Just Add Watercolor!

Day 65, Grand World Voyage 2020

Monday, March 9, 2020; At Sea, Coral Sea

One of my daily highlights is the morning watercolor class, offered on every sea day. This year’s instructor came prepared to teach and inspire us, and she is delivering.

Carol Mitchell is an experienced artist who lives in Florida now. She is combining basic watercolor and drawing instruction with fun projects. Last week we made small accordion-fold travel journals and are filling them with art of our favorite ports. I’ve only gotten as far as the background for my Christ the Redeemer statue sketch from Rio and sketching penguins.

This week we branched out to acrylics to make art inspired by the dot patterns and motifs of the Aboriginal people of Australia. I tried painting a traditional turtle and an Ibis that I saw in the Sydney Royal Botanical Garden.

My interest in watercolor stems from my first grand voyage on Holland America just more than two years ago. Our instructor was Jack Shehab, who had a very different approach. He was the most generous instructor in my experience, bringing many times more supplies than most and keeping the classroom open all day long for those who wanted more than just one hour. Not everyone warmed to his “just jump in and learn as you go” style, with less emphasis on lessons, but it definitely inspired me.

As inspired as I was, my projects didn’t take advantage of the “water” part of watercolor. I loved the results, but I could have been working in any medium, I think, as evidenced by these two projects from 2017:

Back home I enrolled in a community college class and then at an Urban Sketching-Chicago weekend seminar and a one-week intensive at the Art Institute of Chicago the next summer. The Urban Sketching-Chicago group inspired my interest in sketching on location, and Chicago is a great place to just go and sketch. By the 2018 Grand Asia cruise, I was committed to leaving my fancy camera at home and sketching my way through Asia and the South Pacific.

But I can’t say I was committed to fully participating in the watercolor class on the cruise. A friend and I sat in the back of the classroom doing our own thing. The result was that I completed my sketchbook but didn’t learn much.

This year I brought a new attitude. I’m considering my sketching and the watercolor class two different activities. Perhaps that is why my sketchbook is way behind. But class is for learning, so I jump into whatever project Carol has for the day.

It’s obvious that it isn’t Carol’s first world cruise as a watercolor instructor. She brought her friend Siri Bernstein who keeps class supplies organized and helps teach new students. Carol started us out painting, but very quickly introduced us to our own palettes of paint and the techniques for using water. We made color charts showing how water affects each color and how to paint fish eyes.

When we noticed we had no green paint, she instructed us to experiment mixing our various blues and yellows to create a wide variety of green. I still go back to my green chart to find the paint combination for just the right shade. And we gradually added to our technique chart, learning about how to create texture with sponges, corks, salt and straws, for example.

Some days I am frustrated with my outcome, but I remind myself that I’m in class to learn. I frequently wish I could take another stab at some of the subjects, knowing the second result would be much better. Lately I’ve been repeating a design to make gift cards or bookmarks to give away or put in the auction I hear will occur before the end of the cruise. But mostly I just file my efforts away in my portfolio.

Last week we learned to use our plastic shower caps to mottle the background color of our paintings. It’s a technique I’ll use a lot in the future, I think. Another day we used an opaque white watercolor paint over a dark background for our flying fish. I had always tried to preserve the white of the paper, but it would have been impossible on this project.

One of the delights has been watching my sister Elaine in class. She hasn’t painted since kindergarten, but she has a creative eye and is doing well. Now whenever we are out she comments about seeing shapes and colors she hasn’t noticed before. Painting can do that to you!

We even added a sketch of the HMAV Bounty and watercolor to the certificate we received for stopping at Pitcairn Island.

I’ve stayed in touch with Jack, who recently wrote on my Writer On Deck Facebook page that he wants to see more paintings and sketches. So here are some of my recent class projects. I’ll have to catch up on the sketchbook art. I would really like to figure out how to add a photo portfolio to this web site, but I’m not sure how to add that to my Word Press theme. A fellow passenger loaned me her Missing Manual for Word Press, but between the slow Internet and too many other projects, I haven’t tackled that yet.