Michelle’s journey back to her love for art. What helped her get back to it? How art therapy gave her a more balanced frame of mind. And her attraction to painting watercolor flowers.
Loving drawing and creating art, then having to set it aside, and finally getting back to it. Let’s take a look at the ZenARTist of January 2022, Michelle Gonzalez’s inspiring journey back to her artistic pursuits, her love for watercolor flowers, and her discovery of self-love.
Her Early Years
Motherhood and Her Two Decade Long Art Hiatus
Self-Love and Art Rekindled Through Watercolor
Her Flourishing Watercolor Creations and Art Collaborations
Selected Pieces From Michelle’s Body of Work
Michelle is a self-taught watercolor artist based in Manila, Philippines. Growing up wanting to pursue the arts but having to set it aside for two decades, Michelle’s story is both inspirational and empowering. Her watercolor paintings evoke a sense of joy and wonder in anyone who sees them. From beautiful flora and fauna to scrumptious food and landscapes, her choice of colors, brushwork, and technique through time is truly awe-inspiring and uplifting.
Her Early Years
Hailing from the archipelagic country with its 7,000 plus islands, Michelle Gonzalez was born in Manila, the capital of the Philippines on March 22, 1978. She also grew up and spent most of her life in this bustling and eternally busy metro. As a child, she found herself quite drawn to drawing and painting princesses and houses in all forms, shapes, and sizes. This interest started around the age of four and lasted until about her eighth year. During her grade school years, she would always join art and poster-making contests. She would even win at some of them, too!
Art has always been something close to her heart. What influenced her to start drawing may have possibly been seeing a few of her father’s sketches lying around when she was still quite young. He would draw his sketches on his planners and just random pieces of paper that he would get his hands on.
Motherhood and Her Two Decade Long Art Hiatus
Despite her clear inclinations towards art, Michelle was unfortunately expressly forbidden to take up Fine Arts in college. Pursuing art wasn’t looked upon as a “wise” or “profitable” choice for one’s future. And it’s a very much prevailing opinion in the Philippines until now. Art is generally thought of as a hobby rather than a profession to be sought. Instead, she had to take a business course. She applied for and was granted a 50% scholarship, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Business Management from the Ateneo de Manila University in the year 2000.
From that point on she had to suppress any of her artistic inclinations, she concentrated her time and thoughts completely on academics. Even more so when she took a year of leave from school to give birth to her eldest son. Immediately going back to school in her junior year, whatever time she had was focused on finishing her studies and caring for her newborn son. Michelle never really saw herself going back to drawing or creating art again.
Being a young mother, practicality was of utmost importance. Michelle immediately took the highest paying job offer she received straight out of college which was a position in operations. So even though it wasn’t in marketing which was her main interest, the pay was too good to pass up on. Her first job was as a management trainee for the company, Mister Donut.
As the business process outsourcing industry in the country kept growing and flourishing through the years, this led her to take on roles in various call centers and BPOs as well. Positions in the said industry paid higher, making them highly attractive to many job seekers. Though they can also be quite competitive and stressful.
In 2012, she felt that years were just going by so fast – too fast – and she wanted to be able to personally take care of her sons. She didn’t want to miss their most formative years and needed to make sure that she was there for them as they were growing older. This made her decide to venture into freelancing as this would allow her more freedom schedule-wise, to be able to structure her work on her own chosen time and terms.
Self-love and Art Rekindled Through Watercolor
In 2015, Michelle first encountered the idea of ‘self-love’ when someone mentioned to her that she needed to have it in her life. In fact, she had no idea what it meant, and that in itself was quite telling as she was told. Being a mother of two and a life partner, she was so used to having to think of and prioritize the practical things in life, and she thought that any time spent on herself must have a ‘valid reason’. This made her put her own interests aside and on the backburner. Being introduced to what self-love is made her realize that she needed to include herself in the list, too. That actually learning to truly love oneself will help you in turn love others more fully.
It wasn’t until a few years later (2018) that she accidentally stumbled upon what would rekindle her artistic side. What started it all was her son asking her for some money to buy art supplies that he needed for a school project. She impulsively asked him to buy a watercolor set and a sketchbook for her, too. Specifically asking and stressing that he get the cheapest ones he could find. He came home with a set of watercolor cakes and just a regular sketchbook – the kind for just general drawing and sketching. At the time, she didn’t know that there are different kinds of sketchbooks and paper depending on various factors like what medium you’ll be using.
She started painting and painting – it took her 8 hours to finish her creation – and found herself struggling and with much mounting frustration. And the outcome wasn’t exactly what she hoped to achieve. This led her to book a three-hour workshop on basic watercolor painting on the very same night. An early birthday present to herself for her upcoming 40th birthday! After the enlightening workshop, she started to upgrade and bought better art supplies, now knowing that they make a difference during the painting process and the final quality of your work. Michelle then found herself painting almost every day. And on some days even more than once. It’s like the creative juices that have been dammed up for so long have finally burst.
Her daily painting became her way of practicing self-love. Dealing with constant stress from various sources in life was beginning to take its toll on Michelle, anxiety and panic attacks began to occur repeatedly. Obligations and responsibilities can’t be abandoned but she also needed some breathing room to heal and recharge herself. Painting became her pocket moments of true peace and quiet. Not the audible quiet, but the quiet of the mind and soul. A means of taking a much-needed break from the chaos of daily life. Her painting time was her safe space and was a form of meditation. Having that moment of peace every day greatly aided her mental and emotional health.
Her Flourishing Watercolor Creations and Art Collaborations
Michelle started sharing her watercolor creations through social media, setting up an Instagram account, @brushstrokesbymichelle, dedicated to her art practice. In just a few months she gained a lot of followers and to this day it still keeps on growing. Michelle also started collaborating with other artists and art brands on Instagram. The opportunity to help spread motivation and positivity to other artists was something dear to her, having experienced the healing powers of using art as a form of therapy firsthand.
As her painting skills kept on improving, Michelle eventually started teaching watercolor painting online via the online learning community, Skillshare. Her first class covered the how-tos of painting loose watercolor roses. You’ll find that some of her other tutorials are on how to paint other floral subjects. In fact, if you look through her Instagram posts, you’ll notice that she paints a lot of flowers – roses, hydrangeas, daisies, peonies, and more. They were actually subconscious choices, Michelle chooses to paint things she loves and flowers are indeed one of those things she really loves.
“The colors, the graceful forms of the petals, the beauty that brings a certain feeling of joy and love – these are what flowers are to me and the reason why I paint them a lot more than other subjects.”
– Michelle Gonzalez
Michelle started with painting loose watercolor flowers as she felt that she “lost” her sketching skills during those two art-dormant decades in her life. But as her watercolor skills kept on improving, she found herself wanting to draw more challenging and detailed flowers. So she started sketching again and was quite rusty at the beginning. As with any skill, there was a learning curve to surmount, her bane was getting the dimensions and proportions right. Michelle found herself spending quite a bit of time on sketching just to make sure that she got them right. But with constant practice, she eventually began to see that she was erasing less and her final drawings were looking much, much better. The much-earned progress has been achieved!
On December 2021, Michelle held her first solo 3-hour long demo outside of her country through IWCS (Indonesia Watercolor Summit) in Indonesia via Zoom. Participants learned from Michelle the step-by-step process of how to paint a deer in watercolor and also got to hear her very inspirational art journey. Michelle is a great advocate and an inspirational figure for those who want to start painting. That age doesn’t matter, for her what matters is that you start now. To let go of the fears that keep you from reawakening your love for creating art. Her advice is to not be discouraged by the first part of your journey where you don’t always end up with paintings that you love. Just like her very own story, just accept that it’s part of the process and keep at it. Eventually, you’ll get better at it – practice makes progress after all.
Today, Michelle continues to share her knowledge on watercolor painting through her Skillshare courses. And she has now over two thousand students! Together with two other friends, they have launched a watercolor group called Watercolor Aficionados. They teach online watercolor techniques to their subscribers on a monthly basis. Michelle actively continues to motivate, empower, and inspire artists through her beautiful posts @brushstrokesbymichelle. There you’ll find her works ranging from florals to birds, animals, people, landscapes, food, and many other subjects that personally pique her interest. She also candidly shares her own thoughts, and stories of her life and art in her blog, Brushstrokes By Michelle.
Michelle shares her expertise and knowledge by testing, reviewing, and sharing her thoughts on various watercolor supplies sent to her. We’re proud to say that Michelle is one of ZenART’s fantastic Luminaries, an international community of our most well-loved ZenARTists.
Selected Pieces from Michelle’s Body of Work
Here are just a select few pieces showcasing Michelle’s fantastic range and technical skills. These are but a small drop in her ocean of amazing works. From the delicate brushstrokes and fine layering she used on her watercolor flowers to the more vivid colors and textural brushwork on other subjects. There’s always something to look forward to when you follow her online.
Say hello to our ZenARTist for January 2022, Michelle Gonzalez! Head on to her Instagram @brushstrokesbymichelle and let her artistic journey motivate you to continue yours!
Did Michelle’s story inspire you to do some watercolor painting yourself? Thinking of trying out some watercolor flowers? Drop by our Watercolor Painting For Beginners and Watercolor Painting Techniques toolkit articles to help start you off. Do you have any questions for us? Please do leave any questions, thoughts, or suggestions in the comments section below. We’d love to hear back from you!
— MEET THE AUTHOR—
Kathleen is the Wordsmith at ZenART, resident artist and art editor. When God sent a shower of talents, Kathleen made sure she got a basketful of them! She’s a visual artist with practical knowledge in various fields from painting and sculpture, to costume and set design which comes in very handy when writing about various art techniques and theories. She also shares her passion for the arts through teaching. She runs her own brand of handmade wirework jewelry designs.