Uniting watercolourists from across the world, Charlie O’Shields invites you to share your watercolour artworks and become part of the biggest, online watercolour society in the world. Showcasing a breadth of approaches to watercolour, from urban sketching and plein-air painting to stylish illustrations and everyday drawings, Doodlewash encourages everyone to pick up a paintbrush and give watercolour a try!
We caught up with Charlie to find out more about his love of watercolour and the inspiration behind the World Watercolor Group...
Hi Charlie! How did you come up with the online watercolour community, Doodlewash? Where did it all begin?
Hello, it’s a pleasure to chat with you! Well, it all started back in the summer of 2015 when my partner was trying out watercolour painting and I thought, “That looks like fun! I want to try it too!” Turns out it was super fun, so I got really excited about it and made a blog, where I started posting whatever little thing I made that day. I guess you could say it all started with a tree as that’s the first painting that I ever made with watercolour. I was so proud of that tree, I even signed it. But I didn’t feel like my watercolour sketches were quite paintings or quite drawings so I coined the term "Doodlewash" and just called them that instead.
Kind of took the pressure off as well. There wasn’t really anyone to see my little doodle washes back then, but it gave me a bit of a routine and I was able to form a daily painting habit. Not wanting to go it alone, and with my mounting enthusiasm for the medium, I tried to get everyone I knew to give watercolour a go as well. Everyone, except our dog, he just wasn’t interested in following such creative pursuits, preferring to rearrange the stuffing in plush toys instead. Each art journey is always unique. After a bit of time, I started posting images from my friends and their friends, and then from artists that I met online. The first artist I featured on my blog was Julia Milner from the U.K. and soon more and more artists followed.
I didn’t set out to build a community at first. I was simply looking for others out there who loved the medium as much as I did. I tried urban sketching and loved it, but I couldn't commit to only painting in that way, meaning, directly from life. So on the days I was using a photo I took at the zoo, I was no longer an urban sketcher, but my style was too loose and sketchy to be a studio painting and I used my pen too much for groups wanting “pure” watercolour.
My writing looks like it was made by a three year old first learning his marks, so I didn’t really want to keep making proper art journals. I adored everything that I saw everyone else make in these groups, but I just didn’t quite fit in any one of them. Then it struck me that I might not be alone in this. I wondered if there was a way to bring all of these very different types of painters and sketchers together into a single group. A group focused not on how we use the medium, but simply a celebration of the medium itself, allowing for any use of watercolour one can imagine. I wasn’t sure a group this unfocused would be much of a success, but it seems to be working quite well!
What first drew you to watercolour as a medium?
I’ve always loved drawing, but missed playing with colour. I had only ever tried painting with acrylics before, back in the early ’90’s when I went to art school. I was perfectly rubbish at it, hated the mess, and left thinking that painting of any kind simply wasn’t for me. My focus at the time was photography and computer graphics, so it wasn’t a horrible feeling, just something I accepted about myself and moved on. When I first tried watercolour years later, in that summer of 2015, it felt like I’d found my home again. I loved everything about it. The way the colours swirled in the water and on the paper, painting along with you as though nature had picked up her own brush to help out. It was such a peaceful and wonderful feeling, even though my first creations weren’t particularly awesome. It calmed me and gave me a way to unwind from a stressful day at the office. Good stress, mind you, but I grew excited to get home and reach for my brush again. It’s an incredible feeling when you find that medium that speaks to your artistic soul.
I love to write as well. My portion of Doodlewash consists of little illustrations that accompany my stories. I’ve been making both a daily watercolour sketch and story each day since I first started on July 3, 2015. I don’t have a lot of time each day, but I always set aside a little hour or more to paint and write. Watercolour allows me to quickly add colour to my sketches and with all this practice, I’ve gotten even faster over time. Speed isn’t necessarily a goal for all, but I love doing an entirely new painting each day. It’s fun, and works seamlessly with my notoriously short attention span.
My subjects tend to be bits of everyday life, with a lot of focus on food since I love to eat, and shiny things because I just love painting them. I’m really just sketching stuff and rambling on about whatever pops into my head at the time. It’s become my live art journal and everything you see appear there literally just happened moments before it was posted. I like to talk about my childhood a lot because I think that seeing life through the eyes of a child and letting yourself play a bit is important in art.
Your manifesto chimes beautifully with our mission to help everyone realise their creative potential. What was it about watercolours that you felt made it accessible to everyone?
At the time I wrote that, I was feeling like I was getting hit with a lot of don’ts when I visited other groups, so I wanted to create a list of only do’s. It was more about giving myself permission to create whatever the heck I wanted, but it’s been rewarding to see it resonating with a lot of other artists as well across the globe. Early on, I was working with a little $10 tin of Reeves watercolours and having a blast! I didn’t need a large studio or a lot of extra supplies to make something. Just that little red tin, a brush, a pen, and some paper. My entire art studio is still a small corner of my kitchen counter and can be thrown in the front pocket of my bag so it’s with me all the time.
I’m currently using a tin of 12 Sennelier paints I bought in Paris (changing out a few of the colours), an Escoda size 2 brush, a couple Lamy Safari Al Star pens with black and sepia ink, and a little A6 Hahnemühle Watercolour Book. That’s it, except a little cup of water, of course. What I learned was that if you just forget about trying to create a masterpiece and enjoy the process, it’s always just a heck of a lot of fun! Anyone can make something that looks rather pretty with watercolour. It’s just a gorgeous medium.
My good friend Aesha has hosted a couple Doodlewash Dinner Parties, where everyone comes and eats, drinks and later in the evening, spends an hour simply painting together. Not one of us ever produces something a gallery would be rushing to hang, but the fun of the evening and the lovely lull when everyone is so into their paintings that you can hear a pin drop, is an amazing experience.
The website features a breadth of watercolourists from all over the world, with the Doodlewash Directory showcasing artists from the USA to Australia to Asia. How important is it to you to encourage the sharing of inspiration and ideas worldwide?
In my effort to build a group that accepted absolutely any use of watercolour, I’ve curated an amazingly diverse gallery that’s truly unique. Combine that with artists from all over the planet and you have a fantastic resource of ideas and inspiration. I think it’s incredibly important to look at all the different ways people are using watercolour today, even when you’ve adopted a particular style. There’s always something to learn when you look at work that shares your medium, yet is completely different than the type of art you yourself create. I’ve learned so much from other artists and it’s informed my own techniques. Because of this, I’ve tried very hard to create a community where people feel free to share their ideas and art while providing positive critiques for one another. The Internet connects us in a way never previously imagined and this helps to expand our visions as artists and remind us of just how small this tiny green planet really is.
Can you tell me more about the World Watercolor Group™?
In the first year of my blog, I got the crazy idea to found an international holiday called World Watercolor Month™ (worldwatercolormonth.com) which made its first annual debut last July. Over 4,500 artists showed up to our Facebook group and many others on Instagram to celebrate the medium with a 31 watercolours in 31 days challenge. It was incredibly fun, and coming back again soon this year! After such a lovely month together as a group, it seems rather silly to just stop everything so World Watercolor Group was formed and even more people showed up to join us.
As I type this we’re about to pass 44,000 members, so that’s pretty awesome! I did end up having to choose just one spelling of the medium with these groups to make a proper logo and have single tag to link to, as we Americans spell it differently, so apologies for that. But it’s an amazing group no matter how you spell it! The Facebook Group is the largest and most prominent hangout, but all you need do to join us is to add the hashtag #WorldWatercolorGroup to your watercolours when you post them online in whatever social space you prefer and we’ll link out to your work at worldwatercolorgroup.com.
You set monthly watercolour art challenges to prompt artists to watercolour every day. How did you come up with the idea for these daily themes?
I’ve personally always used monthly themes from the very beginning as they helped me to keep focused and gave me ideas of what I might paint each day. In April of last year, I decided to invite others to join me so we could paint the same theme together and it was way more fun! I love seeing how other artists interpret the various challenges. Starting with World Watercolor Month I began to include daily prompts as another way to encourage people. They were quite popular, so I’ve been including a set of monthly prompts ever since. But they’re perfectly optional, as are the challenges themselves.
You can just join us with the #WorldWatercolorGroup hashtag when you post whatever watercolour you make. I find themes and prompts are a fun way to stay motivated, but they’re not for everyone. I’m just hoping to provide lots of different ways to inspire people to keep painting as much as possible. Though we do all try to commit to the 31 paintings challenge during World Watercolor Month in July!
Your featured artists show a diverse range of techniques and approaches to watercolour. Where do you look for artists working in innovative new ways?
My featured artists are so incredibly good, right?! Most are by far better than myself, so I’m humbled each and every day. I began by finding artists on Instagram and these days I can simply find them in our own group. It’s going to take me a lot of time to feature them all, but that’s my goal! The diverse range of techniques is really just a side effect of allowing all uses of watercolour in a single group. And not only that, but I love to post work from people of all skill levels, so you’ll find well-known artists next to someone who started painting a couple months ago. The key to these features is that they are primarily the stories told by the artists themselves about their art journey. You can learn a lot from an artist’s personal story and it can often be just as inspirational as the work itself.
We very much enjoyed your product reviews. Do you have a favourite brand that you cannot live without?
Thanks! Though I can’t take credit for the reviews as those are all written by my lovely friend, Jessica Seacrest. She’s fabulous at creating approachable reviews still packed with lots of wonderful and helpful information. Plus, she has a much broader collection of fun art supplies. I’m always threatening to come over and steal… er… play with them. For me, since I’m a sketcher at heart, my Lamy pens and their unique and wonderful feel are something that I’d be lost without, and my Sennelier watercolours just make me so happy with that lovely easily re-wettable honey-based goodness.
What do you think the future looks like for artists working with watercolour?
I think it’s a brilliant time for watercolour artists! It’s a medium that just continues to grow and grow in popularity for all the reasons I mentioned above and more! I think the future is bright for artists in general as well. We live in a world that’s getting increasingly more mass-produced and in response to that, people are craving things created by individual artists. Watercolour is such a beautiful medium and all of the varied uses by modern artists are helping to make it a far more respected medium as well. I feel like we’re experiencing a renaissance of sorts when it comes to this medium and I’m thrilled to be a part of it!
How can I become part of Doodlewash?
To be part of the community, you just have to tag your watercolours #WorldWatercolorGroup and you’re in, but we’d of course love to have you join us in our wonderfully positive and interactive Facebook Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/worldwatercolor). For anyone using watercolour who wishes to be a guest artist on Doodlewash, you can contact me here (https://doodlewash.com/contact/) with a link to your work!
See more of Charlie’s watercolours with his daily blog on the Doodlewash website.
Explore our range of watercolour products online and in-store, and take up one of Charlie’s watercolour challenges. And don’t miss the World Watercolor Month challenge coming again in July!
Share your watercolour works on social media using the #WorldWatercolorGroup