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Finding Calm in Watercolour

This is a guest post by knack member, Tanya Kumar. All the images in this piece are Tanya's work!

Thank you, the wonderful knack team, for giving me this opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you! I would like to take this chance to tell you a bit about why I love watercolours, and my journey to finding animal-friendly art supplies.

When I say I love watercolours, what I mean is I am obsessed by them. My entire flat is adorned with paintbrushes, papers, paint tubes and pans. I have online shopping baskets bursting to the brim with more materials that I “need”. You can never have too many paintbrushes, surely?

Like most people, I played with paints when I was at school, but an off-hand comment from a teacher set off insecurity about not being “good enough” at arts and crafts. I have since realised being “good” is not the point. I started exploring with the medium again a few weeks before lockdown, and though my lines were untidy, my colours sometimes muddy, and I could not always get things to look how I wanted them to, I kept finding reasons to unpack my supplies and splosh some colour about again and again.

When lockdown kicked off, I found myself craving time with my paints. As someone with anxiety, I was pleased to find an activity that brought me calm. The mesmerising flow of water and pigment across the page brings me a sense of ease. When I feel anxious, I find that I can quieten all the clutter in my head by mixing colours and painting connected circles on the page; I watch the colours bleed and blend together and somehow feel a little bit better. I am also a bit of a perfectionist – this is not always easy, but painting is teaching me to appreciate the process and be kinder to myself when I do not get the outcome I want (because, who cares? It is just for me, anyway!).

Alongside actually painting, I have found myself reading articles and watching YouTube videos about watercolour and was interested to learn that my art supplies were not all cruelty-free. As a vegetarian who is trying to lead a more vegan lifestyle, I decided to keep researching and invest in vegan art supplies so that I could walk my talk (not just as an excuse to shop...). You might not know (I did not!) that traditional paint-making methods use ox gall to bind the paint and make it flow better. Some paints (such as certain black and grey colours) contain animal bones, some brushes are made with animal hair, and some papers use gelatin in their sizing (to add to that, a sketchbook with vegan paper might use non-vegan glue to bind it all together. I know… a bit of a minefield, isn’t it?).

It might seem like hard work, but luckily there are a lot of resources to tap into and plenty of vegetarian and vegan-friendly products out there! I have read a lot of articles and recommend the Jackson’s Art blog for some solid suggestions. I also get in touch with a company myself (often through Instagram) to confirm whether the product I want is vegan-friendly.

In fact, starting a conversation with the lovely knack team about vegan-friendly craft supplies is what led to this piece. Personally, I love Seawhite of Brighton sketchbooks, and the more pricey but excellent quality Etchr sketchbooks. When it comes to paints, the Winsor and Newton Cotman range are mostly vegan (they have an extensive product list that goes into this), and I have a lot of great and super-soft synthetic brushes by German brand da Vinci Brushes. Kuretake Gansai Tambi and Daniel Smith watercolour paints are on my wish list (I doubt my partner is reading this, but you never know!).

If you have got this far, thank you so much for reading. I do not consider myself to be a pro – I am just an animal lover who also loves painting. For me, art is a mindfulness practice, a way of finding calm in the chaos,

and if you can let go of control, just a whole lot of fun. Happy painting!

We are so grateful to Tanya for supporting knack and for writing this piece. Thank you Tanya for sharing your thoughts, research and lovely paintings with us!

If you'd like to write something for our blog, please get in touch - we'd love to hear from you.