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Watercolors as therapy

I’ve never served in the Armed Forces and would never compare my measly life to theirs. That said, I’ve known several good folks who have served and seen how they use painting as therapy.

For instance, I met a UDT once who would paint islands from a plane’s view. At first, I didn’t know what they were. He actually had to tell me what they were before I knew what I was looking at.

Keep in mind, this was long before the internet. Now, we have images of everything everywhere.

All that said, I do run a ridiculously high stress level. Stress will kill you. Literally.

Now, I’m not a doctor, so take this next stuff with a grain of salt. That’s my disclaimer.

I believe that stress is a physical thing. Your body processes stress physically. When your liver can’t take all the stress, it sends it somewhere else.

Stress will lead to everything from ulcers to bad skin conditions. I had a skin condition that was so bad that I was literally bleeding randomly, and wasn’t safe to leave the house for several days.

Yes, I’ve healed since then, but that’s an example of what stress can do to you.

Watercolors as therapy

All painting is good. Watercolors may not necessarily be your cup of tea.

They are for me though.

Watercolors have a meditative quality to them. When I paint my ladies, I use layer after layer of paint. That has a calming, meditative effect on me.

Painting helped reduce my stress. Significantly.

Roxy and Allie as mermaids
Roxy and Allie as mermaids, work in progress

I’m currently waiting for the third layer to try. I got the timer set.

My wife and I just got back from a vacation in Central America and I took a lot of shots. You’ll be seeing Costa Rica and Panama in my paintings.

I photographed everything from flowers to monkeys to sunsets to jungles. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my DSLR camera. We saw wild macaws, parrots, and other gorgeous birds but with a cell phone camera, the pictures turned out horribly. I deleted those bird shots as they were unusable.

Regardless though, we took so many lovely pictures that I have a lot of reference photos. Now, the above painting (on a watercolor board), will feature a lot of what we photographed there.

The whole painting process reduced my stress levels big time. Painting is general is calming. And there’s nothing for me like painting layer after layer that you have to do from everything to painting skin color to skies and seas.

If you run a high stress level or if you have PTSD, I highly recommend watercolors!

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The supplies you’ll need to start with watercolors

If you’re thinking about starting with watercolors, there are two types of things you’ll need. You’ll need items you have to buy at an art store (or of course online), and items you can get elsewhere. The latter, you may already have.

So let’s go over these.

To buy from the art store

You’ll need three things – watercolor brushes, watercolor paper, and watercolor paints.

Can you use other types of brushes for watercolors? Sure.

But watercolor brushes are specifically made for watercolors. You’ll notice that watercolor brushes matter. Of the three though, they’re the least important expenditure. I’d suggest getting cheap watercolor brushes in the beginning if you have a limited budget.

Watercolor paper? Once again, start off with cheap watercolor paper. Your first ten paintings will be throwaway anyways. Watercolor isn’t an easy medium by any means.

And last, the paints.

I’ve seen artists get by with cheap watercolor paints and make some pretty cool stuff. The artist is more important than the tool.

As you get better though, you’re going to want better tools. It’s the same thing with anything.

For now, you’ll be fine with cheap watercolor paints. You’ll learn the difference as you go. It’s way more important at first to hone your technique than it is to use professional grade tools.

You may already have

You’ll also need pencils, erasers, a surface, jars, scratch paper, paper towels, a sponge, and clean water.

Kimchi jars are the perfect size for everything

Save your jars. My wife and I eat a lot of Kimchi. It’s supposed to be good for your gut flora. I actually like the taste too, especially the spicy stuff.

These jars are the perfect size for both storing your brushes and also for the water. You’ll need two jars for water. One jar, you use to clean your brush and the second one, you use as the final rinse.

Do both matter? Yes. Unless you want to have the previous paint in what you’re painting next. I’m very religious about rinsing from two jars.

Water obviously. Tap water does the trick unless you live in a place with really bad tap water. If so, you’ll have to buy water. You don’t want to have muddy watercolors.

Paper towels and a sponge. You don’t absolutely need a sponge. But now that I have sponges, I use them.

You use the sponges to get the perfect amount of water on your brush. Some artists also use them for effects (like clouds for instance).

You’ll use the paper towels for everything from cleaning up messes to more effects. Always keep paper towels handy. Murphy’s Law states that the one time you forget the paper towels will be the one time you really need them!

Scratch paper for testing colors. You’ll do so much work with colors. How much water you use changes the colors. Plus, you might do a lot of color mixing as well. You’ll need to test the results before they go onto your real painting surface.

Pencils and erasers obviously. You don’t have to, but a lot of watercolor artists will draw their ideas on the watercolor paper before painting. I actually ink my watercolors, but that’s after drawing with pencil first.

As for your surface – I literally paint on the floor because I have a bad back. You may prefer an easel. Up to you.

Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try to get back to you on a timely manner.