Being in my happy place: A watercolor project

I’ve been thinking a lot about my happy place. Where I go when I need to feel the sunlight on my face, where the air and light meet and I feel relaxed, memories that I collect to make difficult times easier.

This time of social distancing and changes in life have left me thinking of these places: the porch swing in Santa Fe, a bike ride along the river in Avignon, France, azalea blossoms in Memphis, TN, and a small river, more the size of a creek with a tire swing hanging from the cottonwood trees. I think about drinking coconut water from a fresh coconut in Oaxaca or cheering for soccer stars at the Women’s World Cup with my family beside me.

I also have to say that my happy place is also my home. I really like my house and the people inside and the backyard and the neighborhood. When I think about my backyard, I see images of barbeques with the neighbors, sprinklers, hair-brained construction projects building rabbit hutches and playhouses. We live in a rainy city that rewards us after months of wet, dark days with spring flowers, dewy green grass and fresh air. These are my happy place too.

So for this week’s project, I thought it would be fun to go to a happy place and paint. 

Conjure in your mind a memory, or maybe pull a photograph from an album, or perhaps, find a quiet place in your home, backyard, or front porch, and set up your “painting studio”. The French term, en plein air means to work outdoors. Well, since the spring is sometime fickle (meaning one minute it’s sunny, next there is hail), you can adapt your painting studio to what will work best for you.

So, here’s how I worked to make something that felt like going to my happy place.

Materials:

A clipboard or something sturdy for a support

Watercolor paper or heavier stock art paper 6” x 9” or 9” x 12”  (a page from a sketchbook would work or cardstock if that is what you have). Try not to use copy paper as it is too thin but if that’s all you have, it’ll be fine

Pencil and eraser

Watercolor paints and small cup of water

Paintbrushes- small and medium size

Paper towel to blot brushes

Procedure:

To start, I decided to work small so I cut my full size paper in half making it 6” x 9” and I used a clip board. If you don’t have a clip board, tape the corners of your paper to a hard support. (tape it down so it won’t fly away since you might be outside)

A hailstorm had just blown in as my kids and I were about to bring our clipboards into the yard, we quickly decided to change our location to inside so, we brought the garden to us. We ran outside and cut some flowers to make a few bouquets. 

One of the girls decided instead to paint from a photograph. She’d snapped a picture of tulips the day before (when the sun was out) so we made a quick print for her to draw from. 

Each of us sat at different spots around the table and then used our pencils to draw what we saw in front of us. 

When the pencil drawing was complete, we started with watercolors. It’s great to use the plastic cover as a palette to mix or thin your paint. Remember, each time you change your colors, dry your brush a little bit so that it’s not drippy. Watercolors will dry pretty quickly and once they are dry, you can add another layer of color to create an impression of depth. 

If you are drawing from a photograph, maybe you decide to just concentrate on one thing in particular and work with the paint to show off the details- the colors, the highlights, texture.

To those that decide to brave the elements and paint en plein air, you must be prepared to battle the elements, so the challenge might be to work fast and play with the paint. The most famous of the impressionist painters would work in gardens where the light would shift changing their scene. 

And if you decide to conjure up your happy place from your mind’s eye, don’t get stuck trying to recreate the scene exactly. Think about a detail in that scene that you can draw and let that be a way to start the painting.

So, now as I finish this note, the sky has turned again blue. I hope you have fun painting either in your happy place, about your happy place and here’s to blue skies.