Instruction manual please

The other day a friend shared a photo of some new watercolor pencils.

“Ooooh, watercolor pencils are so fun!” I commented. She asked for advice on how to use them because she really didn’t know, she just loves art supplies (preach!). I told her to “just play around with them!” and then hated myself a little.

The thing is, I don’t really know either, but I do know how excruciating it is to face something new and not know how to do it.

I’m trying to teach myself to paint in acrylics. In art school, all painting classes were oil painting. No one taught acrylics, which, please advise, how long do I have to be out of school before I can no longer use this as an excuse?

Experimenting does not come easy to me. My natural state can roughly be described as “Please don’t make me try new things.” See also: “Am I doing this right?” and “Are there instructions, preferably step-by-step and with illustrations?” and finally, “Where can I find the responsible adult in charge to help me?”

When I don’t know how to do something, I seek out the right way to do it. Yet, none of the tutorials I came across showed me the juicy, colorful paintings I saw in my Instagram feed that I wanted to emulate (we’ll talk comparison at another date, because HOO BOY, it’s a doozy). So I asked for recommendations. And I got some, but the main consensus was this:

“You just have to give it a shot.”

“No expectations.”

And in some sort of full-circle-meta-message-from-the-universe, my own advice to my friend concerning her watercolor pencils came back to me: “You just have to play around with them!”

Which UUUUUUGH, you’re right, but do you have to be so annoyingly right?

But once I got started, I felt that familiar hum, that connection of mind and body, my eyes and brain and hands all working together to scrutinize colors and observe the subtle shifts in the light. I worked fast. I experimented. I messed around. I had fun. No paint is wasted if it leads to growth and learning (tossing out that palette sheet when I cleaned up still hurt a little though).

Up close this piece is a total mess. The shadows are janky and feel disjointed from the balls. The colors – while accurate – aren’t as juicy and creamy as I’d like. Someday this will be the before – before I knew what I was doing and before I had really gotten a feel for the medium.

But I took a step today and played around with them.

(I’m talking about the paints, not the balls, weirdos.)

colored balls, acrylic painting for beginners
My colored balls.

3 thoughts on “Instruction manual please”

  1. I think it looks amazing, and I totally get you. I collect art supplies, too (a set of Arteza water-based ink brush pens just arrived, thank you Amazon) and I’m a little intimidated to try them. And I DO have a basic set of Acrylics I picked up over Christmas that are sitting in my guest room closet, because I’m afraid to pick them up.

    All I can say is “good for you” and “keep at it” and try to figure out why I’m still so damn scared to put pen (or ink or paint) to paper again.

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