What are your favorite art materials?
I create a lot of pieces using watercolor. I have a Cotman Water Colours Sketchers' Pocket Box by Winsor & Newton that has served me well for many years. There are 12 colors in this small set, and when a color has been used up or used a lot, I supplement it with high-quality watercolors that I purchase in tubes. I have added some of my own favorite colors, too. I also enjoy using gouache, which is an opaque watercolor that reconstitutes with water. I have added white gouache to my Cotman Pocket Box set to replace the China White that it originally came with once I'd used it up. I also have a larger palette that I fill with tubes of high-quality watercolors, but I am finding that I am preferring to use my small set more and more.
I also like to paint into hard-bound journals I can take with me wherever I go. My preferred brand is called hand•book journal co., which is distributed by Global Art Materials. I have used their Travelogue Journals extensively, which have heavyweight buff drawing paper that has a nice tooth and accepts inks and light watercolor washes quite well. (I never inundate the page with water, though. The style of painting I do works quite well on this type of paper.) Recently, I have been using their Travelogue Watercolor Journals, which have 200 gsm watercolor paper, significantly fewer pages, and are a bit more expensive than the Travelogue Journals. I use both types, but the regular handbook journals are a great place to start if you want to start dabbling and doodling without the pressure of using up fancy thick paper.
Additionally, when I purchase watercolor paper, I buy large sheets of 300 lb. Hot Press Fabriano Watercolor Paper in Bright White. Sometimes I vary it up a little, getting Cold Press or an intermediate texture, but the smooth Hot Press is dreamy. I used to work on 150 lb. paper, but now that I have used 300 lb. paper, I cannot go back. It is so thick that I can easily use both sides of the paper. Amazing stuff!
I get asked about what brushes I would recommend more and more, so I thought I would add an answer here to explain why this is a difficult question for me. The simple answer is that I use mostly size 2 synthetic round brushes. I am an animal lover and prefer to buy art materials that are free from animal products, so synthetic brushes are the best option for me. I often get asked what brand I recommend, and the simple answer is that I don't have a brand to recommend, really. I like brushes that hold their point, and the way that I use my brushes, the tip inevitably will start to curl. I end up learning through making mistakes just how to work with a quirky brush. I have to carefully watch the rotation of my brush to get thin lines and thick lines. I usually buy brushes on sale, and I ask at the art supply store if I can try out brushes with water and a zen board (or Buddha Board). My favorite art supply store, Wet Paint in St. Paul, always lets me try out brushes this way before buying them. Though I most often use a round size 2 brush, sometimes I like using a 3 or 4. To loosen up or cover slightly larger areas, I like using a 1/2 Angular Shader. And for the tiniest little details, I like having a 5/0 or 10/0 brush.
Another bit of advice about brushes is to try using a separate bush for mixing your colors. I use a lot of pigment to get my colors as saturated as I want them to be, which means I patiently rub away at my watercolors until my brush and the water is saturated with pigment. This action makes a brush lose its point much faster, so sometimes I use a designated brush for mixing my colors and switch to a nicer brush for applying the paint to paper. If you are patient, I think this is a good practice to get used to. That said, I am not always good at remembering to do this. Hence, I don't always like my brushes and don't know what to recommend to you lovely people when you ask me. I hope this was helpful!
How did you learn to draw and paint?
I was a very creative kid who was encouraged to paint and draw and sculpt as a child. I loved art in school and took community art classes during summer holidays. After graduating high school I studied art for a year in Oslo, Norway. When I returned, I went to the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, where I graduated with a BFA in Illustration.
One thing a favorite professor at MCAD encouraged us to do was to experiment and try to figure out how someone else makes what they make. Just to learn, of course. Not to copy and become imitators, but to imitate a style or technique for the sake of learning. It is important to play, to be loose, and to carve out time and space for your creativity. Also, in school and in the real world, people will encourage you to find your style as an illustrator. I never felt like I had a style. Most of the time I still feel that way. Just do your work and make what you want in the way you want to. Don't try to force a style. Your style is likely to be something others see much clearer than you ever can. I certainly don't know what my style is, but I know what I like and what I gravitate to, and as I create more and more, colors and themes and patterns emerge. I think style is ever-evolving and changing, but being true to yourself is really important.
Also, if you are looking to make a creative career for yourself, don't look to the same sources as everyone else. Don't draw your inspiration from your contemporaries alone. Diversify! Look at old things and new things and combine them in new ways. The recipe for sameness is everywhere, but you can truly create something unique when you draw inspiration from life, from history, and from a combination of interests. Don't be a sheep!