What Watercolor Painting Teaches Me

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In the last few years, I’ve attended a couple Paint Nights. For those unfamiliar with them, they’re essentially a painting lesson for people who have never painted before. It gives you the opportunity to create a piece of artwork without having any prior experience.

I’ve taken two of these classes now and somehow I’ve managed to impress myself. I’m not saying this in a boastful way, by any means. I just wasn’t expecting my artwork to turn out this decent for somebody who’s never painted before. Plus, Paint Nights use an acrylic paint, which doesn’t mean much to me other than I can let it dry and go back and fix any mistakes I’ve made. Heck, I could paint right over it and start from the beginning again if I wanted!

All to say that I like the control that acrylic paint gives me.

But for some reason, I recently decided to try my hand at watercolor. There’s something beautiful—and mystical—that I’ve come to admire about watercolor paintings. So it seemed liked a fun challenge!

And boy, is it ever a challenge.

Now, to clarify, I haven’t mastered the skill of watercolor enough to call myself a “painter.” I’m still perfecting my skill at messing up page after page of expensive paper.

And yet, what I can tell you is that in watercolor painting you have very little control over what happens. Yes, there are techniques and skills that can be practiced and you can certainly hone the craft. But I’ve come to learn that even the professionals don’t have complete control over the designs and artwork they produce.

For a control freak like me, this lack of control is really stressful. It’s very difficult (impossible even?) to replicate a design. Nothing ever looks quite the same. You can’t go back and cover your mistakes with more paint. You can’t “touch it up” a little here or there. Trying to do so will either just mess it up more or create something altogether different.

But that’s the rub. You can sit down with your watercolors and create something that is truly beautiful—or messy and ugly. The lack of control I feel with that paintbrush in my hand is infuriating! I want to make something beautiful and perfect every.single.time. But that’s not how watercolor—or life, for that matter—works.

You can pick up your paintbrush with the best of intentions, and sometimes you get something exquisite and sometimes you don’t. In life, there are certainly things we can control. But a lot of times, we spend our energy trying to control the things we can’t.

And I’m right there with you! I want to control it all so that my life is easy and carefree and perfectly blessed. I don’t want the hard things. But in trying to make my life predictable and certain and painless, I find myself getting mad at the littlest things. If I constantly think that circumstances, and even people, are mine to control, then it’s going to make all those small things feel so much more life-impacting than they should be.

So each time I sit down with that watercolor brush, I have to intentionally shift my mind to let go of the idea of perfection and control—and focus on being accepting of the outcome, whatever it may be.

Now if only I could do this in all areas of my life.

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