When I took up watercolor as an adult, I dutifully bought what the instructor put on the supplies list. It cost a small fortune – more than the class. I totally understand her point. Using better supplies yields better results. I dutifully did the exercise (not paintings, exercises) on my top of the line paper with my top of the line paints. I was a bit salty about it, but I did it. So in the end I had the best results possible from very expensive paints on very expensive paper. Paintings of my car keys, and a still life that has been pulled out of the closet religiously since 1978, and a color wheel. You get the idea. I did what I was supposed to do. Class ended, so I carefully placed my precious treasures in the closet.
When I thought about painting, all I could think about was not wanting to waste anymore of these supplies. This mentality did me a lot of good as I am sure you can imagine. I left my paints, and my inspiration, and my guts in that closet for a long long time.
Now, I love the good stuff supplies, but it took me stumbling upon some good supplies at clearance pricing to be willing to play again. I needed to not worry about the cost and about the idea of 'wasting' it. The truth is, painting is learning. Even if you don't love your results you learned how to get those results. It can be a cautionary tale, or it can be a result you will use in the future, or maybe it will work out beautifully. Whatever happens - it is learning.
Now I see using only professional supplies as an investment. If I want the best results, I invest in the supplies to get them. I have found that having abundance of supplies available helps keep past 'waste worries' away. I spend big several times a year, so that my coffers are full and I do not have to worry about it.
So I tell my students – buy the best supplies you are willing to fail with. Be willing to experiment and be playful. Often the magic happens when you let your guard down, when you are no longer laser focused on producing a masterpiece to hang over the sofa. Let go of those expectations. Be willing to just learn and have fun.
Better supplies will facilitate better results. However, the best supplies in the world don't do any good in the closet. You should make the best choice for you.
More Partnerships, More Art
I am pleased to announce that I have original watercolors for sale in the Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve gift shop! Of course Beechwood was interested in my reuse of corrugated plastic election signs. All 7 works are mounted in this Eco-Friendly way. You can see them pictured on display. It is no small feat to gain wall space in this delightful but crowded space. I am honored that they squeezed me in!
I recently made a huge purchase - a roll of watercolor paper. How big is a roll you ask? Just 55” by 11 yards. Yes, 11 yards. I am having so much fun with these large scale works. I am sharing a photo of a work in progress photo of 'Iceland', a large abstract. This 45" x 21" monster will be mounted on reclaimed elections signs. I am still refining mounting large pieces, since it requires connecting multiple signs into a seamless finish.
I am trying a new brand of paper on the roll. This is a big investment for an unknown, but I am confident in my decision. First, I know many professional artists use this paper, so I believe the product is sound. Also, any new product or supply will have a learning curve, so as long as I commit to allowing myself some time to master this product, I can use it with the same success as the more expensive brand. I think too many artists give too much credit to supplies – they are overly concerned about which brand, pigment, brush, etc. another artist is using. Trust me, if you are using professional grade materials, everything else comes down to practice.
Next week I'll share my philosophy on investing in art supplies.
Don't forget, 11 works are on sale (clearance sale pricing, I do not want to bring these home) at Ruckus Coffee Gallery and Café through June 28. Most are framed works from 2017-19. They represent some of my best works from that time period (hence they were framed).
What the Pandemic did for Me
Like everyone else, the pandemic turned my world upside down. Fear, anxiety, denial, frustration... Changes in household, kids home all the time. My art career was ideal for being a mom. I could work while the kids were in school, making my own hours with flexibility when necessary.
Well the flexibility came in handy, but the work went to the back burner. In winter/spring of 2020 my kids were suddenly home and needing help. We did it, we made it through.
Summer of 2020 I came back in force. The kids were still home, but did not need the help. They are old enough to play with neighbors and entertain themselves. I finally started my Etsy shop. What a great education. With that under my belt, I created a shop on my own website, which is my only on-line store at this point.
Artistically, I was obsessed with a theme I call the Imagined Woods Series. I painted colorful skies and atmospheric backgrounds. Once that dried, I added a forest of bare branch trees and ground foliage. I could not get enough of this idea. Some were dark and foreboding, others were bright and hopeful. The spontaneity of the process was just what I needed during this time. They spoke to others as well. They were instantly a best seller and are still popular today.
I often start with a wet into wet background. Sometimes I have a plan – areas I will leave lighter so I can paint the main subject later. I may also create an atmospheric effect by adding hints of a color, suggesting more of the same in the back. Wild Salvia, pictured, is an example of this method. The background flowers are hinted at by the soft focus purple in the distance.
Other times, I will start the painting with no end in mind. Usually this is inspired by playing with new pigments or new tools. It's an opportunity to learn the new materials without the pressure to have a finished product. These backgrounds may go on to be a finished painting and sometimes they do not. Below is A Moment's Rest is an example of a painting that was born out of playing with new materials with no plan.
See me at The Block at Northway on June 17, July 8, July 15, Aug. 12, and Aug 19.
I'm excited to announce:
Melissa Tai is a lifelong creative, nature lover & tree hugger.