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Making Art

Watercolor and Poetry

"The written word can inspire the visual art-making process."–Heather Smith Jones 

"Hope" is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the Gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land

And on the strangest Sea

Yet, never, in Extremity,

It asked a crumb—of Me.

"Hope" by Emily Dickinson

Water Paper Paint by Heather Smith Jones features and array of interesting projects for painting in watercolor. One projects in particlur grabbed my artistic attention: use a poem for inspiration. I chose a poem on one of my favorite topics: "Hope." I love this idea because it uses the written word and visual art to evoke emotion in the audience.

Finding Inspiration in a Poem

how to paint in watercolor

Watercolor and poetry project and materials excerpt from Water Paper Paint. See the full project instructions below.

With the poem as inspiration, I immediate knew what I wanted to paint, so I set out to tackle watercolor painting. I read several pages with tips laid out in the book and after many attempts I was still unhappy with what I was producing. I asked my grandmother (a lifelong artist who has even mastered oil pastels) for tips about watercolor painting, and she told me, "start light." I can't tell you how much this helped me. What I learned is that watercolor is a process of layering. One can get a different result when layering wet colors than when layering colors that have dried.

Another great tip from the book encouraged artists to use colors that compliment each other on the color wheel. My first layer of color consisted of primary colors such as blue, red, and yellow. Then, with a slightly heavier hand, I used orange (opposite of blue) and purple (opposite of yellow) and to my delight, it gave the feathers a nice transitioning section.

I love to finish off my pieces with black ink, it always gives it a nice touch.

Have words ever inspired you to create art?

Note: Water Paper Paint is available in a book or kit format


  1. Select an interesting poem that brings images or pictures to mind. The project piece is inspired by the prose written by writer and friend, Shari Altman.
  2. With the poem in front of you, make a brainstorm list of ideas in a sketchbook. Write down the words or phrases in the poem that stand out by noting the word and the image it inspires. Select at least five words or phrases to think about using in the art piece. Once you have made a list, draw small thumbnail sketches of your ideas. The idea of the poem that is most prominent or interesting to you can be the focus. If necessary select source material such as photographs or objects. Having concrete items to draw from may help in the process.
  3. Select a card or cut or tear watercolor paper to desired size. Have the written ideas and compositional sketch on hand as you begin working on the painting. First draw or paint the largest objects or patterns. Then add in other imagery, keeping in mind they can be smaller or a lighter color than the main idea. Sometimes a painting doesn't always progress the way we imagine, no matter how we plan or prepare. Rather than abandon the piece, work with the frustration. Working through a problem may reveal surprises and bring new meanings.
  4. As the painting proceeds, consider ways to use pattern, texture, or nonobjective shapes to represent the ideas of the poem. For instance, this painting has a floating pattern of white oval shapes to convey how the "frost etchings decorate windowpanes." There may also be areas to draw in a representational or realistic way. These are all subjective ideas, so decide based on your own artistic preferences.

Kristen Rock

Kristen is an artist living in Norfolk, VA.  She is happiest with a cup of coffee in one hand and a paintbrush in the other. A sucker for a sweet sunrise and an unexpected adventure, Kristen's latest inspirations include mermaids, dream catchers, and all things nautical. 

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