It Wouldn’t be a Grand Cruise Without Watercolor

Day 25, Grand World Voyage

Friday, Jan. 27, 2023; South Pacific Ocean

Watercolor may be second only to arts and crafts in popularity on Holland America’s grand cruises. Of course, it’s not a competition. And some people, including my sisters, participate in both activities.

Since my introduction to watercolor in 2017 on a Grand Asia cruise, I’ve always taken the onboard classes when offered, generally on grand cruises. Every time I learn something new, but mainly it’s a good opportunity to practice. I’m a big believer in practice leading to improvement, whether or not you have any God-given talent. Even the most talented pianists still practice hours a day. My writing improved immensely when I was a reporter and wring every day. I usually need outside discipline to put in practice time, and watercolor classes on sea days fit the bill for me. Plus, they are just a lot of fun.

Carol, watercolor instructor, 2020

For several years, Carol Mitchell taught watercolor on the world cruise, aided by her assistant Siri. This year they both are on the cruise, but as passengers. I hear the opportunity to play bridge on sea days played into that decision.

Deb Arts is our instructor for this cruise, and she comes well experienced, having taught on the 72-day Grand Africa cruise just before this, as well as on other cruises over the years.

In the first day of watercolor class, Deb suggested that if you are an accomplished artist, this class might not be for you. She is taking us from the very basics of painting. Each of our paintings is reinforcing new techniques, such as wet-on-wet painting, recognizing the difference in warm and cool colors and knowing when the paper is wet or dry enough to add another layer. I’m finding these lessons valuable, as my haphazard introduction to watercolor skipped some basic steps.

When I told Deb that her structured approach to class is the polar opposite of my first instructor on a cruise, she knew exactly who that instructor was. I don’t know that I would be painting if Jack Shehab hadn’t lit a passion in me. He didn’t teach us much in the way of techniques or details, but simply sat us down with paper, brushes, water and paint. And kept the studio open all day.

Jack’s class in 2017

I stumbled my way through knowing nothing about what I was doing. But when he took the class ashore to paint on Dravuni Island in Fiji, I fell in love with painting on location. And he painted a picture of me with my painting.

The following summer in Chicago I discovered the local chapter of Urban Sketchers, an international group committed to drawing and painting on location. In fact, the Chicago chapter developed a “much loved visual” to illustrate its manifesto on urban sketching:

I’ve taken my share of watercolor workshops focused the “fine art” side of painting, where we do sketches and value studies and then produce larger works of art over many hours. Between my shorter span of attention and lack of practiced techniques, I usually struggle to finish. Quick sketches that fall far short of perfection are more my style.

But a previous teacher gave me a pro tip: Don’t expect to leave any class with perfect paintings. The purpose of class is to learn something new that you haven’t tried before. Don’t fall back on habits that worked for you in the past. This is the time – with free paints, paper and instruction — to experiment, to take a chance. It may not work, but it might. And you will learn something.

So my sisters and I have hung some of our early watercolor projects on clotheslines we brought from home. They aptly illustrate the advice to try new techniques rather than seek perfection. I doubt I will take any of mine home – but then again, “home” for me would be a box in a small storage unit.