Watercolors as playtime: It’s good for creativity

There has been an emphasis in our culture about the importance of playtime. For me the subject first came into awareness after reading the book Exuberance: The Passion for Life by Kay Redfield Jamison. At one point she explained how vital it is for young animals to learn about life through play. It develops skills in a safe environment before being exposed to the actual threat. Play is practice for real life.

It’s been years since I read that book, but I pondered this idea today after playing with watercolors last night.

I find it difficult to use art supplies, which aren’t cheap, towards ‘just play.’ I know how vital it is to always create, to always try new techniques, to always push my skills. And most importantly, to be ok with making mistakes. This was easy to do in college. If my art did not turn out the way I anticipated, I still earned my ‘A’ in the class. I may have lost money, but I still received my reward.

Now if I make a mistake I can’t fix, I need to scrap a canvas or other art material. At that point I’m out money and I have nothing to show for it. That is high risk! And it also feels like waste. So how do I still practice, experiment and push my skills in a non-risky way?

This is where my watercolor supplies come in. A few nights ago, I was using my watercolors for color palette studies when it dawned on me that I should play with them. I should create some fun nature-inspired scenes out of my imagination. I have the watercolor paper. I have the tubes of paint. So, I asked myself, “Why not?”


Color palette by Cortney North Fine Art

Side note: The above photo is one of the color studies I tweaked that night. Those minty greens were my favorite part of the palette.  Any time I get to work with color combinations I feel like a kid who was let loose on the playground. I could spend hours in the color vortex!


Watercolor Grasses and Leaves by Cortney North Fine Art

This was the scene that appeared on my watercolor paper pad last night.

The whole process was relaxing. It was similar to doodling – though I’ve never been a big doodler with pen or pencils – but now I see why people do it. How did it take me this long to discover it? I guess I just happen to enjoy doodling with a paint brush! Allowing my imagination to flow free without criticism, without the worry of wasting paper, ink, paint, etc. was such a relief.

It was the closest I’ve come to creating like when I was a child – when we all create our most true art.

I’ll be doing this exercise religiously since it will strengthen my creativity, my skills as well as my mental state. It was therapy without a doubt! So, I guess if you see this as a case study on the importance of play in our lives, I can only agree wholeheartedly and encourage you to find some playtime too! Go out into the world – or your studio – and play!