calendar, it gets scanned into the computer, which allows me future access to it (another computer miracle), and the original art goes into these acid-free boxes, and then into this huge old bank safe Joe found for me. All the original pages for my books, along with everything I’ve ever painted, is stored here. The problem is, we are going to need another one.
You know I only started doing watercolors just after I turned thirty? It’s true. I never knew I had that inside me. Even though I paint almost every day now, it’s still a surprise to come into a whole room dedicated to the messes I make and to see my art table covered with paintboxes and brushes and know they’re mine.
I think it’s because I didn’t grow up with them. I always loved to make things …. I especially loved to sew ~ a room filled with needles, thread, fabric and embroidery hoops would make more sense to me than the still-surprising sight of brushes and paint! Now I design my own fabric and mix it up, sewing and drawing to make things like the dishtowel on the left.
I’ve always mixed up my hobbies. I fell in love with the art of cooking in my twenties ~ I loved giving dinner parties, loved surprising people with banana cream pies and pots of bean soup. After I started painting my girlfriend suggested I combine my watercolors with my recipes to make a cookbook. I didn’t think I could write a book, but I knew that even if it was never published, I would still have the pages to give away for some nice Christmas presents! So I decided I would try. And it all turned into a very surprising career.
Sometimes I walk into my studio early in the morning, before the sun has come up…all quiet, birds singing in the rhododendren outside the window, or in the winter, when I paint to the hum of the furnace, with Girl Kitty and Jack on their pillows keeping me company, and a blank piece of paper in front of me, waiting for my brush and that first drop of color, and think about how this all came about.
This was the very first painting I ever did. It was a plant sitting on my kitchen table; I filled a little pot with water, squeezed some watercolors from tubes into a plastic dish ~ watercolors I’d bought with a 30th birthday gift certificate to an art store. I sharpened a pencil, sat down in front of this geranium and started drawing. I had no idea what I was doing. I just looked at the plant and tried to put what I saw on the paper. Everyone was shocked that it looked like a geranium! I was shocked! It was a geranium! This was one of those life-changing moments that are sometimes only visible in the rear-view mirror. One of the reasons I want to encourage people to “just try it” when it comes to watercolor (or any home art, cooking, sewing, quilting, knitting, scrapbooking, gardening) is because I’m sure that this must have been inside me my whole life, and I had no idea. I doodled just like anyone else, random squiggles; drawings of stick people; not the slightest inclination that there could be more. If this ability could be hiding inside me, it might be inside you. ♥ “Trying” has always been the most important word I know. Nothing ventured, as they say so truly, nothing gained.
My mother put this crayon drawing in my baby book. I was a star to her no matter what I drew. Would you have looked at this crayon drawing and thought you should start saving to send the child to art school? No. More likely you would wonder what was going on with her right brain! (Or maybe it’s her left, but something! I should get it analyzed!)
Over the years, I found out that what really matters is practice! In my 7th grade art class, we spent the entire semester drawing our thumbs! Seriously, that’s what we did, left thumb stuck up in front of me, pencil in right hand; the teacher went over and over it, showing us how to really look at things, the curve, the edge, the shadows, the lines. I got an A in that class, but I thought everyone did, it was an elective! And I never took another art class. I can still draw a good thumb if I want to. That’s what I mean about practice. If you look at the art in my first book, Heart of the Home, and compare it to later work, like my newest calendar or the Autumn Book, you can see what a big help practice can be.
I’ve always painted the things around me. Before I moved to Martha’s Vineyard and began to write books, I did little scenes of flower pots, baskets with apples, bowls of fruit, quilts, straw hats, my old stove, and my kitty; I hung them all over my kitchen, called them “Kitchen Art,” and gave them away as Christmas presents. Soon my friends were asking to buy them, giving me confidence to do more and more. My first painting sold to the outside world in a gallery on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills (I didn’t have the nerve to take my art there myself, a girlfriend did it for me. I was jumping up and down happy about this — even the smallest successes build confidence which is just a huge help no matter what you do, just believing you can); after that I began to have local art shows in my little town in California. I took Polaroid’s of the paintings as I did them, which is a good thing, because the paintings themselves are almost all gone. I still have a few of my favorites. These framed apples came with me from California to Martha’s Vineyard and hang in my kitchen now.
I still love using the things around me as my subjects, although you might not know it to look at this — probably a little hard to believe that these “birds” might be “around me.” (BTW, see that real feather lying on the paper? Inspiration! And I know he’s not a real partridge, I just called him that, he’s actually a made-up bird!) Here’s a 20 second video I took that explains . . . (they aren’t really my children :-))
I have worked a little from old photos too, especially for my mom.
This one became a greeting card, which I framed for my mom along with the original photo.
I’m often asked what kind of art supplies I use, so I thought I’d tell you. These are my brushes, but I almost always use the smallest one, there in the middle. It’s a # 1 Windsor Newton University Series 233. I was shocked the first time my brush wore out — who knew paintbrushes wore out?! Now I buy them by the fistfuls.
The paint comes from everywhere, including children’s paint boxes. Actually I love any kind of paint box; Prang and Pelikan have been my favorites. I use watercolor paint tubes, like Holbein, Rowney or Grumbacher, I’m not particular about the brand, I just want as many colors as possible. This is my collection of reds → and pinks. . . I never met a red paint I didn’t love. I keep them in separate baskets, by color. To use them, you just squeeze out a little paint, mix it with water and voila! So easy. Everything I know about art, I learned in kindergarten.
The jar is Daler Rowney Pro White which I use when I make a mistake with the pen; I get it and lots of my other supplies at Blick. I use two sizes of Rapidograph India ink pens to write with, a refillable Koh-i-noor drafting pencil to draw with, and then, the most important item in my arsenal, the eraser! A soft white Staedtler. A metal ruler is important too. For paper, it’s Arches watercolor paper and for the pages of my books I use pads of smooth finish Bristol board.
I hope this helps someone out there who might be thinking of giving it a try. Watercolors are one of my dearest passions. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t paint. When I heard that song, ♫ Raven hair, ruby lips, sparks fly from her fingertips ♪, I said, hey, that’s me. (Except for the hair and lips and the witchy woman part)
I’ve loved lettering forever, always got perfect marks for handwriting (it’s where I got my start). This quote, one of my favorites, is for the new book I’m working on.
I hope if you are thinking about trying watercolors, you might feel encouraged to give it a try. Worse-case scenario is that you have special gifts to give, little watercolor notes to tuck into letters, or art that matches your house to hang on your wall; it’s really a win-win; making something beautiful is within reach of everyone and having something you can give is one of the secrets to a wonderful life. ♥ xoxo