I was chatting with a friend recently, reminiscing about a moment on a Northern Ontario canoeing expedition when I realized how clear the memory was in my mind. As the conversation continued other parts were faded. In this moment I made the correlation between scenes I had painted and the vibrancy they had in my mind. Taking time to sit, study and paint a view helped in more ways than providing a final painting. The process brought to focus the small details, the way a crack glided down a rock face, or how the elegant starburst lichen emerged, spreading orange across on my page. What I thought was just a relaxing hobby had turned into a memory capsule. Blending yellows and greens to translate the hue of a leaf or watching the water rush by and experimenting ways to make it stand still all helped to keep these natural moments with me.
I want to make this mindful activity more accessible, as watercolours can be inexpensive and compact enough for travelling and outdoor adventures. Here’s how to get started:
PAINT AND BRUSH. I have experimented with many different watercolour paint sets, searching for a happy balance between vibrant and natural colours. My search lead me to Winsor and Newton compact sets.
I have a few sets and each have worked wonders! There is ample palette space for blending and a small dish for water, making art more accessible in the outdoors. The kit itself is compact and comes with a short brush that I have found to be great for a variety of techniques. The colours from this palette are vibrant, earthy and blend beautifully, equating to the perfect outdoor adventure buddy.
Tools in hand, now to look for the perfect canvas and inspiration.
BOOKS. When it comes to companions for outdoor adventures wet media booklets makes life easy! Wording such as ‘field book’ is good to look out for as these are often hard covered and bound to ensure your paper stays together and doesn’t get wrecked while adventuring. I fell in love with Fluid Field Watercolour Journals during a trip on the Attawapiskat River. They use cold-press paper which provides a more textured look. Here is an example from my fluid book:
BLOCKS. Another thing to keep in mind is that when working with watercolour, as the name implies, there is a good amount of water involved. When paper gets wet it often warps; however, a way around this is through paper on blocks where sheets are glued on either 2 or 4 sides. I have enjoyed working with fluid blocks that are mounted on two sides, which I have found to be enough to prevent warping. After painting on blocks wait for your piece to dry before removing to ensure a crisp and flat product! The one disadvantage to painting on blocks is that you would need an additional book or journal to store your finished paintings in.
Now that you have all the tools, where to go? I often chose travel destinations based on the outdoor appeal. Thankfully, my best paintings come from nature, so my travels and passion for painting often compliment each other nicely.
A big inspiration for the way I paint has recently come from Thunder Bay artist Angela Gollat. She reminded me to paint without attachment and that painting should be therapeutic, expressive, and free all at the same time (It sounds tricky, but it’s a wonderful reminder to be intentional). And so when you paint, don’t paint for anyone else. Even if you are painting as a gift, paint with the person in mind, not FOR that person, and you will lose the pressure. The joy or pain will come through into a unique and perhaps unconventionally beautiful piece. Now, for me it is about the process, how happy the colours make me, how I am able to study a landscape on a whole new level and how I can reach a state of flow. This flow allows me to relax, and focus all my concerns or joys onto the canvas. I am able to remove distractions, fully emerging myself into the piece.