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Artful Saturdays: A Lesson in Watercolors with Yao Cheng

Anne Evans Anne Evans Artful Saturdays: A Lesson in Watercolors with Yao ChengYao Cheng leads a watercolor workshop in her studio on Gay Street. Photo by Anne Evans.
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Art has always been a part of my life. As a child, and into college, I collected nearly every set of colored pencils made. I have hundreds of them. Painting was a medium I was into somewhat, but watercolors… well, I had bought a set of supplies but never really made it very far. I found it to be a difficult medium. Uncontrollable. Unpredictable. Then I saw a class that promised to “embrace the unpredictable and see where it takes us.”

I’ve been following Yao Cheng’s career in watercolor for quite some time. She was a featured local artist on CU back in 2013, and last fall, I caught up with her about her studio space, for the Metropreneur. Watercolors were always something I’ve been curious about, so when her team reached out to me to ask if I’d like to attend her upcoming Joy of Watercolor workshop and share my experience, I agreed. It sounded like a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and I hoped to learn something about this artistic medium I found so squirrelly.

Cheng has been doing classes online through Creativebug for awhile, and once she had her bright and large open studio, she dreamed of holding a class for people to experience in person.

“I wanted to bring people into the space that I feel inspired by every day,” she said.

Yao Cheng’s work fills her studio for inspiration during the workshop.

The setting was beautiful. A gorgeous day, so the space was flooded with light. A colorful plate of macarons and pitchers of tea and coffee said hello as you walked in the door. A long table set in the middle of the room held place cards for each student. Vases of flowers added color to the table and were for studying later in the afternoon. At each seat was a take-home supply kit, with a supply and techniques guide to help you continue your lessons at home. Each kit contained a set of five Princeton brushes of varying thickness, a palette preloaded with ten Winsor & Newton watercolors, and a pack of coldpressed watercolor paper, all wrapped in paper and tied with a ribbon. It was already a very special afternoon and the class had not yet begun.

About twelve students had come that day, some as far as Connecticut! When Cheng decides to offer a watercolor class, people are excited! She had the 3-hour class arranged with a lesson each hour and then practice time. Cheng encouraged everyone to gather around her seat at the table to view the lesson and see her techniques, and then you had time to try them yourself as she came around and offered advice to each student. There was a range of skill level at the table.

Cheng encouraged everyone to “think of the brush as an extension of your hand.” It is a thought-process she learned from her time spent practicing Chinese calligraphy and floral painting.

“It is very personable and expressive,” she says. “There is so much you can say just with brushstrokes.”

A lesson in florals.

By the end of the class she hopes that “you will have a new sense of confidence in painting and see just how simple and fun watercolor can be.”

With Cheng’s encouragement to think of painting with watercolor as more about abstract expression of what you see around you and less of a photo realistic interpretation, I found a new excitement with this medium that had previously given me such struggles.

The next Watercolor with Yao workshop ($175) is Saturday, August 26 from 1 – 4 p.m. at her Downtown Studio. For more information, visit YaoChengDesign.com.

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