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A Pandemic Silver Lining Story

Today's post is in the Doing Things Differently Because Pandemic (And Finding That's a Good Thing) camp.

As I've mentioned over the years here, I regularly take art classes at our local KIA art school. I actually started taking photography classes right after I finished my chemo treatments (12 years ago now!!!) as a way to "move forward" after cancer treatment. But then, I switched over to drawing . . . and then colored pencil drawing . . . and, finally, about 5 years ago, to watercolor.


Watercolor . . . was what I really wanted all along. 

But watercolor is hard. And intimidating. It's one of the least forgiving of the painting "media" to work with. Because once you've got that paint on the page, there is no erasing, no turning back! (Although there are tricks. . . ) And that water. Oh, so much water sometimes. . . 

Anyway. Watercolor was especially challenging for me. I've taken lots of art classes in the past, but never watercolor. There is so much to learn, and it takes a lot of practice to get things looking even kinda-sorta like you imagine they might, or want them to. It is hard not to judge yourself harshly - with any art form, but I think especially with watercolor - because watercolor looks so easy, so simple, so . . . flowing and gentle and natural.

(It's not.)

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I have learned many, many lessons as a beginner watercolorist. My most important lessons, though, have had nothing to do with materials or technique or (the ever-elusive) "water management." No. My most important lessons have been all about myself.  Just allowing myself to be . . . Not Good; that it's okay to BE a beginner; to manage my expectations and learn from experience. 

These are hard lessons. (Or, at least, they are for me.)  My watercolor classes are a mix of students -- some who are just starting out (me) thrown right in with experienced students who didn't really need a "class" as much as they needed the weekly discipline and support of a "painting group." Oh, man. The intimidation at first was overwhelming! But, ultimately I found this kind of class structure to be a powerful learning environment. The experienced students were welcoming and encouraging and supportive. They helped me improve -- and, more importantly, they gradually became MY support group, too!

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Our pre-pandemic, 3-hour, in-person class sessions always kicked off with what our instructor called "show-and-tell" . . . when each of us shared what we'd been working on - at any stage in the process - for critique. (This is where the "support" part of all this really came in to play -- because the critique was always matched up with what the student needed. Newer, beginning students got encouraging words and helpful feedback, while more experienced students got the serious feedback they needed.) Then, our instructor would move on to the "demo" part of class. She'd select some piece for us to paint together -- always different styles, always different source material. She'd demo. She'd teach. We could either paint along with her . . . or just watch.

I always, always . . . just watched.
I almost never painted in class!

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I would go home after class, and sometimes try the demo on my own. But often, I didn't. (I did paint other things. I was big on the practicing; just not with the demos.) I had plenty of excuses for not doing the demos, but - if I'm honest with myself -  I was afraid to fail. I didn't want to paint in front of other people and have them see my attempt go right off the rails right off the bat. (Even though they wouldn't have cared and most of them went off the rails right off the bat, too.) I practiced my painting at home, privately . . . in my own little "studio" . . . and never really got the very freeing benefit of just . . . letting loose and trying new things on the fly!


Enter the pandemic.

Last May, my watercolor instructor moved her classes to a Zoom-based format (which was super awkward at first, but it really works now). It's been so wonderful to be with my watercolor group again! And we follow the same format as always . . . first the "show-and-tell"/critique, followed by the "demo." The big difference?

I paint along with the demos now!

Part of it is that I do the Zoom class right in my "studio," where all my painting stuff is already set up and it's very convenient to just . . . paint. But I know that the bigger part is that . . . I'm not worried about having a "bad start" in front of people. Because, of course, no one can see what you're doing on Zoom unless you show them!

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Over the past several months, I can tell that my painting is improving. I'm gaining more confidence about just . . . diving in and beginning. I'm (kinda-sorta) developing my own style. It's liberating to feel like I don't have to try to make my piece look just like the instructor's demo lesson. And . . .  I don't hesitate anymore to hold up my in-progress demo when our instructor asks at the end of class if anyone would like to show what they've been working on.

And this is big.

Maybe . . . by the time we all get to meet together for class in person again . . . I'll paint right there in real time!
And that is a Pandemic Silver Lining!


(The photos in this post are from my class sketch book, each showing a "demo" I painted during my Zoom classes.) (Including this one. In progress. From yesterday.)

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Amazing Kym! And (IMHO) if you can capture the human face you can capture anything...good going! xoxo


Oh, man, I really love this!! I was just talking with my sister last night, and Addie, too, about some of the pros & cons of all this virtual learning. In some ways (and for some learners) it's awful, but in others it's just amazing... the unintended consequences can be good.


I am SO proud of you, my friend. This is wonderful and what an unexpected silver lining. Didn't you just coach me about not being afraid to fail? As in, friends don't let friends fail? Take your own advice, my dear. You've got this and you are a beautiful artist.


Just wow! As I scrolled down the page I didn't know whether to concentrate on the words or your watercolors as they're both beautiful. I've gone back, re-read, and re-admired the paintings and they are indeed wonderful. I LOVE the lighthouse sky. I didn't these words went together but hooray for your Pandemic Silver Lining!

Kim in Oregon

I think your work is absolutely beautiful.You should think about making them into cards! I know I'd buy a set, particularly those people in the coffee shop!


So lovely Kym! I agree with Kim in Oregon - you should think about making cards out of your paintings. They are great!! I wish more people would look for more silver linings...they are there!


Kym, I’m impressed. Besides making adorable bunnies and dragons, your paintings are wonderful! I,too, love the lighthouse but, your work from yesterday is just captivating!


I think giving ourselves permission to be "not good" at something is crucial to stretching our boundries.

Your lighthouse picture is so pretty.


Oh do I ever love that coffee shop...just like Kim in Oregon. Your perseverance has been rewarded.


Good for you! I am doing some Let's Make Art Tutorials - which are less art than this, IMO, but I am learning and mostly, I am having fun. It makes me get out of my head and away from myself in a good way.


How wonderful that you have been able to continue with your classes online. I love that you have been able to improve your painting skills and also change the way you feel about yourself when you are new to something. That is huge isn't it? Thank you for sharing your lovely story.


I am very impressed! I did a lot of art in high school (I was the only person in the AP Studio Art class my senior year), and I did a fair amount of painting, but I never did much with watercolors -- the closest I came was working with gouache, which was challenging enough. So I know how hard it is to do what you're doing and what a boost you must be getting from doing it! Thank you for sharing this peek into your sketchbook.


In all my years of art classes, I never ever achieved anything as lovely as these images Kym! Go you! And yay for letting go and trying something new!! XO


Kym, your watercolors are breathtaking. I enlarged them on my phone and just pored over them. This process is a gift to you—and everyone else. Wow! A celebration on the page.


Hearing about your process and how you were able to get out of your head and paint in the moment was encouraging. I am often self-critical of every line no matter the medium. The cafe scene is my favorite (that golden light gets me every time).


Your art is beautiful, Kym ... and encouraging. I love the cafe scene ... and the last one. those pinks!

I have always wanted to watercolor. Actually bought a book and some basic supplies this past summer and never made the time to sit down and do it. Maybe I need to find a class!


What beautiful art. I so admire those who can paint/draw/sketch.

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