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My name is Lisa Cunningham and I'm a watercolor artist who didn’t know I could paint until I was 40 years old. My husband calls me Lucy after Lucy Ricardo from I Love Lucy because (he claims) I always have some harebrained scheme going. It’s a lie, though. I don’t. Hardly ever.

Let me tell you the story of how one harebrained scheme changed my life. It’s a pretty great story and it takes place over the course of about four years. I’ll try to give you the condensed version. 

The story starts like this.

A while back I was feeling restless. Really restless. I dabbled in all sorts of creative outlets. Writing, photography, baking, knitting and scrapbooking. But I was sick of dabbling. I was crazy frustrated because I wanted to have one creative passion. One thing. If you’ve ever seen the old Billy Crystal movie, “City Slickers” you’ll get the “one thing” reference. Even if you haven’t seen it, you probably understand what I’m saying. One thing that I loved doing. One thing that I felt like I was really good at. One thing that was mine. I prayed about it and agonized over it and drove my sweet husband crazy with this quest. I tried all kinds of things but nothing was right.  (Seriously, it’s not surprising that he calls me Lucy.)

Fast forward about a year.

Word was going around my boys' school that they were going to offer a watercolor painting elective for the 8th graders. Another mom and I got to talking and thought, "Hey! That sounds like fun! I wonder if they'd let us take the class?" Turns out, if we didn't mind paying the fee and withstanding the raised eyebrows of a class full of 8th graders we were welcome to sit in. Yay! Let me just say that at this point I was a 40 year old soccer mom who had never wielded a paintbrush. Ever.

But it was fun. Really fun.

Fast forward another 8 months.

The painting class was over but I had learned enough to keep painting at home on my own. And I was still having fun. Sometimes I liked the things I painted. Sometimes I didn't. Painting was something fun to do. I didn't necessarily think this new activity was anything life changing. But I liked it. Then the most unlikely thing happened.

I was at the beach with a group of girlfriends, and we decided, before we headed home, to spend the morning at the Astoria farmer's market. Which, by the way, is a particularly good farmer's market. I highly recommend you check it out if you get the chance. Anyway, we were wandering around, checking out the food and the flowers and the jewelry when I spied an artist's booth. And the paintings just drew me in. They were vibrant and bold and gorgeous. They were obviously watercolor, but who knew you could get that kind of color from watercolor? So I stopped in my tracks as my friends wandered on. Then I noticed a painting that looked really familiar. I was just sure I'd seen it before. So I asked the artist, Peter X. O’Brien, whether I might have seen his work at the gallery in Vancouver Mall. Well, not only did he display his work at that gallery, he also taught a painting workshop there. 

Now, Astoria is a few hours from my house, but Van Mall is about 20 minutes from my house. 

Yes, please! I want to play! Do you have room? Can I join the workshop? Sure enough. Yippee!

From that point on, there was just no stopping me. Forget scrapbooking and baking and all that other dabbling. This! This is what I want to do! I can do this! Who knew I could do this? Well, God, apparently.

Certainly not me.

In Peter’s workshop we painted anything and everything. Sometimes we were all working on the same subject and sometimes we kind of went our own directions and worked on whatever we wanted to paint. This started to happen more and more. And I started to notice a pattern. When left to my own devices, more often than not I wound up painting animals. Sometimes chickens. Sometimes horses. But mostly dogs. Lots and lots of dogs. My dogs. My friends’ dogs. Dogs belonging to strangers I met who were kind enough to let me take a photo of their dog to use as a reference. And somewhere along the way I realized that, while painting made me happy, what made me really, really happy was painting dogs (and cats and horses) and seeing the reactions of people when I delivered their painting. 

So for several years that’s what I did. I built up a little business called Wet Nose Watercolors. If you want to see what that looked like, you can see some of my work on the WNW Gallery page on this website. 

And I was crazy happy with my “one thing.”   


I was still kind of bugged by my belief that I couldn’t draw and I wondered what would happen if I tried to change that. So I set myself a challenge. I would draw something every day for a year and post my drawing on Instagram. Just to see what would happen. Well, what happened was that at first I made the worst little drawings the world has ever seen. Every one of them confirmed my belief that I couldn’t draw. If you want to see for yourself, you can check out my old Instagram account @wetnosewatercolors. 

But here’s the thing. There are not many things in life that you can’t get better at if you practice relentlessly. So that’s what I did. I know myself well enough to know that it was all or nothing for my little challenge. I knew that if I skipped even one day of drawing, that would be it. I would be done and I would be very unlikely to ever try again. So even though on at least one occasion I literally had to get out of bed because I realized that I had forgotten to do my drawing for the day, I drew something Every. Single. Day. And slowly, my drawing improved. Slowly. Maybe I would draw a house and I would be really frustrated with the rest of the house, but I learned to find joy in the fact that I drew one really nice window. Or I would try to draw a tree and there would be one branch that I thought looked the way the branch of a tree should look. 

And that’s how I got here. One tiny step at a time. After a while I got to where I would occasionally be happy with an entire drawing. Eventually, these cute little animals started emerging in my sketchbook. Clearly, they needed to be painted,so I got my watercolors out and here we are.

If you've made it this far, thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to read this. Aren't you glad I gave you the condensed version of the story? Sheesh.

Lisa Cunningham

My Story: Text
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