Completing a watercolor sketch with a beer, in an hour may just be a way to wake up a dozing Muse or enliven a painting spirit!

As a watercolor artist who has been painting and teaching for over thirty five years, I will admit to knowing quite a lot about the subject. I even wrote a book about it that retains its amazon 4.6 rating with 63 customer reviews in spite of being out of print for nearly nine years. Still, sometimes knowing how to do and doing are quite different things. There are times when one’s Muse feels far away. (include link to ebook)

A Muse is ‘a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist’. Suddenly you notice it – a new idea, a new thought or image appears as a personal intuitive spark. Steven Spielberg says, ‘your human personal intuition always whispers. It never shouts. Very hard to hear.” You have to really pay attention in order to hear the whisper. The Muse.

To me it felt like my Muse had disappeared when my beloved husband Frank died unexpectedly in 2014. My painting and teaching had been so much of our life together and suddenly I didn’t want to paint and even wondered if I would remember how. In my deep grief I turned away from art to writing and journaling.

Several months passed. My first visitors in 2015 were longtime friends from another time in my life. As part of their visit with me, I planned to show them a favorite place on the Pacific Ocean – just south of Uvita and about an hour drive from my Costa Rica house. As we were packing the car, a subtle whisper in the back of my mind suggested that I bring along a sketch book. It might be useful while I waited for them to explore the warm Pacific waves. Hastily I grabbed an empty backpack (Frank’s) and tossed in a cheap sketchbook and a few other things. And off we went.

After our lunch of seared fresh tuna at Villa Leonor, I walked with them down a favorite path to the beach. The quiet stream next to the path offered rippling reflections and sometimes a floating flower. As my friends ran off excitedly toward the crashing waves, I turned back on the path to the Villa Leonor bar to wait for them. A dangling dead palm frond caught my eye – the graceful shape partially submerged in the shallows of the stream. It was graceful and beautiful in its death. Instinctfully I pulled my iphone from my pocket and caught the photo. The image played in my mind while I walked back to the bar. I thought about Frank. And death. And the undulating reflections and graceful shapes.

There was a table off to the edge, just beyond the group of laughing ExPats on bar stools and below a swirling fan where I felt safe, cooler and more private. When Tomas approached I ordered ‘un Imperial Light en vaso con hielo, por favor’ – a Costa Rican light beer in a glass with ice. I had a few minutes to look at my iphone image and long enough to catch the whisper of my Muse. “Paint it. Paint it quickly.”

The photo showed them all – the lovely shapes and reflections and dancing light and colors. I knew from experience that if I allowed myself to analyze it from a left-brained technical artist perspective, I would be already imagining the layered under washes, the careful brushwork, the combination of wet into wet and wet onto dry applications and multiple glazes. I would need good paper, several good brushes and more time. And just as fortunately – I had none of that.

My Muse could not have set things up better. In my backpack was a Canson 7” x 10” sketchbook, two brushes and an old palette containing dried up paints I hadn’t used for a long long time. I didn’t even have a pencil. And I knew my friends would be returning in about an hour. The dwindling iphone battery prevented me from studying the photo too long or too often. The two brushes guaranteed I would stay out of control – a ¾” flat wash brush and a rigger. The sketchbook paper was cheap and not receptive for watercolor, further reducing my expectations. The paints mostly revived with some water and fortunately included cobalt blue, ultramarine turquoise by Daniel Smith, Quinacridone Siena and New Gamboge among others. Sipping the iced beer relaxed me just enough to plunge in and the time limit of about an hour pushed me to paint fast and loose and not to care about it. Perfect.

I stopped painting with the last sip of my now diluted beer just as my friends returned. The sketch was loose, passionate, direct and not overworked. And the best part was how I felt! The plan enabled me to wriggle past my authoritative and judgmental left brain into the freer territory of my intuitive right brain where shapes and patterns and color played together in spontaneous abandon.

The one hour watercolor sketch with a beer plan was created!

I now keep a backpack hanging near my door and ready to go. Inside was my low expectation sketchbook, a collapsible water container, a palette of paints, two brushes and one pencil. No eraser. I knew I could always drive the seven minutes down to Papas de Paramo and find a table and look around. Something to paint would catch my eye. Or I could scroll through photos on my iphone… And then I would order my beer and begin. After an hour or until the beer was finished – whichever came first – I was done.

My one hour painting sketches with a beer are varied and error riddled. And they are also fresh. colorful and alive. Just like my Muse.