I first saw Tony Foster’s Lockdown Diary during his talk at the Wild Wonder nature journaling conference two years ago. He painted things he saw on his daily walks during a 56-day COVID lockdown. Though I’m not good at “every day,” I wanted to create a compact local nature journaling project of my own. Result: Colors of Colorado.
Originally, I planned to make watercolor cards like the paint samples you get at the hardware store. I would practice color mixing by choosing something outside and matching its color. Over time, I would have a collection of colors that represented my home state, Colorado. But that seemed too simple. I wanted to draw and paint the object that the color represented. I imagined delicate drawings highlighted with brilliant color.
However, I am rarely able to capture the things I see with paint. The classes I took during Wild Wonder 2022 reminded me of that. So did a Facebook post to The Nature Journal Club group by Sarah Reid. A UC California Naturalist and self-proclaimed nature addict, Sarah also has a hard time with watercolor. She mentioned Jean Mackay’s class and how the instructor had a lot more “watercolor miles” than she did, an excellent reminder that with practice one can get good at this stuff.
I also need more watercolor or brush miles. I’ve put in a lot of pencil miles — drawing, drawing, drawing — and I am improving. I need to do the same thing with watercolor painting if I ever want to be able to use watercolors in the field.
Full of energy from Wild Wonder 2022, I painted my first Colors of Colorado card the day after the conference ended. I drew and painted some leaves on a cottonwood tree. Wanting to journal as well, I flipped the card over and made some notes. I was done in a short time, and wondered if I’d made the cards too small (they’re roughly 3 x 5 inches or 7.6 x 12.7 cm). I had to remind myself that part of the point of this project is to make it as manageable, which is why I am using small cards and aiming for five days a week.
I made myself about thirty cards over a year and a half ago with this project in mind. Why did it take me this long to get started? Because I was afraid it wouldn’t be any good. This is a common trap. “I don’t paint well enough to do that,” but if I don’t practice my painting, I’ll never be good enough. So I finally just started.
So far, it’s a success. Some of the cards I like, some not so much, but I’m learning with each card I make. Most important of all, I’ve started. I am practicing. I am motivated to get my watercolor paints out. Colors of Colorado will help me get better with watercolor over time, if I just stick with it.
How do you get your brush or pencil miles in?