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Get better at art by doing something different.

There is a lot to learn from artists (and people) who aren’t like you.

Sometimes you have to go out into the world and be uncomfortable if you want to improve as an artist (or a person.) Going to meetings with the Utah Watercolor Society was one of those out-in-the-world adventures for me.

The Utah Watercolor Society might not sound like the most interesting of topics to many of you. (Although, I will allow for the odd exception of artists, who live in Utah, also paint with watercolor, and have been thinking, “Hmm… I wonder if there is a society I could join, in the state where I live, where I could go to improve my watercolor skills.”)  But, regardless of where you fall on the plane of desire to improve your watercolor skills, I think you’ll find what I’m about to say useful. Possibly, even if you are not an artist. 

I started attending the Utah Watercolor Society a few years ago when I had the realization that my watercolor skills could use some work. I’ve been painting with watercolors since I was in junior high school, and after I graduated from college watercolor became the easiest medium for me to use while working at a small desk in my bedroom. It kind of stuck after that.

A Mindblowing Watercolor Lesson

By the time I was in my early 30s and had been painting with watercolors for more than 10 years, I thought I was pretty good. Then I watched a video on youtube, that I remember being called “Mindblowing watercolor lesson with Joseph Zbukvic” But I just looked it up and now the same video is called “Joseph Zbukvic paints an amazing street scene.”  I don’t know if my memory is faulty or if they changed the name on the video but, my mind was blown. Blown! 

I can’t explain to you why, but I watched that video over and over and came out of it with the sense that I really needed to improve my painting skills. I gobbled up any videos I could find online of artists painting at that level where I wanted to be, but it wasn’t enough. 

Landscape watercolor painting by Manelle Oliphant
My watercolor painting for the UWS Fall 2021 Show

Enter the Utah Watercolor Society. 

I already knew the Society existed because one of my good friends and a fellow illustrator Sherry Miedell is a regular attendee. I learned when the watercolor society meetings were held, (They are the first Tuesday of the month for you Utah watercolorists.) and made it a priority to go. Attending those meetings really helped me to understand how to use watercolor. 

Now, if you’ve ever gone to an event where you don’t know anyone and don’t quite fit in it can be hard to keep going. I’ve learned a lot from the people at the watercolor society, and the guests they bring in to demonstrate their painting skills. And it’s always great fun to be around other artists. But there is always this feeling that I don’t quite fit in with them.

The exchange in my brain goes something like this:

Watercolor Society member 1: “Here is my beautiful landscape painting.”

Watercolor Society member 2: “Here is my amazing portrait painting.”

Watercolor Society member 3: “Here is my floral still life painting.”

Me: “Here is my painting of a magician walking through an eerie Victorian street with room at the top for title text.” 

There are times when I don’t feel quite like I fit in. Not because everyone isn’t totally kind and wonderful, they are, I’m just not, at heart, a fine artist. 

But through attending those demos, and even taking a few workshops I’ve been able to improve my watercolor skills and discover cool things about watercolor.

I’ll share with you one fantastic gem. The Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

At one watercolor society meeting Ian Stewart came and did a demo. He showed us his painting process and he also had a few of his sketchbooks for us to look at. They were all Stillman and Birn sketchbooks. The watercolor paintings in them looked fantastic. I knew I had. to get me one and try it out.

I love them. In fact, 4 out of the 5 #mermay books are painted in Stillman and Birn sketchbooks. That one tip alone made going to the watercolor society worth it. If you want to try these books yourself I like the Beta and Delta series for watercolors.

And so, I suppose I just wanted to say that even though it’s nice to be around people where you feel like you fit in. (Hello fellow book-and-faerie-loving-illustrators) If you never venture out you might be missing something else that is really cool. 

If you are an artist what new things can you try to improve your art. For me it was showing up at the Utah Watercolor Society

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