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30 day watercolor challenge


Hang in there with me while I experience my own personal renaissance!   I am just having such a wonderful time allowing my creativity to spill into other mediums.  This seems to be what happens to me…

Music and theatre were always my creative outlet when I was younger, but when I finished college and decided not to pursue a career in performing, I needed a new outlet.  So, I started working on my home and learned how to sew, paint, refinish furniture, and became obsessed with all things decorating.

I picked up decorative painting when we lived in my in-law’s basement, as Jeff finished his undergrad degree, and I didn’t really have a space to decorate.  I picked up cooking and baking when our first townhouse was painted and decorated and I needed something to learn and work on.  It was hard core.  I made everything from scratch.  I mean, everything.  Salad dressing, bread, baked goods, fresh pasta, sauces, spreads, soups, granola, everything.

I’m now in a season where decorating, designing, photography, writing, and painting are my business and, while it’s all creative and I absolutely love it, I find my creative brain wants to work on some things that don’t have deadlines or parameters or expectations.

Sketching and watercolors have sucked me in and they are holding me captive.  It’s a busy season for my family and my business, so I don’t have a lot of free time to devote to it, but I’m stealing away time here and there to work on “lessons” and “assignments” I find online.  (If you’re interested in seeing the tutorials and paintings I’ve found inspiring, you can follow my Watercolor Pinterest Board.)

Since I love landscapes, I’ve been working on clouds.

Here’s my first attempt…


The good news is they do look like clouds!  The gray got away from me a little, though.

I took that practice and worked on a landscape of an orchard and mountains…


I sort of fell in love with this one and plan to frame it.  It looks so much like my neck of the woods in Adams County, PA.

And, then I got ambitious and tried a cow.  And…well…


I really wanted to throw this one away and I really, really didn’t want to post it, but I feel like I need to share ones I love and ones I’m not happy with.  I botched the nose, the face is asymmetrical, the trees in the background are a mess.  But, I’m not going to throw it away, because it’ll help me get better!

Since I’ve just been painting what I pick, which means everything is blue & green and landscapes and cows, I decided to try a 30 day watercolor challenge.  I found this one on Pinterest and, while I don’t like everything on the list (especially #18), I am going to use it to push me out of my comfort zone.  The scary places are where we grow.

30 day watercolor challenge

(I couldn’t find the original source for this list.)

A fun thing is that my youngest son, Calvin, has been painting the “challenges” along with me.  Well, he treats them like a race, so he’s on #14 and mom is only on #3, so he’s winning.  Mom is left in the dust.


Day one was “morning coffee”…


Day two was “sandwich”, but who honestly wants to paint a picture of a sandwich, so I took some artistic license and painted a sandwich cart…


And day three was vegetable…


If you want to follow along, I’ll be sharing each painting on Instagram.  If you want to “paint along”, just hop in at day one at any time and use #30daywatercolorchallenge on Instagram, so we can find each other.  You can also just paint along at home for your own enjoyment!

In addition to working on technique, I’ve been working a lot on color.  I thought I knew a lot about color, having mixed colors for my paint line, for goodness sake, but I’m learning a whole lot more!  I’ve been trying to spend a little time mixing and painting swatches each time I have the paint out and it’s been such a great learning experience.


Some of you have asked about the paints, brushes, and other supplies I’m using, so I thought I would share.  Now, I’m just learning, so I’m just sharing what I’m using.

I started with the Windsor & Newton Cotman Pocket Plus with 12 colors


I didn’t want to spend a lot of money until I learned more.  I soon wanted more colors, so I bought the Windsor & Newton Cotman Pocket Plus with 24 colors.


The nice thing about these sets is the colors pop out, so I can use the large palette and swap out colors with the smaller palette if they are exhausted.  Or I can pack my frequently used colors in the small set for traveling.

I’ve been reading a lot about watercolors and saw several suggestions to buy the best paint you can afford.  So, I’ve been buying some professional Windsor & Newton watercolors tubes here and there.  They are really pricey!  I keep reminding myself it’s just the initial investment and I’m using them a lot, so it’s worth it.  I also bought a larger palette that seals and I’ve been using that for the tube watercolors.


I may have champaign taste when it comes to paints, but I’m all bargain beer when it comes to artist brushes!  Now, I don’t like cheap brushes when I’m painting walls or furniture, but when I’m doing decorative painting, I tend to love the cheapest brushes.  The synthetic, bargain, brushes-in-a-pack kind of brushes!  So funny, isn’t it?

When I started my mural business and was painting a lot (with acrylics), I bought all sorts of beautiful, high-end brushes, and I didn’t like them as much as my cheapies.

So, I’ve been using this Royal & Langnickel round brush in a 4, 6, 8, and 10.  It actually says it’s for acrylic, but I love how well it holds watercolors and how fine of a point it makes.


I’ve also been using Aquash Water Brushes, which are great for lettering.


And a few other watercolor brushes, like a mop, scrub, etc.

And I use a small, heavy mug of water when I’m at home, since the boys are often painting with me and things tend to get sloshed around!  I have to change out the water a lot, but it’s better than big spills.


I’ve been building up my other craft supplies, too…


Not only has this all been enriching for me personally, but it’s come at the perfect time for my business.  The projects I’ve been hinting at all involve a lot of design work and I need a way to “communicate” what’s in my head to other people, so sketching and painting have given me a way to do that.

Even if you’re not into painting, sketching or watercolors, I hope you’re inspired to try something new.  You never know what new talents or passions you will unearth…

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  1. I loved your cow! Your art work is really inspiring, I’m so glad you share it with us.

    • Seriously Marian my first reaction to the watercolor of the cow was, ‘she’s good’
      . You have talent my dear keep at it! Inspiring.

  2. Okay, okay, I give up! I have been resisting breaking out my art supplies for some months now but I will do it today and start with the 30 day challenge. I put everything away a few years ago when I completed art school (relationship with a competitive artist, long story!), but the desire to paint again has been tickling at me again since the relationship ended. Seeing your work and hearing your excitement has just pushed me over the edge and I’m going to wet my brushes. Today!

    Thank you for being you and for sharing, Marian. <3 <3 <3

    • songbirdalicia says:

      I’m holding you to that! I’m hitting 69 soon! Let’s hear it for enjoying imperfection!!!!! AND, I too love the cow with it’s imperfections.

    • songbirdalicia says:

      Lisa, I hear you. I’m gonna dig into my trunk that holds the relics of my college art classes and go for it! I like that “wet my brushes.” You go girl!

      Thank you again, Marion, for being used by God to inspire so many. He is using you.

  3. Jennifer says:

    LOVE THE COW! Once you hit 60 you let go of perfection and enjoy the imperfection!

  4. Michelle says:

    I like the cow but I love clouds so that one is my favorite. Sometimes we can be our own worst critics! Thank you for sharing and being such an inspiration!

  5. Maureen P. Ryan says:

    This is really exciting! Thank you for sharing your artwork and getting us, your enthusiastic readers, involved in the creative process!

  6. Hannah Rose says:

    Definitely your own worst critic… I thought the cow was super cute!

  7. Notneededtoday says:

    Hun, if you sold that cow painting I would probably buy it. Seek perfection but don’t be so critical you can’t see the beauty even in what you don’t like. Your practice is paying off and the pieces are looking great!

  8. I think the carrot is great/the best one, though you should feel proud of all the paintings!! It’s easy to see your improvement by the DAY!!!
    I’d like to mention something our Professor in my watercolor classes said ~ “…never use the white.” We were to leave areas unpainted in order to define whites in watercolors! It’s difficult, and requires planning, but it’s very satisfying learning to do so!
    I am amazed at the many things you are able to accomplish! You are one talented lady!

  9. chiara kuhns says:

    this is a true inspiration…can I join u? I’ll have to start at #1… so ur winning! THANK YOU!!!

  10. The orchard painting is absolutely beautiful. You are naturally talented!

  11. Susan NJ says:

    When I saw the cow, I thought she is beautiful and what amazing amount creative talent you have. I also loved the orchard landscape.
    You will be having a one women show before we know it.
    I really enjoy following along.

  12. KitsyKeelSmith says:

    OK girl, you are on your way to a totally new and different line of merchandise. If you keep at this, you will definitely be asked to start selling your work. It it is reasonable enough, I will definitely be interested in buying. You never cease to amaze me, so much talent in one special person.

  13. Oh my gosh so cute Marian! You’re so talented!

  14. Give watercolor pencils a try…they are great fun too!

  15. Jenny Riley says:

    I love all of them and would buy them, esp the cow!!! Please tell me you will sell your watercolors some day!!! :)

  16. Kathy says:

    I love the cow. Don’t throw it away. Someone would love it.

  17. Debbie rodnry says:

    First of all, no ones face is symmetrical and some guys have big noses. It gives them character. So I like your cow. We are our own worst critics. I love the cup and sandwich the best. I never met a blue and green and white that I didn’t like.

    I paint in Acrylics. Water colors have long tempted me, but I tend to get scattered so I have resisted them. You are making me rethink that.

  18. Bess in VA says:

    Marian, I LOVE your cow and would enjoy having her in my home…hint…hint!

  19. Hi Marian you are doing a great job with your watercolors I love them! I s a long time I haven’t comment but I follow your journeys from the beginning! I have been very busy with my Blog I am sure that you remember me! That’s what I do too I am an artist and I express my creativity with different mediums. I have been painting since I was a kid but last July I participated to the “World Watercolor Month July 2016” a 31 days 31 paintings challenge if you like you can see my gallery here also you can see more of my watercolors here I wish you could join our facebook group “World Watercolor Group” it is great to interact and connect with other artists from all over the world! Sending love and hugs! Carolina

  20. songbirdalicia says:

    I am inspired! Although I am only a general art major and haven’t the fine art touch, I’m inspired when I see the watercolor paper, the palettes of color, the water cup, the brushes. I still have a few supplies from college in my trunk. I’ve commented before that as a 68 turning 69 retiree I wonder if I can finally venture into the arts. Since I discovered your blog several years ago I’ve tackled making slip covers (with stripes) for a wingback armchair, a sofa, a matching love seat, and doing a psuedo-reupholstery job on two matching armchairs! I have some odds and ends furniture I want to give a 2nd chance to and before the year is out they’ll be ready for a new home (i.e., haven’t started yet). But I keep following your blog and I remain encouraged. I’ve had a mental picture of me even setting up my redwood easel from college with a canvas and breaking out the Liquitex acrylics (some are still good after 40 years!!!) and brushes and see what I can come up with! I was terrible at water colors but admire what others, like yourself, can achieve. Again, you motivate people like me! And I love your cow but must say your carrot is outstanding! I like the little “splash” you added to the white space! And what’s not to love about your cow. I’m excited to see more. You’ve evolved so much – that is an encouragement in itself!

  21. Olivia says:

    I love the cow! And what kind of paper do you use? I’m ready to give it a try… I love the soft colors!

  22. Edith Umstead says:

    Hi Miss Mustard: Thank you for sharing all of your thought and aspirations about sketching,watercolor ingredients and using this medium to communicate your thoughts and ideas. Love the 30 day watercolor challenge. I got away from painting a few years ago as fabric and crafty arts have pulled me away from the drawing board. I will post on FB as I go and see what feedback I get. I’ll be in touch with my results:)

  23. Holly Call says:

    Love these! Will you be making any of them available for us to purchase? I love the peanut print!!! As always, you inspire :)

  24. Your paintings are really lovely, Marian! I do love your cow painting—I have a warm spot in my heart from growing up on a dairy farm.
    I had a very wise watercolor instructor, many years ago, who only let me purchase about 8 tubes of color (and to purchase the “artists/professional” version, rather than the “cotman/student” colors), and to buy the best quality paper I could afford. I was really nervous working with expensive materials when I was just learning, but after trying out the less expensive/lower quality materials later, I could clearly see the difference, and why she insisted on this approach. She taught me to learn color mixing first, with the limited number of colors she instructed me to purchase, so I could see for myself how many colors I could mix from these 8—it was amazing to find that I really didn’t need to purchase so many tubes of paint. I’ve really only expanded on her original list by about 4 or 5 other colors over the years.
    You’ve inspired me to get out my paints again after so many years. Please keep sharing what you’re doing with your watercolors!

  25. Hey there! Your watercolors for the challenge are so beautiful! I wanted to say hi because I created that watercolor list for myself years ago. :) Thank you for sharing your beautiful paintings.

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