Do Unicorns dream of electric watercolors?

Watercolor painting depicting a starry, sunset sky, the characters from Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Ring in silhouette.

Dry, dusty, parched and chalky earth that has been touched by the first drops of rain. The whiskery shush of bristles that swirl gently over a small cake of vibrant color, creating rainbow bubbles that quickly disperse. Fine hairs sweep across a dry or dampened thick piece of paper that whispers encouragement to keep trying. Experiment. Too much water. Not enough. I’m blank. Try again. Keep going.

I can smell the watercolors. Especially the Arteza palette. It reminds me of something half way between side-walk chalk accidentally left into a storm and the wave of smell that comes from a noon-sun drenched, hot, well packed dirt road after a quick shower.

I don’t know what I am doing, really. I watch a tutorial of someone else who has been painting for years. Decades. They drop color on a page and it blooms into shapes, shadows, color that turns bits and pieces into a form easily recognized. Beach roses. A misty forest. A galaxy of stars. A beautiful garden.

My paper is cheap. It will take a wash of water but hills and valleys arise immediately, creating ripples and waves that pool my watercolor as much as it lets it bloom. My skills are new, too, so I can never tell how much water is too much, how much is too much on the brush, and I have yet to understand how to keep the paper wet enough at the right level. It dries in splotches, small areas that are no longer wet enough and others that are dribbling water.

I forget color therapy. This red and this purple runs together, turning grey. I tut at it, disappointed. I can see my sketch through the watercolor. I’ve never been light-handed and have problems not pressing too hard.

I’ve thrown out more paper than I remember. I’ve tried cherry blossoms at least 10 times since Febuary 1st, when the water colors and canson multi-media paper arrived. I can’t get the petals right. Too light. Too dark. I don’t mind. I pull the sheet and tuck it away to be tossed later and begin again.

My mind does not tell me about work the next day. It does not whisper about how awful the painting looks. In fact, my mind is almost as blank as the paper I start out with. It is sitting, watching in as much fascination as I have, as colors swirl. Sometimes those colors turn out beautiful, sometimes too faded, too bright, and occasionally they muddy.

Pull the sheet aside.
I try again.
I don’t feel the need to give up. I don’t hate the mistakes. I don’t get angry at myself and the paints or the mistakes and I don’t spiral down into a strange void of self-loathing for not getting it right, perfect and flawless the first time.

I just dip my paintbrush into a jar of clean water, pull the sheet aside, and start again.

Is this what happiness looks like?

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