I am so excited to turn the tables and interview Charlie O’Shields! Charlie has been featuring other watercolor artists from around the globe since he started painting and blogging. Charlie has built an amazing and supportive community of artists who love watercolor.
Charlie O’Shields is the Creator of Doodlewash and founder of World Watercolor Month (July) and World Watercolor Group. He currently lives in Kansas City, Missouri with his Parisian partner, Philippe, and a temperamental basenji named Phineas.
What made you start drawing and painting AND posting?
Well, my partner, Philippe, decided to try watercolor and it looked fun so I started doing it with him and I was immediately hooked. I began by Urban Sketching, which was super fun, but ended up just learning many fast sketching techniques, as I didn’t often want to sketch only what was in front of me. I also use a mixture of reference photos and bits of imagination. What I was making, however, wasn’t a studio watercolor painting or an authentic urban sketch. It was something in between, and I didn’t have any group to share it with. I couldn’t fit in entirely with any one tribe, as cool and fun as the people are, so I needed somewhere to post what I made. I called it a “doodlewash” and started posting them on my blog while also raving about the fun of the watercolor medium, however people liked to use it.
Did you have any previous experience?
I actually have a Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Art & Art History, but my emphasis was in computer animation. So, I only took 2 drawing classes and one painting class. The painting class was in acrylics and I was horrible at it because I just didn’t like the medium at all. I didn’t realize that was the reason at the time. I thought I just didn’t like painting, so I never tried again until just last year (over 22 years later), when I discovered watercolor.
At first, it was just pure obsession, something new and shiny that I was excited to try every day. These days, all of my inspiration to keep going comes from the many wonderful people who visit my blog and keep encouraging me to paint, sketch, and write more.
What made you decide to include interviews with other artists? Was that something you did from the start?
I started painting on July 3rd, 2015 and made the blog immediately in my enthusiasm. I told Philippe that he should do the same, because his paintings were beautiful, but he wouldn’t do it. So, 10 days in, I made the first Guest Doodlewash post so I could share his painting. Then our friend Aesha started painting with us as well as our friend Sandrine, in Paris. I posted what they made as well and started meeting others artists online. By July 28th in that first month I created a World Of Doodlewashes post as I’d then featured work from artists in the UK, Australia, and Indonesia. Since that time, I’ve featured over 240 additional artists and counting!
Did you have a vision for the community you’ve created?!
Very early on, I started talking about creating a Doodlewash movement, but I truly didn’t know exactly what was involved in that. I was just overexcited. There were already so many popular watercolor and sketching groups, that I wasn’t sure if the world really needed one more. But there wasn’t yet a group that was based simply around the love of the medium of watercolor that didn’t impose specific rules on how to use it. My vision was to just focus on why to use watercolor. Because it’s lovely and fun! This approach has created a rich and wonderful community with an incredible amount of variety. You can be an urban sketcher one day, a studio artist the next, an illustrator, or an abstract painter and you don’t ever have to worry if it “fits” in with the group. As long as your art features watercolor, it does!
I do monthly themes and one of my favorites that I’ve repeated twice so far was to use all those various national and international celebration days as a prompt. There’s always several to choose from on any given day so it’s really fun. For example, I’ve illustrated everything from National Ferret Day to World Cliché Day. But this past April, when I reprised this theme, it seemed odd to me that there wasn’t anything for the medium we all loved. I originally thought to simply get a Watercolor Day created, but not wanting to dream small, I created a submission to National Day Calendar for World Watercolor Month. They receive around 18,000 submissions and only add 30 to their calendar each year, but they liked the idea and so July is officially World Watercolor Month!
The turnout was amazing. I thought it would be cool to get a few hundred artists playing along in the first year and didn’t expect many people to discover it. It was an entirely non-profit initiative and I partnered with the Dreaming Zebra Foundation hoping to also help raise awareness for arts education. It was a lot to communicate with no advertising budget and simply relying on word of mouth. But somehow it still worked! Over 4,000 artists joined in on Facebook and there were over 18,000 posts on Instagram! (Update: Over 9,000 artists participated in the second World Watercolor Month in 2017!)
Any plans for next July or other holidays you plan on starting?
I probably won’t be starting any other international holidays soon. It’s a lot more work than I thought! Though, I’m not sure now why I ever thought creating an international holiday would be easy. As for next July, it will continue to be a 31-day art challenge, but I’m hoping to have more exciting things lined up for participants. I probably won’t know until February exactly what’s coming next. Stay tuned!
I’m really intrigued by your day job – can you tell me more about that?
I’m the Executive Creative Director for a packaging design studio called Venn49. We work with local and major brands on new packaging concepts and designs, primarily for the food and beverage industry. Essentially, we’re an innovation lab. We help people concept ways to repackage their existing brands, as well as coming up with entirely new branded products and/or innovative packaging.
I love food illustrations so those end up being some of my favorites. I like my tray of desserts, which I titled My Favorite Dinner Food. And though I normally don’t enjoy drawing people, there was a selfie of just my eye that I rather liked. Usually my favorites are the more recent ones, as I see little things in them that show slight improvement.
I loved the doodlewash dinner – it was such a fun idea. What is your favorite doodlewash theme so far?
That was probably one of my favorites as well! I just love food! Also, I enjoy sketching it. But, I do really love illustrating those random daily holidays, because it’s always fun to write about them.
I found you on WordPress and I follow you on Instagram. I know you also have a World Watercolor Group Facebook page and you have a Twitter account. Any I’m missing? Is there a certain platform that you consider your home base?
Doodlewash is on pretty much all of the major social media platforms. When I started, I was active on all of them and realized that’s both insane and impossible to sustain. I then switched to a focus on just WordPress and Instagram, but this has broadened with the creation of the World Watercolor Group on Facebook (which now has over 7,000 members and growing). WordPress is where it all started and where I met my first friends in art. It’s also where my full blog posts live, so it’s definitely my home base.
If you want to form a daily art habit you have to decide how much time you can devote to it and protect that time with your life. Well, not quite that extreme, of course, but you do have to decide it’s a priority. For me, I chose just one hour a day and the hour I chose was Happy Hour. You know, that time after work and before dinner. I figured it was a perfectly named time for making art. While I do often enjoy a glass of wine while sketching and painting, in order to preserve this time for it, I am no longer available to meet friends for Happy Hour and will simply do lunches instead. It’s a trade off, to be sure, but it’s worth it to me and has helped to form a consistent habit. On the weekends, I just slip an hour in wherever I can and if there are no plans I might get a little extra bonus time. My posts are usually written in about 15 minutes, so on average this leaves just 45 minutes for sketching and painting. If it works out, I can sometimes sneak a quick 10 minute base sketch in at lunch and get some bonus painting time, but often it’s just a race against the clock to post before or shortly after dinner.
Thanks so much! I’ve always loved reading and writing stories so it was naturally going to happen on my blog. I don’t preconceive or edit my posts, so I’m as surprised as anyone as to what actually comes out. Personally, my best stories are the ones that surprise me. For instance, I doodlewashed my dog’s stuffed duck simply because I saw it lying on the floor and a rather nice story of our family came out of that experience. The worst was last December when I got the crazy idea to try a Choose Your Own Adventure month. I remembered those stories as a kid and thought it would be fun to have people choose what I drew next. While the voting part was received positively, I started writing in the style of those stories and the result was confusing and ludicrous. I soon stopped and returned to normal posts and all sanity was restored.
Any future doodlewash plans you can share?
People have often asked me to create demonstration videos and I’m still toying with the idea. One thing that’s truly different about Doodlewash is that I’m not actually promoting myself as an artist. Art is simply my hobby at the moment and I’m just practicing things. I’m more of a curator who’s promoting other artists. So, in that spirit, I’ve just added a Tutorials section to pull forward the lovely videos of my talented guests and if I get up the nerve to join them, I may start including my own. Beyond that, I’m not sure yet. Like my art and my posts, I never try to think too far ahead. For now, I’m just excited to see where the community leads me.