After a month of drawing orchids, I’ve decided it’s time to focus on painting with watercolors. As soon as I had the idea, my inner perfectionist started making a list, convinced that I must study hard and learn everything there is to know about watercolors in order to do it right. Fortunately, I came across Molly Conway’s excellent article about not turning hobbies into paid work, and I’ve decided I don’t want painting to be work at all. As a result, I will spend March playing with watercolors and keep it fun.

Conway’s article is a great read, but her central point is this:

…it’s okay to love a hobby the same way you’d love a pet; for its ability to enrich your life without any expectation that it will help you pay the rent.

Molly Conway in The Modern Trap of Turning Hobbies into Hustles

This freeing idea is one Elizabeth Gilbert brings up in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. We don’t have to make our creativity pay the bills. That’s putting a lot of pressure on ourselves and makes it hard to create anything at all. Even with this great advice in mind, I’m still struggling to stay with my plan to play and enjoy my painting instead of treating it as work.

The beautiful watercolor mixing chart Ian Sidaway shows in the SBS class Watercolor Rules! and How To Break Them (My inner perfectionist loves this thing.)

When it comes to learning new skills, I like having someone else tell me what to do, so I signed up for the Sketchbook Skool on-demand class Watercolor Rules! and How to Break Them. The class comes highly recommended and includes lots of basic information that should help me get more familiar with watercolor techniques.

A more traditional watercolor mixing chart I made in 2012.

One of the exercises for the first week is to try mixing colors for a bit to get a feel for the medium. In the class, Ian Sidaway shows a lovely example of a color mixing grid that makes a rainbow of hues from three primary colors. I’ve even made a similar and smaller grid in the past. But when I sat down last night, I remembered my goal. I wanted to play with my paints and those formal grids didn’t look fun at all. So I did things a little differently.

My red and blue mixing chart from March 2019.

I still made mixes between two primary colors, but I let them wander all over the page, making stepping stone garden paths. They are not precise, nor are the mixes carefully measured. They are just stages between the two colors giving you an idea of the range they produce without being strict about it.

My blue and yellow watercolor mixing chart from March 2019.

I love the results. And I loved making these “charts.” I spent much more time mixing paints to see what would happen than I probably would have if I’d tried to make more traditional mixing charts. I also learned a lot, like the fact that if I want a truly brilliant violet, I am better off starting with a pan of violet than trying to make it myself (although I do love the purples I got from mixing French Ultramarine and Quinacridone Red light).

Forcing ourselves to treat our hobbies like jobs, either by being regimental in our goals, focusing on the product rather than the process, or working instead of playing at it, can undermine the whole reason we got interested in the hobby to begin with. What happened to having fun, relaxing, just enjoying something because it is enjoyable? How fortunate that I came across Conway’s article when I did, or I might have turned my watercolor hobby into a job and made myself hate it.

Do you have a hobby you are in danger of making a chore?

2 thoughts on “Playing With Watercolors: Keeping Hobbies Fun”

  1. What a wonderful post Kit! I’ve recently taken up water color, and I’ve learned that I have a lot to learn. I’m not really very creative, so I’ve just now started playing a little with it. At first, I had the exact same mindset you were talking about above – I had to learn everything I possibly could and do it right. Now I’m learning to just relax a little and enjoy the process (though I still feel a lot better when I paint something that looks like it “should.”😁) Thanks for sharing this very “freeing” insight!

    1. One of the things I love about painting is just putting the paint on paper, watching it flow off the brush. Instant color! So this shift of mind-set makes sense to me. Why not enjoy what I enjoy? And I’ll be we still get interesting places just by playing.

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