Watercolor: Entry Window (& getting back to art after a long hiatus)


Entry Window 12 x 6 Watercolor (sold)

Before diving into art-making full time, I dabbled on and off. For decades. In my early twenties, I painted and doodled, and kept art journals.  In Rockport, Massachusetts, while renting a converted chicken coop/cottage for the summer with a friend, we filled journal pages & covered the ceiling with watercolors we gushed out & tore from sketchbooks in the evenings. In photos from that summer, I see art pinned up in the background, and it’s all a bit garish, but we had a great summer just making things. We weren’t concerned with how the art came out, because we were busy with the sheer delight of creative output, while surveying the opportunities & challenges of each new medium we played with.


A summer in Rockport, MA, circa 1980, in a converted chicken coop-cottage, working at a glass blowing shop, and making art every day.

Then, I stopped making art for a long time, and worked a variety of regular, non-art jobs, while wondering if one could really make a living in the arts. Everyone I consulted said no, there was no “real” job for artists, unless I wanted to be 1) a commercial illustrator, which required skills I didn’t believe I was blessed with, or 2) an elementary school teacher, where I might have time to paint a little during summer breaks.  Eventually, I got a degree in Liberal Arts, with a minor in Education. Studio art classes were my favorite part of college, and making things with my hands again was a salve against the stress of finals & two jobs. (The encouragement I got from professors in the art department during those years was a grateful first, and it has stayed with me to this day.)


1980’s sketchbook fodder

I moved to California, and worked another non-art job for a little more than a decade, while my art supplies festered in the garage. Work was challenging, consuming, rewarding and so very un-creative. But, I was surrounded by some of the very top of the visionary gene pool; painters, illustrators, designers and world-class thinkers. The proximity to that brain-trust was wonderful, and I didn’t realize it then, but I was on soak-cycle – watching, observing and taking subliminal notes.


Trying to become an artist: testing my plein air painting skills in Valencia, California

By the time I came full circle back to art again, with hopes to make it my livelihood, I was so out of practice, and so unsure of myself, I was a hot mess. Which media should I focus on? Did I remember how to draw? How do artists manage fine art these days? I had no idea where to start, and I was overwhelmed to be attempting an art career so late in life. I began researching in earnest, and attended art festivals & gallery exhibits. I subscribed to art trades, read books, joined art associations, wrote to my art professors for advise, and cold-called local artists to ask if I could buy them lunch and quiz them. I took workshops and filled journals with notes, printed business cards, started blogging and shadowed a seasoned art festival exhibitor as her “roadie” to observe all the prep and effort required to present like a pro. There was so much to learn, and that was just the logistics; the marketing, venues, sales and business end of the art world.

Art Festival in Camarillo, California

Learning to talk to art patrons about my work at an art festival (you can’t see it, but my knees were quaking) Gulp.

When it came to greasing the gears of my art-making brain, everyone told me – unanimously –  that the best thing to do was draw and paint, all the time. So, when I did finally pick up my drawing pencils and paint brushes – I was amazed – after just a week or two – at how much I had learned while I was away from art-making. I still had [have] a whole continent of practice to hike over, but once I started making again, I was floored by the way I could communicate, artistically, the accumulation of observations I’d made over the previous decade.  Somehow, I got better with age, just from observing.   [Subscribe to this blog here.]

Is any of this familiar to you? Have you taken a big, long hiatus from art? Are you wondering if you might like to get back in the art-making pond and swim around a little?  Yes?  Oh good, because this rambling, convoluted story is for you. Yes you. Please keep reading…


Getting back to art: shoring myself up with instructional books, preliminary sketches, and photos of paintings I love (British watercolor artist Lucy Willis).

Here: Even though you might not have touched a brush for a few dog years – it doesn’t matter. Your innate, Notice-the-Loveliness-Radar for dappled sunlight across a table, reflections of a cityscape in a puddle, or the softened edges in a veil of coastal fog – has been hard at work all this time. You’ve been observing, noticing, and stacking details about color and shape and nuance from the first day you opened your eyes, and you’ve been taking notes and stashing them in your brain-attic, even though you haven’t made a thing (besides those post-it note doodles while talking on the phone). Once an artist’s eye, always an artist’s eye.

Now, you simply have to let the observations you’ve collected out of the attic. Start slow, and small. Take a class or a weekend workshop soon, so you’ll have company & advice on the first hike up the hill to return to your love of art. Buy a book about the kind of art you want to make. Listen to a podcast about making art, and watch some youtube videos of artists doing demos to get your art game on. Don’t delay any longer. It’s time to pick up a creative tool and make something. Your brain is fit to burst with all the imagery you’ve been collecting. Really, I’m not kidding. Stop reading this, and go get a sketch pad. Kick your inner critic to the curb, and just make something. And mostly, have a lot of fun. 🙂 You’ve got this.

Art Quote

Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.
~Elizabeth Gilbert

29 Responses to Watercolor: Entry Window (& getting back to art after a long hiatus)

  1. rebecca nelson May 20, 2017 at 8:04 pm #

    Dear dear Belinda, you wrote this to me! Thank you so, so much! I have very similar events in my past as yours! I am now 60 and was asked to teach a couple of friends children. I was bewildered that anyone would want to pay me for that? My kids are grown but the most fun was making art and messes with them. She told a couple of friends and now I have 11 students! You are absolutely right about our artists eye, it’s been there through all these years. I am shocking myself with my abilities. I just can’t believe what I can draw and paint. And I am researching and building a business as fast as I can. Sorry for so many exclamation points…I am just so excited and inspired by you. I gotta go paint some realtors homes and give them as a gift to start advertising myself. How do I do the business license for Washington state, accounting software, receipts, framing????….so much to work on!

    • Belinda DelPesco May 23, 2017 at 6:23 am #

      Hi Rebecca,
      Thanks for this kind and enthused note! Congratulations on your return to making art, and double congrats on your teaching to children! I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself, and I hope your new endeavor brings you weeks and weeks of exclamation-point-worthy joy!
      You’ll find all the info you need for a business license at your local city hall. And for questions regarding business matters for working artists, start local as well, and join an art association, and then reach out to seasoned artists you know, and ask if you can buy them lunch and pick their brains for advise with a notepad in hand. That’ll get you started, and make some friends at the same time.
      Happy arting to you!

  2. Debbie Mitchell April 19, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

    Belinda,I’m so happy I ran across this post. I first took lessons in 1990 and all these years later, I get frustrated that I can’t get as good as I was then. I work long hours and recently began watercolor lessons again but had been thinking of quitting because the convenient evening class made my day too long. Yes, it made me tired, but I admit that frustration and lack of ability was a big part of wanting to quit. And yet, I don’t find the time between classes to work on my own.

    Your account kept me from cancelling today! And I love the idea of finding the time in small increments.

    I’d love to follow your blog.

    Debbie M.

    • Belinda DelPesco April 19, 2016 at 4:36 pm #

      Hi Debbie, I can absolutely relate to what you’re describing, and I’m so glad you didn’t cancel the class. Have courage, and patience in equal measure, and pay close attention to every little victory. Those are your harbor-markers; they’ll keep your boat off the rocks. Welcome, and thanks for writing! 🙂

  3. Judy Koenig August 19, 2015 at 9:28 am #

    Love your art and your blog posts.You express yourself so beautifully in words and paint.
    I came back to my art after being a cake decorator for 27 years (i guess also creative) Decided to do art that people couldn’t eat. Went back to school for BA and MA and had to decide to teach or sell and ended up doing both. Have done the outdoor art shows since 1992 and have gone from watercolor to oils and pastels. Hit a wall, so your blog post really resonated with me. I don’t sketch or write but love to do photography for my subject matter. Now I feel the need to get out there with my camera again. Thank you so much. p.s. Missed meeting you at Thousand Oaks Art Walk. Hope to remedy that next year if you r planning to be there.

    • Belinda DelPesco August 20, 2015 at 10:28 am #

      Judy, Ive been a huge fan of your work for *years*! And I had no idea you were a cake decorator! People ate your art! That is awesome! And here you are now, with enough ribbons and awards from decades of art shows to weave a stadium canopy. I’m sorry you’ve hit a wall, but there’s no harm with a bit of respite. They say even a fertile field needs a season’s worth of a break sometimes to produce quality flowers again, so perhaps this is your time to harvest images with your camera, and get ready for the next wave of painting urges. I’ll be rah-rahing you from the sidelines. And yes, I hope to meet you at an artfest soon. Thanks so much for the kind words.

  4. lvetopaint08 August 17, 2015 at 8:38 am #

    Brenda, what a wonderful post! I took that hiatus and went the route of the elementary art teacher. I loved my career! Watching the kids get that spark and just go with their art was so rewarding. My time was filled with preparing lessons, raising our own two children and maintaining our household.
    It was always nagging at me, though, to pick up a brush for myself. When I finally did, it was watercolors that claimed me. Never did I dream that I would be a working artist with an on-line shop selling around the world.

    Thanks for your inspiring and encouraging post. I’m sure it will speak to many who have “packed away the brushes”. I especially like your ending : “You’ve got this”!
    PS Just ordered that book

    • Belinda DelPesco August 20, 2015 at 10:17 am #

      Hi Carol, Thanks for stopping by, and sharing your story. Your watercolors are lovely, so I’m not surprised one bit that your “second career” took off like a rocket! Cheers to you for taking those first steps. I hope your story inspires others to do the same.

  5. Tina August 14, 2015 at 7:04 pm #

    A great post! I never stopped making art, but dwindled down to one or two pictures per year during a 30 year business career. Building up to a regular output again is intimidating, but I remember you telling me you would break painting into 10 or 15 minute increments while waiting for the veg to come to a boil on the stove. That told me that anyone can create, no matter what the circumstances. You just have to break it down to a manageable size.

    • Belinda DelPesco August 20, 2015 at 10:13 am #

      Hi Tina! Yes, little bite-sized art sessions is a great way to start, and then add to that some monthly “art-nights” with friends. Its a great way to have company & exchange ideas while getting familiar with *making* again, and before you know it, the cravings to get to your art supplies will crowd everything else out of your sights, especially things like folding laundry and emptying the dishwasher! 🙂

  6. julie August 14, 2015 at 6:53 pm #

    What a wonderful post. Thank you.
    I want to add – your painting has an emotional quality which makes it stand out. Lots of artists are very good but not all of their art has heart. Yours does.

    • Belinda DelPesco August 20, 2015 at 10:09 am #

      Wow, Julie, what a nice thing to say. Heart in the Art…. now there’s an interesting thing to ponder. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment.

  7. Marilyn Thuss August 14, 2015 at 8:31 am #

    Oh Belinda…..I have found you just when I needed you! Thanks for this post. You have lightened and lifted me to a place I want to be! I have too many thoughts right now to even attempt getting them written out for you. But your generosity of spirit is so helpful and inspiring. I will focus and paint with renewed belief because of your post. Thank you, thank you! Your work is gorgeous of course!!

    • Belinda DelPesco August 20, 2015 at 10:08 am #

      Hi Marilyn – Thanks so much for the kind note, and I’m so glad this post spoke to you. Best wishes to get back to your art, as soon as possible!

  8. Ghislaine August 13, 2015 at 11:46 pm #

    I almost cried while reading this because it seems so familiar to me. Your honesty and friendliness shows through your words and they are so true. I guess I’m in the middle of a long hiatus. Just sold my studio easel ! But I’m confident I might go back to drawing and painting some time. And I’m currently playing violin and sewing a whole new fun wardrobe and this is artistic and creative 🙂 There was a time when I only painted abstract work and I was worried about my drawing skills. A seasoned painter told me I was still working on paint manipulation, composition, color knowledge, values… ans she was soooo right !

    • Belinda DelPesco August 20, 2015 at 9:48 am #

      Ghislaine – Good for you on the sale of your easel. A sketchpad on your lap is all you need, and if you decide to work big & vertical again, you can tack your suport to a sheet of fiber board leaned against a wall. There’s always a workaround. And you *are* still creating! I see no hiatus in your description of making music and sewing a wardrobe. Painting with sound and fabric. Bravo!

  9. Wendy Barrett August 13, 2015 at 10:35 pm #

    Hi Belinda, I have just found this post via Celia Blanco’s blog. It is lovely to get an insight into the diligence and passion you employed to get your art happening again – very impressive! Your paintings are absolutely beautiful and you deserve your success!

    • Belinda DelPesco August 20, 2015 at 9:43 am #

      Hi Wendy – Thanks for stopping by, and taking the time to leave such a nice comment. I hope you come back soon. 🙂

  10. Cristiane Marino August 13, 2015 at 4:25 am #

    Wow Belinda….
    Your painting is stunning, but your words touched deeply my soul.
    I studied arts and I love to make things with my own hands, but I work as a doctor and the brushes stayed in the drawer. Now I work part-time in my office, and after reading your post I will pick up my art materials.
    The links you indicated are great!
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I admire you even more.

    • Belinda DelPesco August 20, 2015 at 9:37 am #

      Hi Cristiane – my brushes stayed in drawers too, and I’m happy to report that they still work fine, after years in the dark! Lucky us! I hope your brushes are moving, sloshing through pigments, and you find your way back to creating art again soon. Thanks for the nice compliments.

  11. Gabrielle August 12, 2015 at 9:16 pm #

    This post really spoke to me. I’ve taken breaks from art, usually because life gets in the way, but sometimes just because I need a break from the pressure of trying to get out of my own way while trying to create something. Sometimes the breaks are just a month or two, sometimes it’s years, but when I’ve come back to art, it always seems like some skill really took hold during the time off. As I’ve noticed this pattern, I’ve eased up on the pressure I put on myself, the guilt about not painting or drawing, the thoughts that taking a break must mean I’m not a real artist. Now the breaks have become what I call a “productive hiatus”, and I come back to art refreshed and re-energized, and typically produce some of my best work. Go figure.

    What you wrote about not worrying about outcomes because you were too busy creating also really resonated with me. I remember as a teenager staying up to the wee hours of the morning doing all sorts of creative things, be it music, art, writing, theater, etc. Somewhere along the line, with all the responsibilities and confusion of adulthood I lost that endless creative energy, that “sheer delight of creative output” as you so aptly put it. I want it back! One of my goals, starting this month, is to add play back into my weekly routine and maybe eventually even my daily routine.

    My comment is running a little long, but thank you for this upbeat post which reaffirmed my thoughts and ideas. It’s good to know we aren’t alone trying to figure all this out.

    • Belinda DelPesco August 12, 2015 at 11:45 pm #

      Hi Gabrielle – Thanks so much for writing, and please feel free to wax poetic and type to your heart’s content. Your articulate and simpatico comment put a big smile on my face. We’re having tea, and comparing fits and starts in art over the net, and it’s lovely to meet you. I will be rooting for you to get solid weekly or daily free-form output gushing shortly. Here’s to having fun, effusively, and tossing worry in the wind.


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