Tag Archives: learning watercolor painting

Still Life

If I’d begun to draw and paint when my artist-sister did, which is to say when we were kids, I might be as good as she is today. But even then she staked out art as her own private territory and put NO TRESPASSING signs up all around it. So I chose instead words on paper for my artistic self-expression, beginning with sing-song-y poetry dripping with emotion, which, thankfully, nobody saved and I’ve long forgotten.

Now, at this eleventh hour, it seems, I’m learning to paint in watercolor. For me, watercolor is the supreme medium, for a number of reasons: I love its translucency, its portability, its cleanliness, its timelessness, its tactility, and its seeming simplicity but deceptive difficulty. Frankly, it’s an enormous challenge, and I know it will take me the rest of my life to become any good at it. But I’m not giving up. At times like these it’s helpful to be a stubborn Taurus. I like a good challenge, and I don’t give up easily.

Let’s start with translucency. Such a beautiful word, TRANSLUCENT, meaning “permitting the passage of light,” as well as “free from disguise or falseness.” Most watercolor paints are translucent, allowing the light of the paper to show through. This light-ness and brightness appeals to me. The darker tones and colors, used judiciously, come later in a watercolor painting, to add necessary contrast and honest reality. After all, I remind myself, life is never all sweetness and light.

I paint most evenings, at the desk I’ve set up for this pastime in my spare room. Lately I’ve been concentrating on still lifes – specifically, flower arrangements. Every week, after I’ve published a new blogpost, I treat myself to a big bouquet of fresh flowers from my nearest florist. 

These pretty, fresh-cut flowers are destined to fade and droop and die out within days, alas. So after I’ve arranged them in various vases to be placed in every room, I first take their photographic portraits with my phone, then I try to preserve a few “for posterity” in my amateurish paintings. Sunflowers are my favorites.


My fixation on sunflowers began in early 2022, soon after the war on Ukraine started and I learned that the sunflower is Ukraine’s national flower. Since then, buying a few sunflowers each week, photographing them, painting them, and in some cases framing those paintings has become something of a spiritual practice for me. 

The word for “sunflower” in both Spanish, girasol, and French, tournesol,  literally means “turn to the sun,” indicating movement, action. Sunflowers in the earth spend their days looking up, with their faces following the sun’s path. When I admire sunflowers, embrace them, and paint them, I’m reminded to look up, toward the light, in hope, and to pray for peace in Ukraine. And now Gaza.


I have a vivid memory of my artist-sister and her then-boyfriend, when we were still in high school, sitting across from one another at our dining room table sketching the still life arrangement they’d set up in the table’s center – a bowl of fruit, perhaps, or a vase with flowers. I admired their concentration and dedication even then. Such innate talent! But I soon left them to go into another room to ransack my brain for rhyming words for my terrible poetry.

Now, to add to my abiding love for pens and their ability to pin words on paper, I’m more passionate than ever about paintbrushes and what they can do in my hand. I love the look of them, the feel of them, their sleekness and timelessness. To think: paintbrushes have been used by humans to apply pigment for about two and a half million years — since the Paleolithic era. When I’m painting I’m not in thrall to a TV or computer screen, as most of us tend to be these days. I am free of modern technology. I am working with my heart and hands. I am timeless, I am FREE.

And I can take this freedom on the road, so to speak. It’s easy to pack up a small, lightweight kit – watercolor paper to paint on, paper towels for mopping up, a plastic bottle of tap water (not for drinking), a good watercolor brush or two, a pencil and eraser, maybe a waterproof pen, some watercolor paints (in tubes or small pans) – and go outside, in “plein air,” as the French coined it, and paint whatever makes me happy. Here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I sometimes join the local group of Urban Sketchers at various sites around town – or I go out on my own and do my own thing, as the spirit moves me.

To add to my long list of why I’m so in love with watercolor painting these days: I find it relaxing, transporting, and humbling. Most of all humbling.

Humility is a really good thing at this age and stage of life, I believe. To be like a child again, willing to learn something new, willing to listen to teachers, watch countless YouTube videos, and read instructive books, willing to mess up and try again and again – maybe after we’ve achieved some measure of success in other fields – is good for the soul. 

Recently I did a 12-inch-square sunflower painting – my largest painting yet – and had it framed for a special spot in my kitchen. I titled the painting “Reaching,” because that’s what I’m striving to do now. I’m still alive, still learning, still reaching into the unknown for the light:

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NOTE:  As I’ve already announced, I’ll be ending my weekly blogposts at the end of next month. But I won’t be closing WOW down for good. Readers will be able to access past posts by going to: https://blog.bonnieleeblack.com and scrolling down to the ARCHIVES. Also, I just might write a post from time to time, as the spirit moves. So this will not be goodbye. Please stay tuned and stay in touch. You mean a lot to me.