“Backstory” part 1.

As I said in my previous post, the current focus would be getting better at painting with watercolor and I thought it would probably worth taking time and try and give an overview of what lead up to this quest and how was I doing before. Hopefully it will be interesting for you to read, seeing some of my steps on this path before and I’m sure it will be worth it thinking it through for me too.

If I really want to condense it, the reason is as simple as this: I just really like watercolor. :))
It’s versatile, there are many different approaches to how you can handle it work – it doesn’t have to be messy, but can be, it is very portable and you can relatively quickly finish appealing sketches with it.

Admittedly it can be scary, especially if you are not used to working in color, or if you like to be totally in control of what you are doing and the loose, accidental aspect of it stresses you out, but that is the advantage of it I believe. Forcing you to stay loose and allow the paint to run and misbehave.

I just grew to like watercolor, and more so I love working with watercolor and then hatching over it and adding all kinds of details with ink/pen.
Ink+watercolor is just a thing that really clicks with me.
I am one of those crazy people who want to change directions whenever I see something done exceptionally well. I just very easily gain this great excitement to go try That Thing – whatever it may be (dancing, playing the piano, making clay sculptures, oil paint, digital painting, papercraft, making comics, singing, making wire-jewelry etc).

It’s not like I set out to do everything, but I want to do many things – given the opportunity I would probably end up trying ridiculous amount of creative things – not mastering any.
But the watercolor path is just something that not only appealed to my, but I tried it and I stuck with it.

The first time I can recall naming it as my choice of weapon was in the fall of 2015.
I told my art teacher that I want him to kick me further and that I want to get better at handling this medium.
During the months leading up to this request I’ve been feeling like he didn’t push me all the much. He grew to be a friend and as he knew about me having a ton of shit to deal with personally, I believe he just wanted to give me space to breathe. Having the chance to air thing out on paper which was really helpful for dealing with all the stress I had those days.
I really respect him for that and I was absolutely grateful for providing me an island of safety, but there came the point where I pulled myself together and wanted to keep marching ahead. I re-gained the head-space and the desire for growth and I needed actionable art advice, so I straight up asked him to keep kicking me when I was in class.
Push me further, that is what I am here for!

So he did just that.
Since I spent more and more time, painting with watercolor earlier that summer I wanted to get better with that specifically. He said that it was time to become more loose with what I’m doing. I’m too caught up with the “study” aspect on the class. He said he believes I can paint the thing accurately and I should be experimenting with the medium and trying to convey an emotion or message.
I didn’t agree with the accuracy matter, but I trusted his call in what I should focus on. He was right of course. I had to discover new ways of thinking about making an image and new ways of thinking about the medium.

Most often I would start my painting in a way that I thought would be me being fairly loose and then he would come over and say it again: loosen up.

Figure painting

Watercolor practice on life drawing class – trying to be more playful with my color choices


watercolor painting of lady reading

Watercolor practice on life drawing class – trying to have a loose approach

I was confused…I felt like I was banging my head against a wall. What does he want from me? I don’t understand…
Then he showed me – grabbed a sponge, dripping water all over the paper, dipping the sponge in the paint, starting to toss down very faint colors and then moving those colors around while they are still wet. Switching to a brush, adding more paint or lifting pigment off, not worrying about things bleeding into each other. Then making marks on the paper with the other end of the brush, seeing how the pigment sits in those cracks he made on the paper’s surface,and then just splash color on the paper.

Play! Do random things and see how they work. Most importantly: allow yourself to fuck it up!
I started to get the message, but it took quite some time to be able to ease into it.

Watercolor painting

Watercolor practice on drawing class – allow paint to run loose, to not have a clue about how it will turn out. You have to experiment with all kinds of things., You can’t learn to handle the medium if you don’t try things that might end badly.


Watercolor and ink piece

Watercolor and ink painting from life drawing – Try different kinds of markmaking. Have a painting you are not happy with as it is? Use it as a playground to experiment with other kinds of things on top of it… I really wish the anatomy structure of this wouldn’t be as messed up as it is. 😀

I made a fair few ugly pictures – the structures being off, there being no resemblance to the subject matter and them not looking good either – I don’t have the ugliest bits scanned and I don’t have them with me, so I can’s show them, you just have believe me, they were horrible. 😀
Many pictures that felt like a very significant waste of both paper and paint, but they were not.
Those were essential steps to moving closer to a mindset that serves me well. In fact I should go back to that state of mind more often. Not being so focused on creating ‘worthy pieces’ but just stretching, experimenting. Having attempts when you say I’m not here to impress, I’m here to grow  and have other times when you just say I’m here to have fun and just see what happens.

Anyway, so watercolor painting became even more fun and I grew to like it more and more.

Another thread that ties in with this is that I had this growing fascination with outdoor sketching.
Sometime in 2014 I discovered, that urban sketching is a thing and as I liked the idea a lot, I would occasionally go out and try to tackle the challenges of it. (And then hating myself for trying to draw buildings while I suck at perspective, but that is another story :D).

My first sketching attempts were in ballpoint pen in a sketchbook, but then I later as I fell in love with paint&ink sketches I figured, since I go around with a backpack anyway, I might as well carry my tools and play around with those. 

City sketch with watercolor and pen

Urban sketching in my hometown, Budapest – The ‘unfinished’ part on the right was actually originally just a lack of patience and being tired, but I think it helps the image a lot actually. I would probably prefer it with a bit more defined watercolor painting on that bit, but I grew to like the defined vs sketchy feeling that it has. That is something I want to be able to master at some point.



Last year (2016) my artistic growth attempt kicked off with attending a watercolor workshop on my birthday in January, organized by the local urban sketcher group.
The workshop was held by a young watercolor artist, Laszlo Zsoka, whose method and style is heavily based on the art of Alvaro Castagnet. This workshop introduced me to a whole new approach about the medium, Laszlo showed me new art materials and made me realize, that just because I’m used to thinking about watercolor as a very thin-layered, “airy” technique, that is not the only approach. You can lay the paint in a fairly rich, pigment-heavy way, turning up the contrast and give it a very dramatic feel.
I was amazed and inspired.
I felt like this is not my painting style, but there are huge lessons in it for me cause it was based in things I haven’t considered before. New perspective is always good. 🙂

And then came the great adventure in Rome and getting involved with the community of the Oatley Academy . I was pushed further again.

In May about 30 of us gathered up and learned a bit about composition and plein air sketching with charcoal under the guidance of Chris Oatley.
The workshop itself was mainly about composing a good image, thinking in shapes and value structures and embracing the challenges of on-location sketching.
It fueled my enthusiasm, gave me a great amount of things to think about and enabled me to befriend artists who are a big part of my life ever since.
Many of them, as they flipped through my portfolio and my sketchbooks, pointed out that they really liked my watercolors. Their encouragement meant a lot. I remember saying that I believe I’m not good at color, but I love working with watercolor nonetheless, and I was dedicated to get better.

Then summer came with it’s many challenges.
In June I attended a live painting demo of Alvaro Castagnet, so I got to see more of that painting technique. Apart from that bit I just dedicated my time to surviving the hardships of life (personal stuff as well as finishing a graphic design course) and giving my best to the mentored course I signed up for, Painting drama.

I’ve learned a lot from Chris on this course, but some of the most valuable things I walked away with was developing my critical eye further and becoming better at articulating my thoughts.
I got used to being in a feedback driven environment, where we were all chasing each other further by providing constructive criticism and helping each other push through and reach a deeper understanding of the material at hand. Getting a framework that I could think along the lines of when talking about an image helped me a lot and has been serving me very well ever since.
It also proved me that despite all my earlier experiences I am able to make plans, sketches and follow through to finish something. My process is still messy and rough, but if needed, I can work along the line of my plans and I can most certainly finish things. I’m still bad at it, but now I know that I am able to do so.

Painting drama consumed most of my time and creative power that summer, but when I got a chance to tag along my art teacher to an art camp with his former mentor I had to jump for that. It was a great opportunity to get to know other artists and to get some fresh air.
We went to the countryside and I decided to not care about anything over there except for making art and being happy.
Sketching, campfire conversations, charcoal plein air, watercolor painting, walking under the starry sky, beer and laughter… what else do you need? 🙂



Plein air painting of a rocky wall

Watercolor and ink piece from the art camp .
Step 1. Go to a hilltop with a castle ruin.
Step 2. Enjoy being all alone with your art supplies on a breezy summer day
Step 3. Start painting interesting bits of your surrounding
Step 4. Allow yourself to fall in love with interesting textures 🙂


Watercolor painting from more 'broken pieces' realm

Watercolor painting from art camp. Splashing some paint on the paper, limiting my palette and seeing where the picture takes me.


The next jump would be when we went back to Rome on the fall to attend the Story Design Conference.
I prepared an updated portfolio and I signed up for a review with Jenn Ely.
I basically had 3 different kinds of art in my folder and I was desperately wanting someone to tell me what the hell should I be doing. How do I pick and what should I pick?
Of course, y
ou can’t expect other people to choose for you – especially if it’s just because you are just too afraid to choose.
So as that tends to be, you don’t get what you want if it’s not right for you. The feedback I got was basically: keep doing it all. 

  1. Step up my game on the kidlit field if I want to pursue that, cause it is not on level with the rest yet, but shows potential.
  2. 2. Keep doing the broken things imagery because it might not be obvious where that fits into the ‘market’, but it feels honest and touching. 
  3. Don’t you dare abandoning the city sketches!

Oooookay. 😀

That feedback and the general response on my work from others fueled me up with enthusiasm again.
After the conference wrapped up, we’ve spent a few extra days in Rome and we took time to wander around, sketchcrawling the city, enjoying the sunshine and just trying to breathe after the very intense few days of SDC.

watercolor and ink sketch

First day of breathing, sketching around in the city



Photo of the sketchcrawling group in Rome

Second day of ‘breathing’. Going out for plein air sketching in Trastevere, Rome with a bunch of amazing and inspiring artists. <3


watercolor painting of a street in Trastevere watercolor painting of some foliage in Trastevere watercolor and ink sketch of a slice of Rome
I can see a fair amount of mistakes and bad approaches in all these images – so many things to fix, so many things I should be smarter about.
They don’t communicate the impressions of the place, the time or the mood as they
should, they are not particularly well-composed, the values are all wrong and I’m not handling color very well either. But they are close to my heart as they hold and bring back those feelings for me, and they definitely tie in to me setting out on a quest to want to do this thing better.

The love for sketching on location stuck with me.


watercolor and ink piece of Fuzer in Hungary

Watercolor and ink, 2016 Fall – the challenges of waiting for someone who went to climb a hill on a cold, rainy, foggy day. Doing this after a night shift, being dead tired and feeling your hand go painfully cold. 😀 The interesting texture of the paint is created by walking through the rain to the car after I felt like the sketch is finished or at least I couldn’t move my hand anymore, so it has to be done. 😀



So these were the major jumping points until layst year (2016) that I would say contributed to me pursuing this further.

Next time I’ll be bringing my sketches from this year (2017), sharing with you what advices I got and things I was thinking about my own process.
As we are getting closer to the point where I was set out to be more conscious about the learning process hopefully I’ll be a bit more analytical about the paintings themselves. 🙂

Writing this post made me recall much more little things that added to my journey, than what I was originally set out to write.
The process of putting it to words brought forth lessons I forgot about, so I’d definitely advise giving it a go yourselves!
Did you ever think through what took you to where you are?
Why are you pursuing that particular thing you are currently tackling?
Who inspired you? Who pushed you further?
What was the lesson you learned when you were the most dedicated?
What reignited your passion later?


One thought on ““Backstory” part 1.

  1. Ásta

    Wow this was so much fun to read and inspiring! So nice to hear about your first process in life drawing and your teacher, haven’t heard that story before 🙂 Lovely to read, can’t wait for the next part!

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