How learning watercolor is like learning guitar

I recently began taking an evening guitar class. I signed up on a whim, though I've always wanted to know how to play guitar. As the start date got closer and closer, I thought about cancelling. I felt apprehensive about doing something I was a newbie at, in a room full of people who must have been better than me. I worried about not being good at it. I didn't want to look like an idiot!

Quick sketch from a Renaissance Faire.

Fast forward several weeks, and I can sort of play a song, and I know what a key is and how to use a capo. This is light years away from where I started!

Why am I telling you this? Well, I couldn't help but think that learning guitar is very much like learning watercolor. It felt awkward to be a student and it gave me such appreciation and compassion for those of you who are trying to learn any new skill, and the tricky art of watercolor painting in particular. It's hard. It takes courage and persistence

So here are some morsels of wisdom to help you through a painting class or your own practice:

1. Don't expect a masterpiece.

Seriously. If you're taking your first couple of classes, be kind to yourself and lower your expectations. You will learn amazing things and have beautiful ah-ha moments but you won't paint like your instructor just yet.

2. Practice a lot.

This is the one thing that will make you better. And it also the one true barometer of your passion for this new thing you're learning. 

Another sketch from the same Renaissance Faire. I recorded a bit of it, see here.

3. Keep doing it even when you are bad at it.

Everyone gets discouraged when what they are doing doesn't turn out well. My guitar sessions would drive me crazy if I were an outside observer. They do not sound like I know what I'm doing (I don't) or the way you imagine a talented friend softly strumming while you are relaxing to the soothing sounds. Same thing with painting. Most of what you're doing at first looks bad. You don't have to show it to anyone but you have to keep doing it.

This one is an earlier sketch. I cringe when I look at the linework here. The 'hairiness" of the line often comes from hesitation and fear of making a mistake, and then you inevitably make a mistake, and then you try to correct it. Which, overall, ends up looking bad. The solution is accepting your mistakes and letting them be. Which translates into confidence, which looks like a nice, clean line. Theoretically speaking ;)

4. Embrace discomfort.

I am a proud owner of three left fingertip calluses, and a developing pinky callus. Those are achieved by pressing the strings against the fret (which, while your fingertips are still soft and sensitive, hurts). When it comes to learning watercolor, the discomfort is mostly in your head. Any progress, however, demands that you get uncomfortable. Are you used to coloring within the lines? Let the paint bleed all over them. Are you scared of painting wet-into-wet? Bite the bullet and do it at your next painting session.