Watercolors & Galaxies


What made you want to pick up painting on a regular basis? And why did you choose watercolors specifically over any other medium? How have you found the experience rewarding as you've created a great deal of pieces over the past year?

In November of 2016 I found a book about hand lettering called Adventures in Lettering by Dawn Warnaar. I flipped through it and thought to myself that I have always wanted to learn how to make script letters but thought my own handwriting wasn't good enough. I decided it was time to learn, or at least try, and I bought it. After doing a little bit of research about the author via her blog and Instagram, I discovered this amazing creative community of people sharing their projects and doing creative challenges. I decided I would dive right in and try to learn some new skills along the way. I needed something creative to fill my time with after work that wasn't Netflix, so I bought a set of watercolors and just kind of ran with it.

I chose watercolors because of all the artists I had been discovering, it was the medium that stuck out to me the most and the medium I had the least amount of experience in. A lot of the hand lettering artists you see will also incorporate hand lettering or modern calligraphy into their pieces. As I started to learn the basics, I found that after working at a job where I deal with people all day, coming home to just sit at my desk while listening to music and putting color on paper was very relaxing. I felt happier, and I could see myself improving after only a month or two of consistent painting and practice. I am really into watching Bob Ross and the Joy of Painting, and something he said that I try to remember in any medium I pick up is "Anything you can practice, you can do." I've been at this for almost an entire year now, and I can honestly say it's true.


The three kinds of subject matter that appears to come up most often in your work are floral designs, galaxies/night skies, and hand lettering. What about creating these three different kinds of pieces do you enjoy the most? Do you find you were drawn to creating these kinds of paintings for any specific reason? What is the most challenging part of creating each of the three?  

Florals are something I struggle with and am trying to get better at. I've never taken a class, so I'm basically teaching myself right now or learning from watching tutorials or looking at what other artists are doing. Galaxies are the most fun for me. Not only because people enjoy them, but also because they are super relaxing and each one is different. You can't really plan how it will turn out because you have to let the color travel throughout the paper and do what it wants. You can pick and choose a color scheme and then just kind of go with it. Hand lettering or modern calligraphy was so difficult when I first picked it up. I was actually a little discouraged at first until I kept at it and started seeing some improvement. There are so many different pens, brushes, and markers out there and you have to pretty much practice with each one because every type reacts differently and requires a different amount of control. I still struggle with the letter K all the time. It's definitely interesting to look back at how I was lettering when I first started and compare it to now. I still have a long way to go, but I'm learning.


As a photographer who often shoots gorgeous images of the night sky with visible galaxies featured in astonishing ways, how does your photography impact the watercolor galaxy paintings you create? Do you find that you try to emulate what you see in real life/in your photographs into your paintings? Or is it more fun to exaggerate the natural elements and take creative liberties to make these galaxy paintings pop even more?

I am fascinated with the night sky. In August 2015 the conditions were perfect for the annual Perseids meteor shower. There was a new moon and clear, cloudless skies during the peak. I had been looking into how to photograph the stars and the timing lined up perfectly for me to try. I went out several nights that week, trying to catch meteors and for the most part failing, but what I did find is that when it was completely dark I could see the Milky Way. I tried again in August 2016, and conditions weren't the best but I took what I learned the previous year and went back out. Later in the year when I picked up watercolor, I found it easy to start with actual photos and try to emulate them, but exaggerate the colors. Obviously the sky isn't full of yellow and pink nebulas to the naked eye, but taking the shapes that are visible in photographs and applying out-of-this-world colors is something I have been drawn to.


The time lapse videos you've posted of what it takes to create these galaxy paintings are really awesome. What made you decide to want to share this process with your social media followers? Furthermore, can you tell us about your Twitch profile and how you share your work on this site? What about sharing your paintings with others do you find enticing?

I follow a lot of cool and extremely talented people on Instagram. I have learned a lot just by watching what they create, and am inspired by them all the time. I noticed people really liked seeing my galaxy painting posts, and when I got a new phone that was capable and had the space for time lapse videos I decided to try it myself. To me, making one of my galaxy paintings doesn't seem like a complicated process, but others were interested in seeing how they came to life. The time lapse videos definitely help condense what can sometimes be a 30 minute or more process into a minute.

I have been a member of the Twitch community for awhile due to my work with Zeldathon, a gaming marathon that fundraises for various charities twice a year, which is hosted on Twitch. Twitch used to be just for video games, but within the past couple of years they have launched their creative platform where broadcasters can showcase their creative talents on their channels. So along with that, I decided to create my Twitch channel so that I could show my creative process and interact with people. I've only just started doing painting livestreams, and will hopefully be able to continue doing so, but it's cool to have people watching from start to finish, and see how they react in the chat to colors mixing and the process of going from a white piece of paper to a colorful galaxy.


You also seem to play around with developing specific color palettes. Can you tell us a bit about this process and how it informs your work and paintings? How do you decide what to paint? Do you come up with ideas at random as you are inspired, or is it a bit more methodological and planned?

Making swatch charts of palettes is super helpful because sometimes the color that is in the pan will look a little different on paper. If I'm looking to make a certain color, it's good to see on the chart how each color interacts with all the other ones. It speeds up the process by being able to see every color you can create on one sheet of paper.

I try to keep several inspiration boards or lists going at once, and if I'm feeling like painting I will browse them and see what I am feeling that day. I don't really plan anything if I can help it. Sometimes it's easier to just go with it, but if I'm making a gift for someone specifically I try to at least put a little bit of planning behind it.


Finally, where would you say you pull inspiration from? Do you find yourself looking at other artists and creatives on social media to get ideas, or is it even more broad than that? How would you like to continue to grow and improve as a watercolorist as time goes on?

Right now, I pull a lot of inspiration from the Instagram explore tab, or any of the hashtag challenges that are going on at various times. Social media is definitely a major factor in why I picked this hobby up in the first place. I am going to be participating in a course on Skillshare called Watercolor Bootcamp. It's hosted by an amazing group of artists that I follow already. I'm hoping to learn a lot and apply it to my own work. I often feel like since I have no formal training that taking a class would not only make it easier but would make me feel more confident going forward.


You can see more of Catherine's watercolors by checking her out on Instagram.




Catherine Frisina

Catherine Frisina lives and works in Northwest Pennsylvania. She enjoys lying under the stars, taking photographs, and being sassy on Twitter.