I Rediscovered the Joys of Watercolor Painting, and It's Been a Lifesaver While Stuck at Home
Some have taken up puzzles, others have developed bread-baking obsessions, and many have relied on Netflix to help pass the extra time at home lately. While I've certainly done my fair share of binge-watching the past few months (Insecure? Check. Outer Banks? Check. Never Have I Ever? Check.), my go-to activity when I need a screen-time break has been watercolor painting. It's a hobby I've dabbled in here and there since college, and rediscovering my pad of paper, paint set, and brushes has been an absolute lifesaver in these uncertain times.
As soon as I dip a brush in water, swirl it around in one of the dried paints, and drag it across a blank page, all tension instantly melts away. I let my mind wander — far away from petty Twitter feuds, disheartening news stories, and fleeting TikTok trends — and focus on letting the creative juices flow freely. Yes, it's as soothing as it sounds — a true salve for my dwindling sanity.
I'm here to make a case for taking up watercolors, should anyone out there need a break from stinky sourdough starters and Sex and the City reruns.
Now, I'm not a watercolor paint pro in any way, shape, or form. I've never bothered researching the expert lingo, and many of my paintings are basic at best. But for me, it's all about the process of secluding myself from outside distractions, zeroing in on the beauty and depth of the colors, and creating something that's uniquely mine. I'm here to share the joys of the nostalgic pastime and make a case for taking up watercolors, should anyone out there need a break from stinky sourdough starters or Sex and the City reruns. Read ahead for my beginner-friendly tips, favorite products, and more.
My Go-To Products
- Paper: You'll want to avoid flimsy computer paper and instead pick a pad with thick sheets that can withstand lots of water application without warping too much. Look for one anywhere within the 80- to 300-pound paper weight range for the best results. I've personally been happy as a clam with Blick's 80-Pound Mixed Media Pad ($7), which comes with 60 sheets that each measure 9x12 inches. A few other popular brands for watercolor paint pads include Strathmore and Canson.
- Paints: As for watercolor paints, they come in several different forms: metal tubes, with the paint having a toothpaste-like consistency; plastic pans, with the different paint colors formed into a dry, circular or rectangular "cakes"; and bottled liquid, which doesn't require you to mix in additional water. I prefer Loew-Cornell's 36-Count Watercolor Cakes Pan ($10, originally $13) because it offers a gorgeous assortment of hues across the spectrum.
- Brushes: Lastly, for paintbrushes, personal preference definitely comes into play, but I think it's best to purchase a variety pack that has both round and flat brushes. I've got the Grace Art Watercolor Brush Set ($8, originally $9), which has proven durable through the years.
As you can see, I chose to go the affordable route when picking my watercolor painting products, but there are plenty of more luxe brands out there for those willing to fork over a bit more cash in the name of DIY art. If you do choose to splurge on your paints and brushes, you can rest easy knowing it's money well spent because the products can be used over and over again before running out (or starting to shed, in the case of the brushes). Who doesn't love a hobby with bang for your buck, am I right?
Setting the Mood
Getting into my watercolor painting groove is A Whole Thing™ — a sacred ritual, if you will. I don't just whip out my paints and brushes at the kitchen table and immediately get to business. I first pour some wine, lower the lights, ignite a candle, and seclude myself in a room separate from my roommates or family. I queue up some soothing jams, usually by John Mayer, Jack Johnson, or Jason Mraz. (What can I say? Those J-name artists really have a way of soothing my soul.)
Once all of those pieces are in place, I can finally whip open that plastic cover on my paint set, pick a brush and color scheme, and start transforming the blank canvas before me into whatever my heart desires.
What to Paint
Just to reiterate here: I'm no painting expert, which is probably quite evident when you look at some of my past pieces above. The beauty of creating with watercolors is that there isn't one set way of "doing it correctly." There are no lines you have to paint within (unless they're lines you drew yourself, that is), and you're free to depict whatever your imagination tells you to: objects, shapes, lines, people, patterns, blobs, and so on.
There are plenty of cool painting techniques you can use to add more depth, texture, and detail to your creations, some of which involve household items like salt and plastic wrap. Feel free to check out this website to learn the essentials.
A Few Helpful Tips and Tricks
- A basic rule of thumb that feels obvious but is worth mentioning regardless: the more water you mix into your watercolor cakes or tubes, the lighter your resulting pigment will be once swiped on the page. Conversely, the less water used, the more saturated and richer the color will be.
- If you're trying to create a picture with a blend of colors across the spectrum, get the lighter colors down on the sheet first, and then move onto the darker ones. For example, you could start with yellow and paint red over it, but if you try to paint yellow on top of red, it won't show up.
- Have two cups of water on hand: one for cleaning off your brush in between color changes, and another for rewetting your brush while still using the same color. This prevents any unwanted color mixing.
- Also keep a cloth or paper towel nearby for blotting your brush between color changes or when the tip is too saturated with water.
What to Do With Finished Paintings
When you've finished that masterpiece of yours, don't let it just sit in your paper pad and never see the light of day. Tear out that work of art and repurpose it into a homemade card. Send your long-distance friend a thoughtful note, wish your mom a happy Mother's Day, let your grandparent know you remembered their birthday, or even brighten the day of a stranger in a nursing home. Making your own cards is a nifty way to save money (have you noticed how wildly expensive store-bought cards are these days?!), plus it adds a personal touch you can't buy at a CVS.