Ginnie Graham: Finding peace in three hours of watercolors | Columnists | – Tulsa World

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Columnist Ginnie Graham made a watercolor of daisies under the teaching of Jim Buchan.
Columnist Ginnie Graham holds a watercolor painting she created under the tutelage of artist Jim Buchan.
In almost three hours on a weekday afternoon, I created a watercolor painting that my family still cannot believe came from my hands.
“You did this? Really?” asked my son.
“I thought you got this from like an antique store or something,” my daughter marveled. “This came from you. Really?”
Yes, really, and I didn’t even have a glass of wine or paint-by-numbers to help out. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t coached at each step.
Watercolor instructor and artist Jim Buchan, a retired insurance executive, walked me through a session, explaining more about the medium than I knew and probably should have known.
It was news to me that the white on a watercolor is the absence of color. Or that color applied to a page spreads and bleeds to where water is placed. Much of what I did was strategically place water on a blank page and then lightly brush in the color.
Pretty soon terms like graded wash, dry brush, glazing and lifting were part of my vocabulary. No longer did I douse my brush in pigment like I learned in kindergarten. There is a subtle way to immerse tools with varying shades on a palette.
That sounds like common sense to many who appreciate and dabble in the visual arts but not to a person who has never been shown those techniques. It’s one thing to admire art. It’s a completely different thing when creating art.
Buchan offered this experience after reading of my quest to do new things during my 50th year of life, including making a painting worthy of hanging on a living room wall. He has spent more than those decades creating watercolor, so consider him a master.
He’s also a skilled teacher, patiently showing how to get a certain shade or shape. At one point he mentioned his high school wrestling days, making me certain he had excellent coaches. He knows how to cheer his students to an undeserved over-confidence.
When Buchan first showed the painting he had chosen for my inaugural exploration in watercolor, my dubiousness was apparent. My entire drawing skill set was acquired in a sorority making letters with big dots at the end. The notion that I could make an ethereal-like still life of daisies was ambitious.
“Don’t worry. You’ll be amazed at what you can do,” he said. (See what I mean about his being a coach of positive messaging?)
Buchan made it easy because he’s that good of a teacher. It started with tracing, something right in line with my abilities. But those lines were more guidelines than hard rules. He demonstrated paint mixing and had a practice page ready.
Time faded away.
The flower centers were first, followed by “feathering” stems in hues of greens and yellows. Broader brushes led to vanishing colors at the edges, and tips of brushes delineated the petals and leaves. Pretty soon, the whole thing started making sense.
It came down to deconstruction, breaking down the project to individual lines and shades. Watercolor is a forgiving genre, allowing for wiggle room in color experimentation.
The portrait was complete in what felt like only an hour, though it was twice that. My mind was fully engaged in how this puzzle was to be pieced together, but in a relaxing way.
It occurred to me later that this must be how some people view writing books or papers. When taking it in as a whole, it can be overwhelming. Approaching bit-by-bit makes it doable.
Again, it makes common sense, but I understood it only after doing it.
Arts education often takes a backseat to other academic disciplines such as science, math and reading. During times of budget cuts, which has been most of the years in Oklahoma since 2008, arts are particularly targeted. We can’t let that happen.
Buchan says he inherited his artistic skill from a Scottish grandfather, who was a self-taught oil painter. But at age 10, he started taking lessons at the Philbrook Art Center, reinforced by his high school art teacher. As an adult, his mentor was professional artist Hugh Walkingshaw, and he often attends workshops to learn more.
He says a person always needs a teacher in watercolor. No one just knows how to do this.
I agree. Having Buchan introduce me to this craft was essential. It’s why he’s president of the Green Country Watercolor Society (, which hosts events including painting studios, fine arts shows and juried shows.
Learning never ends, and the possibility of finding a new passion or interest never goes away.
This one afternoon reminded me how critical making art can be to a mind. It was low pressure but high reward and ended with a watercolor of daisies hanging in my home.
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Editorial Writer
Born and raised in Oklahoma, I’m an editorial writer for the Tulsa World Opinion section. Phone: 918-581-8376
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Columnist Ginnie Graham made a watercolor of daisies under the teaching of Jim Buchan.
Columnist Ginnie Graham holds a watercolor painting she created under the tutelage of artist Jim Buchan.
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