Watercolor as therapy: learning to give up control through painting
Watercolor has a life of its own and behaves as it wants, while I try to learn from the flow of water on paper
At the end of last year, I got a watercolour paint set from a dear friend. I’ve always loved painting and expressing myself through art, and I have longed to try this technique based on water and colored pigments. Perfectionism, however, pursued me with the same intensity as the desire to get the brushes. I started watching several tutorials on Youtube, trying to unravel the mysteries to paint the right way. But what is the right way? Does that even exist?
After a few experimental brush strokes, I laid the brushes aside for a while, until mid-March, in the first quarantine weeks — when social networks popped up ads for free online activities to do at home — I decided to take one of these watercolor courses for beginners, on a website that had granted access to all its content. There were three or four short classes to paint flowers, inspired by a photograph. To my surprise, it seemed so … easy? Where were the rules and complicated instructions?
The teacher was not a detail oriented. Each brushstroke formed a petal, two or three were sufficient for the formation of a leaf. Inspired by this interesting experience, I later watched some watercolor lives by José Marconi, professor of design and illustration at the Federal University of Technology — Paraná (UTFPR), where I study graphic design. In one of those classes by Marconi, I asked him about how to better control the way the watercolor spread on paper.
That’s when he surprised me by saying that, for him, the best part of watercolor was not having control: it is to see the magic of the paint spreading on the cotton surface, meeting the other shades and creating shapes you didn’t expect. For him, it’s easier to use watercolor when you give up the desire for control. If you are a controlling person in life, you will have to work on this when painting too.
Letting life flow like water
For me, the beauty of watercolor is in the way pigments relate to the amount of water applied, and water is a substance that follows the flow itself. These days, I was touched by an excerpt from a book I was reading — The Penelopiad, written by Margaret Atwood — , which portrays the nature of water in a poetic way:
“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does” (The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood)
Since last year, I started to reflect more deeply on my desire for control over reality. Many times, I felt extremely controlling, and this caused me unnecessary suffering and anguish. Giving up what we project for the future is a learning experience. And no lesson is better than what we are having now, in the midst of the pandemic. The virus showed us that, suddenly, our plans can go downhill. Not everything is in our hands. And opening yourself to the fluidity and surprises of life is a wonderful thing. What the world has to offer us is far more valuable than we can imagine.
Now, I use watercolor more lightly. With paint, brush and paper, I let go of the illusion of control. I try to seize the moment as a practice of contemplating the here and now, the present. I’m just at the beginning of this journey — I still have a lot of illustrations to do! For now, I choose an inspiring photo or image and try to reproduce freely. There is no right or wrong when you decide that it is all a great experiment. The colored water moves through the paper, mixes with the other colors, does not make mistakes: it turns the experiment into something unique.