Watercolour for Self-Care

A fun, free workshop by Emma Burleigh on how to use watercolour for mindfulness and self-care.

Emma Burleigh is an award winning comics artist, painter and art teacher with a passion for watercolour. She loves to share her practice and holds workshops to explore how art can support mindfulness, insight and well being.

Emma is working on a book for Liminal 11 called Soul Color, out in 2021! Sign up to our newsletter for updates and stay tuned for more from Emma here on our blog.


Hello, and welcome to Watercolour for Mindfulness and Self-Care!

How are you doing right now? How is life under lockdown for you? Perhaps you’ve been feeling trapped, scared, frustrated, lonely, or anxious about the future. You might be seriously worried about issues of livelihood, housing and health for yourself or your loved ones. You could be struggling with a sense of loss: loss of meaning, purpose or connection. I’m certainly experiencing some anxiety at times, and I really feel for you if you’re having a tough time right now. I wish I could make it better for you.

This is quite a challenging time to take up the practice of self-care, but for that very reason I’d say it’s all the more important. In fact, I can’t think of a better time to commit to some creative self-care activities than in the middle of a global pandemic! Maybe you’ve already been experiencing some of the silver linings of lockdown: the chance to slow down, enjoy a little more time, listen to the birdsong and take a walk in the unusually fresh air. These simple watercolour painting exercises that I’m offering could help to bring you some gentle, creative respite from an unsettled or anxious mind-state.

Feeling afraid right now is natural, and a little bit of fear is not all bad if it reminds us to wash our hands and stay socially distant. But for many of us, activities for soothing and regulating our nervous systems are vital to help us stay balanced. Right now, we have an opportunity to go inward, to practice slowing down and being present, and to learn how to calm our minds and bodies. There are many ways of reducing ‘fight, flight, freeze’ and resourcing yourself during these uncertain times, and the one that I want to bring to you today is Watercolouring for Self-Care.

These simple watercolour painting exercises that I’m offering could help to bring you some gentle, creative respite from an unsettled or anxious mind-state.

Watercolour is an exquisite, luminous medium. It’s also easy to use at home, requiring only relatively inexpensive paints, water, paper, brushes and a small space; it doesn’t stain or smell, and it doesn’t take forever to dry.

Watercolour is always surprising; it flows where it wants to, it’s mercurial and whimsical. We can learn to enjoy the flow, to ‘go with it’, and to find new meanings in the spills and splatters that it generates. It can reveal to us intuitive feelings and thoughts which we could not have consciously expressed. It can transport us to those dreamy, magical places our everyday controlling mind just can’t access.

Watercolour requires us to slow down. It asks us to practice patience with uncertainty, as we allow it to ‘do it’s own thing’ and take its own time. It evokes in us the quality of playfulness: we learn to think flexibly and find the creative opportunities that open up when it doesn’t do what we want it to. When it runs off in unexpected directions and pools in peculiar puddles I see it as a sort of partner dance: the watercolour isn’t behaving as I intended, but I try to be gracious and allow for the possibility that it has a much more interesting idea than I had in mind anyway. To my delight, it often does!

Back in the 2000s I was a stressed-out secondary school art teacher, and I took up both meditation and watercolour painting to help me release some of the pressure at work. Eventually these two streams merged into a Mindful Watercolour practice, and I’ve been teaching and sharing my methods with people for the last few years.

The Workshop

Today, I’m sharing Water + Colour + Self-Care: Watercolour Exercises for Lockdown for anyone who wants to try their hand at mindful watercolour painting! Click the ‘Download’ button below to download the free PDF guide.

Click the ‘Download’ button above to download the free PDF guide!

I’ve included three activities for you to try: Mindful Brush-Marks, Lockdown Rainbow Relaxation! and Mindfulness of Sound Painting.

Mindful Brush-Marks guides you through different ways of using the paintbrush whilst being aware of your internal responses.

Lockdown Rainbow Relaxation! inspires you to create a rainbow for your front window (something children across the UK have been doing to spread hope).

Mindfulness of Sound Painting guides you in responding to the sounds around you by putting brush to paper

Tips & FAQs

What you’ll need:

  • Two water pots (jam / jelly jars are good!) Keep one clean and use the other for rinsing off your dirty brush.
  • A box of watercolour pans or watercolour tubes
  • Paint brushes
  • A palette (a white china plate works well too)
  • Watercolour paper. I suggest ordinary ‘Not Press’ (a.k.a. cold press), ideally at around 300 to 350 gsm.

Pans or tubes?

A: It doesn’t matter! Pans are those dry cubes of paint: just agitate the surface with a dripping wet brush to create some ready-to-use liquid colour. Pans are convenient – open your paint box and you’re ready to go.

Tubes are good if you want to paint really big as you can squeeze out a large quantity onto a plate, mix it into a giant puddle with plenty of water, and scoop it up with a big brush. If you use tubes, you still need to add water to that moist pigment you’ve just squeezed out: make sure you mix it thoroughly with water until it’s absolutely fluid and there are no sticky lumps left. I can’t stress how important it is to add water and mix thoroughly – it’s the fluid, watery quality of watercolour that makes it so uniquely luminous and transparent.

Important: A word about consistency

When I teach a class I spend plenty of time making sure everyone is confidently mixing their paints thoroughly with water. Some people think water colour is ‘wishy-washy’. It’s true that it can be used very delicately in pale tones, but it can also be punchy and vibrant. It just depends on your ratio of pigment to water.

The essential thing to understand is, whether you want it pale or punchy, you still need to mix that pigment diligently with plenty of water until it’s completely fluid. In terms of strength and consistency, you can think about it as being a bit like tea: your tea can be a delicate brew that merely touched a teabag for a few seconds. Or it can be a very strong ‘builder’s brew’. But whatever the intensity, tea should NEVER have lumps of undiluted sticky matter floating around in it. Likewise, make sure there are no lumps of unmixed pigment in your watercolour brew!

I hope that these practices I’m sharing with you will support you during this time.

With warm wishes,

Emma Burleigh

Water + Colour + Self-Care: Watercolour Exercises for Lockdown

© Emma Burleigh Artist

Find me at

Buy my mini-course book: Space, A Mindful Art Guide at my Etsy shop.

Watch this space for my forthcoming full-length book, Soul Color (a 10-week watercolour course for mindfulness and creativity), which will be published by Liminal 11 in 2021. Sign up to the Liminal 11 newsletter for updates.

Want more self-care activities?


  1. Lesley Venter
    May 20, 2020 / 5:21 am

    Hi, I used to be good at art at 18. I haven’t drawn, or painted since. I’m 51. I’m finding that I’ve lost my mojo. Any advice on where to start to get it back please?

    • liminal11
      May 20, 2020 / 10:54 am

      A great way to start would be an activity like this! Painting mindfully without worrying so much about the end result is a wonderful way of getting used to the feeling of the brush in your hand. Likewise with colouring, which is a great mindfulness tool and a good warmup for other types of drawing. With some relaxed, pressure-free, mindful practice, you might just find that mojo again!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *