Free to Fly: Letting Instincts Lead the Painting Process


The giant “canvas” sat against my studio wall for months before I finally mustered the nerve to touch brush to paper. I had never painted anything larger than the standard “full sheet” of watercolor paper, so a piece of paper that was 20 inches longer is a big stretch for a watercolor artist! Just setting up a piece of paper that large takes time and effort, as wet the paper, then stretched it over a wooden frame, stapled it and allowed it to dry, tight as a drum. The investment of time added to my anxiety about messing up that big, white expanse of paper.

But I yearned to paint a really big painting. And the longer that paper sat in the studio, the more scary it became. I felt guilty about not touching it, but I also wanted to make sure the time was right and I had the perfect vision of how to fill the space.

And then one day, I just did it.

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I couldn’t tell if the time was right. Who can know these things? What I had, and what I’d been waiting for, was a feeling; trust in my ability and vision to pursue the path once I embarked upon it.

I’d been thinking about birds; the way they own every inch of the world. Flight makes it possible for them to fill the vastness of space above our heads; a world we cannot touch or enter without barriers. Even in flight our feet cling to a stable surface.

There are times when I will study and “work out” a painting in preparatory sketches. This was not that kind of painting. Sometimes I just need to let the brush dance across the paper without the pressure to make my painting look like a noun, like “things.”

One phrase in my head: “FREE TO FLY.”

One image in my memory; a rush of wings, blurred, out of focus. A hint of jeweled colour. Maybe a hummingbird? Bird of paradise? It didn’t matter.

A handful of favorite colors.

Trust. At one point, a corner of the paper looked too empty, but I didn’t want to rush in anxiety to fill it. Instinct led. I scrubbed in quickly a square of buttery raw sienna; perfect! It didn’t really make sense to put it there, but it was the right thing.

The brush is a hand. The line is the word. The paint is the melody.

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“In Flight,” watercolor on paper by Angela Fehr. 30 x 40 inches.

I don’t always tap into my fearless, instinctive inner artist. That is what makes these moments so precious, Ego, fear, hesitation step aside and let the heart speak. I paint toward this goal every day, and it’s a gift when it shows up.

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Angela Fehr30 Comments