How I Learned to Paint

I’m often asked how I learned to paint . . .

When I first moved to Martha’s Vineyard, Norman Rockwell was alive and well and living in his beloved Stockbridge, Massachusetts home. It occurred to me that I should probably try and go see him; I could picture myself walking up his driveway to shake his hand so clearly that it still seems it might have really happened.  The sensibilities behind his art were so wonderful, and exactly how I felt.  His paintings made me fall in love with his understanding and view of the human heart.  But of course, I never went there, I didn’t want to bother him.   Joe and I have now been to Stockbridge many times, have visited his museum and studio; I picked this stick up from the front yard of his studio to save.  One of my prized possessions.  My Norman Rockwell Stick.  I photographed it where it lives, on my art table, hopefully osmosing genius out into my studio (in my “House of Creativity”) like gamma rays. The paper it’s sitting on is one of the throw-away scraps I use to check colors on my brush and test my pen to make sure it isn’t going to drop a clump of ink on the watercolor I’m working on.  I like to think Norman Rockwell had one of these too. 

So I thought today, I might give you a tour of my watercolor world.  And you don’t have to come all the way to Martha’s Vineyard to see it, I’m only as far away as your computer!   Above, is a photo I took when I was working on the page I did to honor Tasha Tudor — this sweet corgi (hopefully like one of hers) and one of her lovely quotes  I did for my December 2011 calendar page. ♥ I’d never painted a corgi before, but now I would like to stop everything and ONLY paint corgi’s, he was so fun to do; his colors are beautiful, but my favorite is his nose!  Have you noticed that Corgis are like little tea tables?  They have such wide flat backs, they could be like a hassock or an end table.  You could put a tray on him. 

After I finish doing a page for a book or calendar, it gets scanned into the computer, which allows me future access to it (another computer miracle), and the original art goes into these acid-free boxes, and then into this huge old bank safe Joe found for me.  All the original pages for my books, along with everything I’ve ever painted, is stored here.  The problem is, we are going to need another one.

You know I only started doing watercolors just after I turned thirty?  It’s true.  I never knew I had that inside me.  Even though I paint almost every day now, it’s still a surprise to come into a whole room dedicated to the messes I make and to see my art table covered with paintboxes and brushes and know they’re mine.

I think it’s because I didn’t grow up with them.  I always loved to make things …. I especially loved to sew ~ a room filled with needles, thread, fabric and embroidery hoops would make more sense to me than the still-surprising sight of brushes and paint!  Now I design my own fabric and mix it up, sewing and drawing to make things like the dishtowel on the left.

I’ve always mixed up my hobbies.  I fell in love with the art of cooking in my twenties ~ I loved giving dinner parties, loved surprising people with banana cream pies and pots of bean soup.  After I started painting my girlfriend suggested I combine my watercolors with my recipes to make a cookbook.  I didn’t think I could write a book, but I knew that even if it was never published, I would still have the pages to give away for some nice Christmas presents!  So I decided I would try.  And it all turned into a very surprising career.

Sometimes I walk into my studio early in the morning, before the sun has come up…all quiet, birds singing in the rhododendren outside the window, or in the winter, when I paint to the hum of the furnace, with Girl Kitty and Jack on their pillows keeping me company, and a blank piece of paper in front of me, waiting for my brush and that first drop of color, and think about how this all came about.

This was the very first painting I ever did.  It was a plant sitting on my kitchen table; I filled a little pot with water, squeezed some watercolors from tubes into a plastic dish ~ watercolors I’d bought with a 30th birthday gift certificate to an art store.  I sharpened a pencil, sat down in front of this geranium and started drawing.  I had no idea what I was doing. I just looked at the plant and tried to put what I saw on the paper.  Everyone was shocked that it looked like a geranium!  I was shocked!  It was a geranium!  This was one of those life-changing moments that are sometimes only visible in the rear-view mirror.  One of the reasons I want to encourage people to “just try it” when it comes to watercolor (or any home art, cooking, sewing, quilting, knitting, scrapbooking, gardening)  is because I’m sure that this must have been inside me my whole life, and I had no idea.  I doodled just like anyone else, random squiggles; drawings of stick people; not the slightest inclination that there could be more. If this ability could be hiding inside me, it might be inside you. ♥  “Trying” has always been the most important word I know.  Nothing ventured, as they say so truly, nothing gained.

My mother put this crayon drawing in my baby book.  I was a star to her no matter what I drew.  Would you have looked at this crayon drawing and thought you should start saving to send the child to art school?  No.  More likely you would wonder what was going on with her right brain!  (Or maybe it’s her left, but something!  I should get it analyzed!)

Over the years, I found out that what really matters is practice!  In my 7th grade art class, we spent the entire semester drawing our thumbs!  Seriously, that’s what we did, left thumb stuck up in front of me, pencil in right hand; the teacher went over and over it, showing us how to really look at things, the curve, the edge, the shadows, the lines.  I got an A in that class, but I thought everyone did, it was an elective!  And I never took another art class.  I can still draw a good thumb if I want to. That’s what I mean about practice.  If you look at the art in my first book, Heart of the Home, and compare it to later work, like my newest calendar or the Autumn Book, you can see what a big help practice can be.

I’ve always painted the things around me.  Before I moved to Martha’s Vineyard and began to write books, I did little scenes of flower pots, baskets with apples, bowls of fruit, quilts, straw hats, my old stove, and my kitty; I hung them all over my kitchen, called them “Kitchen Art,” and gave them away as Christmas presents.  Soon my friends were asking to buy them, giving me confidence to do more and more.  My first painting sold to the outside world in a gallery on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills (I didn’t have the nerve to take my art there myself, a girlfriend did it for me.  I was jumping up and down happy about this — even the smallest successes build confidence which is just a huge help no matter what you do, just believing you can); after that I began to have local art shows in my little town in California.  I took Polaroid’s of the paintings as I did them, which is a good thing, because the paintings themselves are almost all gone.  I still have a few of my favorites.  These framed apples came with me from California to Martha’s Vineyard and hang in my kitchen now.

I still love using the things around me as my subjects, although you might not know it to look at this — probably a little hard to believe that these “birds” might be “around me.” (BTW, see that real feather lying on the paper? Inspiration!  And I know he’s not a real partridge, I just called him that, he’s actually a made-up bird!)  Here’s a 20 second video I took that explains . . . (they aren’t really my children :-))

I have worked a little from old photos too, especially for my mom.

This one became a greeting card, which I framed for my mom along with the original photo.

I’m often asked what kind of art supplies I use, so I thought I’d tell you.  These are my brushes, but I almost always use the smallest one, there in the middle.  It’s a # 1 Windsor Newton University Series 233. I was shocked the first time my brush wore out — who knew paintbrushes wore out?! Now I buy them by the fistfuls.

The paint comes from everywhere, including children’s paint boxes.  Actually I love any kind of paint box; Prang and Pelikan have been my favorites. I use watercolor paint tubes, like Holbein, Rowney or Grumbacher, I’m not particular about the brand, I just want as many colors as possible.  This is my collection of reds  and pinks. . . I never met a red paint I didn’t love.  I keep them in separate baskets, by color. To use them, you just squeeze out a little paint, mix it with water and voila!  So easy.  Everything I know about art, I learned in kindergarten.

The jar is Daler Rowney Pro White which I use when I make a mistake with the pen; I get it and lots of my other supplies at Blick.  I use two sizes of Rapidograph India ink pens to write with, a refillable Koh-i-noor drafting pencil to draw with, and then, the most important item in my arsenal, the eraser!  A soft white Staedtler.  A metal ruler is important too.  For paper, it’s Arches watercolor paper and for the pages of my books I use pads of smooth finish Bristol board.

I hope this helps someone out there who might be thinking of giving it a try. Watercolors are one of my dearest passions.  Rarely a day goes by that I don’t paint.  When I heard that song, ♫ Raven hair, ruby lips, sparks fly from her fingertips ♪, I said, hey, that’s me.  (Except for the hair and lips and the witchy woman part)

I’ve loved lettering forever, always got perfect marks for handwriting (it’s where I got my start).  This quote, one of my favorites, is for the new book I’m working on.

 I hope if you are thinking about trying watercolors, you might feel encouraged to give it a try.   Worse-case scenario is that you have special gifts to give, little watercolor notes to tuck into letters, or art that matches your house to hang on your wall; it’s really a win-win; making something beautiful is within reach of everyone and having something you can give is one of the secrets to a wonderful life.   xoxo

127 Responses to How I Learned to Paint

  1. suzanne says:

    I was ecstatic when I found this ‘tutorial’ by accident! Will you think about doing a little booklet on how you go about doing your artwork and writing?

  2. Rebekah says:

    Thanks so much for this post. You have always been my favorite designer ever since I found your stickers a few years back. I just recently discovered the art store blick and have been interested in watercolors. So excited to see this post. I have been a bit discouraged that all I could do was copy things around me instead of out of my head. Reading how you started watercolors inspires me to keep going. Your my Norman Rockwell. 🙂

  3. Cindy Garner says:

    Thank you so much for sharing…once again….. you definitely have inspired and encouraged me…..I have always tried sketching things even as a teenager, but not until the last few years did I even think maybe I was really sketching something….
    Last year, no the year before I think…yes, I bought myself your calendar for Christmas…loved it by the way…..because of it I was able to see and touch watercolor and actually think maybe I could try it.
    So for the past couple of Christmas’ I have given calendars of my watercolors……I love painting…{{{Yeah!!!!}}}
    So, again I thank you for sharing your gift….and your how to’s….

    be blessed,

  4. Emily B says:

    I came across this page on your website a few months back and you inspired me! I’m nearing thirty and have always wanted to take a painting class, but was worried that I was too old to start. After reading your site I signed up for a local watercolor class and am in my second week. I love it! Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. Michelle says:

    I love your lettering styles. Do you have any suggestions on sources for practice?

    • sbranch says:

      Because I’m not formally trained, I’m sorry, but I really don’t. I would think you could start with calligraphy books — and while you’re looking for them, you’ll probably happen upon other lettering books. I do love it myself, so I can understand your interest!

  6. Janet says:

    Hello Susan and Michelle – I’m not formally-trained either but have taken several university-level calligraphy classes and would like to offer a recommendation based on my experience. There are tons of resources available but Google or search “hand-lettering” if you are more interested in plainer, clearer styles, easy to read etc – and “calligraphy” if you prefer the heavily-ornate styles like medieval monks used to “illuminate” books and Bibles during the Middle Ages etc. I want to be able to letter as Susan does – not bloody likely – but have had much better luck when I looked for “hand-lettering” books and guides. Good luck and have fun! If you’re like me you will be shocked at the creativity that’s been inside you all this time – that you never dreamed was there…

  7. Hi Susan,

    Which of your 2011 calendars does the Tasha Tudor page appear? The wall calendar? I’ll have to hunt that one down!

  8. Lynda Anscombe says:

    Susan, I admire you and your work, I just love to watercolor on cards that I make and have to say that you inspire me every time I read your emails. Thank you.

  9. Diane says:

    Thank you for sharing your life, talent, and spirit with us. I too am an artist, I have been to Rockwell’s studio and take inspiration from You and Norman! How do you find the time to get all that you do- done? I have projects waiting….

  10. PauliJ says:

    Dear Susan, I love the way you have links sprinkled throughout your August 2012 Williard. I was so delighted to find this one! 🙂

    I raised eight wonderful children, the final one leaving the “nest” last September (2011). I have been dabbling in watercolor for a few years now, and have talked a friend into trying to watercolor paint, though we are both in our 60’s now! She is amazed at what talent and creativity she had inside 🙂

    I have admired your work since discovering your first book, and I have searched for your products through the years; I love having your website and blog available now, and I look forward with happy anticipation to your Willard!

    I appreciate you sharing how you learned to paint; it is VERY encouraging. I had a drawing instructor tell me the same thing about needing to copy things in the beginning. Now I am proud of myself when I can copy something to look similar to the “model.” I am also happy when my very young, barely talking grand children, can recognize a cat or horse or flower or pig or turtle, etc. that I draw from memory! 🙂 Thank you for the encouragement to practice.

    Blessings and joy to you!

    • sbranch says:

      Mom of eight children, there is a special place for you in heaven . . . just like my mom! xoxo Thank you Pauli!

  11. Vickie Adams says:

    Thank you SOOO much for the info on the supplies you use to paint. I’ve been in a 5 or 6 year drought from my watercolors and didn’t know how much I miss it til I read your piece. Just looking at all the paints and brushes and pens, and especially the “paintings in progress” you showed made me smile and want to get started again using the fun things you use. I love, love, love your art and the wonderful quotes you use-I have journals filled with quotes (lots from your books and calendars). Thanks for Willard and your blog, and for all the sweetness and inspiration. Wish I could come over for tea and cookies, say hi to the kitties and paint a little. I hope to be just like you “when I grow up” (I’m 62, but who’s counting?)

  12. I want to share a wonderful little book I just discovered–Julia Cameron’s 2004 “Answered Prayers — Love Letters from the Divine”. This morning when I read, “Hope is an unmet friend, a source of strength” I immediately thought of you and imagined you lovingly watercoloring it.

  13. Lisa Nelson-Jones says:

    SOOO glad you put a link to this, I am so fascinated by your inspirations, your drawings, colors, just…YOU! I admire you so very much, you live so close in my heart to Beatrix Potter! (So glad you also liked my “little Potter books” too on Twitter 🙂 ) I was just looking at the old “Snail Mail” Willards the other day, and was wondering if you still had your little house next door that was your studio (“House of Creativity”) b/c I keep thinking you work out of your “Music Room” art studio in your house? I keep that in mind for my own inspiration for when my husband and I get to purchase our first little house one day, I want one of my “must haves” to be a room for MY art studio! You are just so inspirational, and I just adore you! Thank you for your lovely gifts of art, cherished by not only me, I know, but all of us “girlfriends!”

    • sbranch says:

      Thank you so much Lisa! Getting a “room of my own” didn’t happen for me overnight, it was gradual … first I had to believe I deserved one! When we moved out to California in 2000, we sold the house next door, but the house of creativity turns out to be any house I’m in! Sold the house, kept the creativity!

      • Lisa Nelson-Jones says:

        You of all people most certainly deserve it!! And am I ever grateful that you do have one so that you can keep on inspiring us, wowing us, and making US feel deserving and special! I can’t believe it’s been 12 years since you moved to California…seems like such a short time ago! Wow, time does fly! I am so glad your back “home” though on MV. It just seems to suit you and Joe 🙂

  14. Pat P. ,Ingram says:

    I, like you, have always had this yearning to paint..Finally did and just love it. In my later years I am a little sloer doing it but I still have most of my supplies. Your art has made me a collector of all you sell. Love your outlook on life and the fact that we so love the same things..You are just wonderful. Thank you for sharing. You and Willard.

  15. Doreen says:

    Your site brings so much joy. Your sharing of loving, detailed memories then tweaks our rush of memories. I’ll be retiring soon and your words, drawings and paintings, have inspired me to pick up a brush that I relinquished long ago. Thank you so much, Susan. You are such a creative treasure!

  16. Ginger says:

    Hi Susan,

    I have loved your artwork for years and thank you for following your heart. I used to cook some your recipes but have been put on a very strict diet similar to Bill Clinton’s by my doctor. Anyway…I thought I was all alone but discovered there is a large community of us herbivores out there. But…the cookbooks publish recipes that aren’t that great. The books themselves are sort of plain and ugly. Inspired by you, I am learning to draw and paint and handletter so I can write a plant-strong, dairy, egg, soy, gluten, and oil-free cookbook although it might take years to finish. Thank you again for sharing your passion and inspiring so many of us to follow you.

    • sbranch says:

      Well if what happens to you is the same as what Happened to Bill Clinton, where do I go to sign up? Right now, even as we speak, I have a gluten-free Polenta Cake in the oven! So it sounds like I’m off to a good start. I love your passion! Go for it Ginger! We need it!

  17. Cheyenne Renard says:

    I have checked out the art supply situation my self. If you have any suggestions please do include i love the blue like the one around the blog and the pretty pink, im a pink girl. Are u ever moving back to CAlifornia or are u in MV for good now. I love all your things and i would love to get some china like the tea pot and the cups so will be going back to work then i can shop for my self. Love to you and kisses for Joe and the fur babies. God Bless you, im going to try my hand at Watercolor but will probley have to copy at first until i can do it my self.Thank you for the blog and all your time involved in it. I want to write you and i still have ur letters from a few years ago, since i was also mentioned in the Willard newsletter i show every one who knows about you im a willardette star and loving it , love to you post some more pictures of your trip and the fur babies at play and having fun they make me smile i showed others how darn cute the fur babies are and to go to your blog and if they would like to purchase a gift for any one to go to the store on line. if i show at least one a week that should add up again Thank you I want some of the recipes from your books that i dont have help ? if there is any way to post some of the dererts so i can make them with out the book i do have your books probley 4 but gonna change that also. Hello to Joe and hope he is having a great Birth month its his month to shine seriously What day is your BD i have April 13th i feel that is off please let me know ok God Bless you and yours

  18. Suzanne Branch says:

    I was looking myself up and found you. Funny. I was an English teacher. My boss said that I was to be part of an Annanberg Program and get an artist to work with my 10 th grade class once a week. We got a water colorist, Kim Ng, to teach us to water color for ten weeks. That was 12 years ago. I’ve been painting ever since (though not as we’ll as you).
    She now comes to my temple and teaches mini lessons to us old timers ( we’re 60 to about 85). People say it must be relaxing. I disagree. I think it’ s stimulating. When we finish our paintings, Kim photographs them and we give the cd to the printer to make cards. They’re colorful and we make some money.

  19. Cheri says:

    Hi Susan,
    I’ve been reading your past blog about watercolor, loved all the comments.

    I have to share. Went on a cruise & they had an art class, watercolor, every other day.
    What a wonderful time we had. Great teacher, lots of laughs and how great it was to be mixed in with others that had never done watercolor & by the end of the cruise we were all so proud of our accomplishments and future fun with a new love for art in our lives.
    There were some that did beautiful work and some (Me) not so visually beautiful but certainly brought beauty into my heart & soul.
    My home now has an array of brushes & paints to enlighten my life my new found energy & enjoyment. On with brush-to-paint-to paper, Cheri

  20. Jennifer says:

    I have loved your art and books and you since your very first book! I’m about to turn 40 and can’t wait to start painting! <3

  21. Shirley Liotta says:

    Dear Susan, Several years ago, I purchased a blank cookbook for my daughter. Recently, I purchased another blank one for my sweet 12 yr. old grand daughter. I filled my daughter’s with favorite recipes. I left my grand daughter’s blank for her to fill with her own recipes. Each book has beautiful watercolor drawing in them. Are they your drawing? I was so impressed with them, I have started a watercolor class. Thank you, Shirley

    • sbranch says:

      Yes, I think they might be — at lease I have designed books like the ones you’re describing. So happy you’re taking watercolor!

  22. Barbara Swan Thorson says:

    I have been neglecting my watercolors. I am getting inspired again by the watercolor site on Facebook.
    Thank you for your blog. It is thoroughly enjoyable.

  23. Roxanne says:

    I was just sent your blog. It is great and very inspiring. I am learning watercolor and I love this meduim. I am a fan of yours and I will pass this on to my friends.

  24. Joyce says:

    Hi Susan….I just “happened” across your page…..I LOVE your style! I paint, but you have given me new inspiration 🙂

    Thank you SO much!

    • sbranch says:

      It’s funny because suddenly this morning there are maybe ten or so new comments on this “How I learned to paint” page, new people like yourself Joyce, makes me wonder where everyone is coming from? Very nice though, nice to meet you all! 🙂

  25. Janet Burdick says:

    I am thrilled to find your blog on Facebook. I have just seen your work for the first time. Your work and writing are inspiring me. When my broken right arm (yes, I am right handed) heals I know I will feel like getting back to painting because of seeing your work. I have not painted in over a year (since I had some different medical problems), but I am looking forward to picking up my pencils and pastels again. I also look forward to seeing more of your artwork and reading your blog. Thank you!

  26. Sue Segal says:

    Hi Susan,
    Would you please tell me about the palettes I see in your photo? They seem to hold many colors. Do you buy them empty and fill with your tubes of paint?

    • sbranch says:

      My round palettes hold ten colors each, and the rectangular one with round and square spaces holds 24 colors, I fill all of those from tubes — the larger rectangular palettes you see are mostly paintboxes that come with the paints already in them. Hope this helps.

  27. Very interesting blog. You only discovered watercolor painting when you were 30, amazing! I started with oils at the age of 15, self taught, worked with them over the years, intermittently worked with acrylics. I truly wanted to learn to make watercolor work for me, as it was on my “bucket list.” So after retiring from the work world I decided to take a beginners course at our local Art Center. It was fun but before the class ended (5 whole lessons) I was ready to PAINT!! that was in 2007 and I’ve painted watercolor ever since. Why do I like it? It’s the challenge and is totally backwards from all I taught myself in oils! So, my dear, I found watercolor at age 63 and I love it.

  28. Tracey says:

    I enjoyed reading this SO much and it was just the inspiration I needed to get back to my own studio. I haven’t been up there in a while, reading your blog post really made me wanting to get up there and start playing around again. I has have gotten some great ideas on a few little projects to work on~ thanks so much for sharing!

  29. I wanted to thank you for posting this. As a homeschooling mom, that is back in school after 25yrs, I know that our inner artist is NEVER extinguished. I’ve had my career, I’ve raised a family, and now I’m following my dream to be an artist. I’m not doing it to be famous or rich (although a little extra vacation or home remodel money is ALWAYS appreciated). No, I’m doing it because art makes my heart happy. I tell everyone that will listen: You are NEVER TOO OLD to follow your dreams. To me, that means picking up a paintbrush, pencil, pastel stick, or willow charcoal. I encourage anyone that is reading this blog to follow your heart. If you want to make art, find the time. YOU CAN DO IT! -Shan 🙂

    My beginnings over these first 3 semesters back in school. Like Susan, I think it is important to keep a photograph of your work. This is especially true as you improve. It is always a joy to get over a challenge in art, and be proud of my work. Here is a FB link to my beginnings (I hope it is okay to post this, Susan):

  30. Melary Wolf says:

    It made my day to find your site. My great grand-girl and I loved looking at it. She loves art and is a great little artist like you were when you were young. She drew a portrait of me….. so adorable. Its my life’s treasure! You have always been such an inspiration to me. Have one of your books and have 3 pictures in my kitchen. Thank you for being you!

    • sbranch says:

      One of my first attempts was a pencil drawing of my grandmother, which she, of course, framed. I know how your little great grand girl felt!

  31. Susan E Hoffman says:

    I know why your mom kept that childhood drawing … what other child draws a navel? That shows great observation for someone so young.
    Love your narrative! Thanks for sharing.

  32. Audrey Haselman says:

    I am 80, and still painting. I started, when I retired, at age 62. I learned by taking workshops.I think any can learn, if they practice. Your advice is very good. Art, brings happiness, and joy to everyone that does it. Thank you.

  33. The read is so encouraging and enlightening! I have dabbled in water colors and love every minute of painting,trying,trying to get the end result that I would like. Will be on the look out for anything with your name,to learn. Thank you .

  34. Don F Bradford says:

    Love watercolor!
    Great enjoyment and most fun medium.

  35. Jean Glowicki says:

    Your posting really struck a cord with me. I have been sitting on my thumbs ever since my husband passed a year and a half ago. I’ve felt like I’ve lost my creative “mo-jo” along with him. I suppose that’s because he was my best supporter. I hope I can now get back up, dust myself off and pick up my paint brush again. I’ll be checking out your blogs for sure. Thanks for sharing.

    • sbranch says:

      Maybe he can be your reason too, to get it back. He would love that for you. Wishing you all the best. xoxo Susan

  36. Judith says:

    I found this post from the Watercolor Painting Club page on fb and couldn’t agree more with you abut practice… I only started painting in my 40’s and can honestly say I was simply terrible!!! But, practice and desire have got me to where I am now… not brilliant but a whole lot better. Out of interest thought you might like to read my take on talent here

    Am sure it will strike some chords with you.

  37. So lovely ponsting! Thanks so much for it! Congratulations!
    I love watercolor too!

  38. Penny Harrison says:

    Thank you for sharing – it’s encouraging! I’m having trouble getting re-started after several years of having to put my love of painting watercolors aside – you are an inspiration to me!

  39. Tracey says:

    Susan, What are the two sizes you like using the most for your Rapidograph? I was looking and wasn’t sure what size to pick up~ thanks for any help

    • sbranch says:

      My two favorite are .25 and .30. The cases all have different colors on them, the .25 is the brown and the .30 is the yellow. Hope this helps.

  40. Tracey says:

    It does help I was wondering about the sizes since I hadn’t used these before ~ and I am going to pick some up, thank you for posting back this information~ 🙂

  41. Susan Hamman says:

    Susan, I was wondering what type of watercolor paper you like to use? Also do you do wet on wet technique or just paint onto dry paper? I’m a beginner and you inspire me to create something and that’s a wonderful thing! Thank you!

    • sbranch says:

      I paint on dry paper — and usually it’s very flat and smooth. Unless I want to paint something to hang on the wall, then it’s bumpy watercolor paper. If you go to the top of the blog and click on ABOUT ME, you’ll see a drop down where it says My Art Studio — click on How I learned to Paint for more inspiration. xoxo

      • Susan Hamman says:

        Thank you so much! I have one other question about paint. My head is spinning after looking at all the different options of watercolor paints available 🙂 I was curious as to what brand of paintbox the one with all the pretty bright colors shown above is? Those colors just speak to me! Are those harder to use than the ones that come in tubes? That watercolor tutorial you have mentioned doing before would be wonderful for a beginner like me! I love your art and would be so blessed to learn from you.

        • sbranch says:

          They are all easy to use. You just dip your brush in water and swirl it in the paint, and voila! That box (I got it at Michael’s Crafts) has turned out to be a bit iffy for me. Because I like to draw the art in pencil first, and then paint it, and sometimes after that I erase it to remove any strange pencil lines. That box has a few colors in it that will smear with an eraser — even after days of drying. I’ve never seen any other box or tube of paint do that. If you want a good paint box, go on line and look for Pelikan brand. Have fun!

        • Susan Hamman says:

          One more question though about the Pelikan paint box….I noticed they come in transparent and opaque. After doing some reading, I’m guessing opaque might be more versatile. Do you have any advice on opaque vs transparent?

          • sbranch says:

            Mine are mostly transparent, but you can read about it here.

          • Susan Hamman says:

            Thank you so much Susan. I did mean to say transparent seems to be more versatile….which is what I ordered and cant wait to receive and use. Thank you for the website recommendation….wonderful information there that I will refer back to. My children are older now and my husband and I will soon be empty nesters, which is leaving me time to pursue drawing and painting which is filling me with both joy and trepidation 🙂 We only live once though so I’m jumping in with both feet lol.
            Thank you for your help and inspiration. I am so very grateful! Sue

          • sbranch says:

            Most important thing to remember, you get better with practice — you really do!

  42. Paula Ann Fetherston says:

    Don’t dismiss your artwork you did as a child. The detail on the figure
    shows an artful maturity (unless of course you drew it last year! -kidding, kidding). The ears, cheeks, navel(!), and trunk divided into two parts are
    all examples of this. It is interesting that you filled out the arm and leg
    on the right side (or left of the figure) and made the arm and leg on the
    other side sticks.
    All in all, very telling of what was to come!

    • sbranch says:

      Why do you think I only did the arm and leg on one side? I always think it had something to do with the right and left brain!

  43. Rich says:

    OMG am a frustrated artist…really!

    Your works looks wonderful 🙂

    • sbranch says:

      It happens to all of us, part of the job, I call it “the foundation for the creation.” Something’s coming . . .

  44. Amanda Rose says:

    What a darling post, Susan! I just turned 29, and the rush of watercolor love that has hit me is astounding. Looking back, I see hints over the years that I would love it, but it never really stuck. Paper crafting, collaging, and stamping are more my focus, but watercolor…I didn’t know how much I’d love it. 🙂 Might I ask…how you “broke into” making calendars and books? When did that happen in relation to your first geranium painting?

    • sbranch says:

      I was 30 when I did my first geranium painting — then I made lots of presents for my friends, and painted lots of paintings for my walls. I started writing my first book when I was about 35 and it was published when I was 39 in a very lucky and unexpected set of circumstances. I’m so glad you’ve discovered yourself happy in the wonderful world of watercolor!

  45. Good morning, It is a pleasure to be able to read about your process. Thanks you for giving us the gift of your home and passion. I am a poet and thinking about illustrating my book with my own art.. I am planning on doing my first one digitally, although I love actual paper and books. Perhaps that will come later..
    Thank you for sharing you insiration with us and Paint On!

  46. Anne Sion says:

    I just purchased your 2014 calendar. So cute! I have loved your books over the years and the artwork along with the recipes has always been like a little bonus…I am picking up the paintbrushes again…at 59 after 30+ years…it’s almost like a calling…”OK, Anne…time to paint now…weird…” Merry Christmas!

  47. Bren Warren says:

    I know some time has passed since this post, but I’m just finding it tonight. Thank you so much for this! I’m just starting with watercolors, and am looking forward to my first geranium! I’ve admired your work for years. Thank you for all you do, and your very generous spirit in sharing it and your process with the rest of us.

  48. Barb Kile says:

    I’ve been a Fan for a VERY long time, now since retiring from doing High Tea’s and Formal Lunches for nineteen years and a floral gift shop for over twenty five years I’m ready to begin a new adventure. Drawing and painting is something I have always wanted to do, but never enough hours in a day. I am SOOOOO excited to have found you and can hardly wait to begin !!! Sending Blessings your way !!! Barb Kile

  49. gail says:

    Hi Susan,

    I always loved the way your paintings become part of the text and borders on your book pages. For some time I’ve borrowed your style by adding little pictures and messages to the back of greeting card envelopes. I love personalizing them for birthdays and holidays. This year I practiced for a long time drawing sleighs for the flap edge of the envelopes. Practice does really help.

  50. Gayle says:

    I have been a fan of yours for many., many years. I probably own nearly half of your cookbooks and *love* them! I have always admired your style and was thrilled to death to find this post! I am going to take a crack at watercolors – something I dabbled in years ago but never took very far. I am so excited to try it again. Thanks for all the details and all the encouragement!

  51. lynn bowes says:

    I’m a little late to this party and should have been here much earlier! I’m a metalsmith and lapidary who has been challenging herself to get back to drawing and painting. Lo and behold, I still know how to draw! I find my colored pencil work to be hugely satisfying and such a brain-departure from metal (however, drawing metal and reflection is my ‘thing’, go figure).

    Now I’m taking basic watercolor lessons and just having a ball with the difference in control (or lack of!) and working in a completely different type of medium. My work is generally tight and structured and here I find a medium that is more fluid (duh – water). We can all have different techniques and still get pleasing results whether tight or loose and this mind-stretch is sweet. You inspire me. Love your work. Cannot WAIT to cruise through your blog a bit more!

    best :: lynn

  52. Vicki Groves says:

    Hi Susan

    I have just discovered you when getting my daily fix of watercolour painting demos on UTube. I am very much a beginner at watercolours. I noticed when you painted a flower (can’t remember the name sorry) you were using what looked like a mop (brush). Can you tell me the sizes you were using. I only own a Size 3. The biggest I can see that I can get on “Dick Blick’s ” site is a Size 8. But I think yours was a Size 14. Do you know of any suppliers that do the bigger mops? I live in New Zealand.

    By the way, isn’t Bellagio a magical place. I think I walked up that lane you painted. I think you are super talented.

    Take care,


    • sbranch says:

      I really hate to tell you this Vicki, because I think I would LIKE to be the artist you are writing about — but I don’t use big brushes and I’ve never been to Bellagio — I would love to go there, perhaps you get inspired to find the biggest brush to paint flowers when you are there. Good luck with your art . . .

  53. Priscilla Low says:

    Hi Susan, thanks for telling me about this section which I never would’ve found! It’s wonderful, love your story of how you began,very inspiring! gotta try doing some watercolor, guess it’s never too late to start!

  54. Ricki says:

    A little update on a little girl . I took Naomi (8) to Michaels. She has worked diligently since then on drawing and painting and cutting and all manner of projects. Today she was looking at your Summer Book and hair in her eyes and red paint on her face she said, “Grammies, would you please ask Susan to do a book for us little children.” She drew a picture of you jumping out of a red airplane.,.parachute and all. I saw black and purple round things in the sky,….that was a storm coming. I said you didn’t like to fly anymore. She said , “Well, can you blame her.”

  55. Nancy Jones says:

    I found this very informative and I’m taking notes for my daughter who loves to draw but is shy about watercolors. I’m going to share this with her and I hope she will continue her drawings as she enters High School next year and doesn’t get dissuaded by others who tell her that she can’t make a living from being an Artist. Keeping my fingers and toes crossed!

  56. Linda says:

    I just discovered your blog site. You started at age 30, I just started a few months ago at the age of 61, soon to be 62. I could draw since I can remember. But in high school, I gave up an art class to a math class. You know those required classes in order to graduate. Never took another class. Only did a little sketching and tole painting for a couple years many years ago. I was inspired by a friend on facebook who does wonderful soft pastels. The last time I picked up a pastel stick was at the age of 17. Went and bought a small box and that led to the watercolours. I have a local friend who is an oil artist and she pushed me into classes with her at a studio. She being the instructor. Now I have so many paintings floating in my brain. Hope I have enough time to do most of them.

    I very much enjoyed the tour. Thank you for sharing.

    • sbranch says:

      That’s the biggest problem with us late bloomers, that we have enough time! Happy for you Linda!

  57. Sue Hamman says:

    Hi Susan,
    Could you please tell which Koh-i-noor mechanical pencil you use? I have to sketch out what I’m going to paint first but many times my sketch shows through. I was thinking of trying out the koh-i-noor. Thanks for your help and all your inspiration! Btw I am loving the Pelican brand paints you recommended 🙂

    • sbranch says:

      Pencil? Or pen? Lately I’m just using a Dixon Ticonderoga #2 Pencil–it’s the Koh-i-noor pens I use.

  58. Sue Hamman says:

    Oh, ok my mistake. Thanks for your help 🙂

  59. Dear Susan, I hate to ask you another question because you have so many comments to read and respond to but I’m so stumped. I tried drawing a little flower with a pencil and then I watercolored it in and I loved the way it looked. Then I let it dry and when I thought it was dry, I tried erasing the pencil lines with a big white eraser and it erased the color too!! I saw you say something above about a cheap paint box. Mine is a cheap watercolor set. Do you think that’s why it did that? So more expensive watercolors won’t erase when you erase the pencil? Thanks! I’m a total newbie at anything watercolor related!

    • sbranch says:

      Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s the problem. It’s actually very rare in my experience, but throw the box away when it happens because they are just going to irritate you forever! You can still buy paint in boxes, but probably not the very inexpensive ones. Look for good names like Pelikan. Or go with tubes.

  60. “One of the reasons I want to encourage people to “just try it” when it comes to watercolor…” people limit themselves… when within… there are no limits. One of my friends took a workshop. He had always just sort of sneaked up on a paining… a really pale under-painting… good as long as his eyes were 20-20. Then one day… in a workshop… he remembered a line from the movie Risky Business… ‘sometimes you just gotta say… what the heck (I’ve cleaned it up). And his paintings now are live with bolts of can’t miss color. Your observations about the mental side of watercolor painting… the warriness, the disbelief in one’s talent, the not approaching what could have been a magnificent mentor… Norman Rockwell… speak to the heart of the artist. Thank you.

  61. Mike Peirson says:

    Hello Susan….

    I loved reading what you have written and what you have painted. I am learning watercolours and every little thought or idea just makes life easier. I have found also that practise is what makes you a better painter, and of course lots of paper to mess up. I have kept all of my paintings from the start and can see that I have improved a lot since I started. Thank you for lots of inspiration that I have gained here.

  62. Ann Marie Sapowsky says:

    Hello Susan – I was just in need of a picker upper and am sitting at my computer and said to myself, “I need to look at Susan Branch’s artwork, that will make me happy!!!” My mother was an artist before she passed away from Alzheimers and I just lost my father, so I was feeling sad. My house is full of my mother’s water colors and I love them!!! After reading this blog, I may just start experimenting – who knows…maybe my mother passed along her gift and I just don’t know it. Your art work is amazing and I thank you for sharing your gift with us all.

    • sbranch says:

      I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. Trying is a great idea. I never imagined I could paint, and yet, there it was!

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