Inspiration Charlie O’Shields: The Inner Child, Doodlewash and World Watercolor Month


How did one creative director’s inner child’s dream to create a picture book turn into a community? How did Doodlewash give birth to the annual World Watercolor Month?

It is inevitable to desire to want to do more of a freshly discovered hobby. However, it is quite rare to progress from that into fulfilling a long-ago dream while creating something that would benefit many others along the way. Hence, when Charlie declared he’s doing something about his dream to create a picture book and expanded his blog to continuously motivate himself, he unintentionally started a fast-growing community of like-minded artists. This eventually led to World Watercolor Month. The rest is history.

Let’s take a look at the personal and professional life of the beloved host of Sketching Stuff podcast, the creator of Doodlewash and founder of the annual World Watercolor Month, visual artist, designer, creative director, author, and our ZenARTist of June 2021, Charlie O’Shields.

Early Life in Missouri
Charlie and His Many Hats
The Inner Child’s Dream to Write and Illustrate Books
The Birth of  World Watercolor Month
Art for Art Education
The Sketching Stuff Podcast
Finally, Picture Books!
Fine Line Mini for Sketching Stuff: Draw Upon A Time
Selected Pieces from Charlie’s Body of Work

Charlie O’Shields is a creative director, visual artist, and author of several delightful art books. He is known as the host of the Sketching Stuff podcast, for creating Doodlewash, a global art community or ‘playhouse’ as he likes to call it. Furthermore, Charlie established World Watercolor Month, a non-profit event held every year in July. World Watercolor Month aims to bring together watercolor artists and enthusiasts for a month-long celebration of watercolor and other water media.

Charlie O’Shields on an Eames Lounge Chair. Photograph taken by Jeromey W. Bell

Early Life in Missouri

Charlie O’Shields was born on the 13th of April 1971 in Kansas City, Missouri to parents John and Marlene. John, Charlie’s dad maintained creative projects alongside his work in an auto parts factory. For some time in his life, he produced several country-western music shows featuring known country music artists.

Infant Charlie with his mother, sister, brother, and father.

On the other hand, Charlie’s mother, Marlene always kept crafting projects on top of her work in a sewing factory. Charlie finds it’s always such a great joy working with his mother. He fondly recalls that among all Marlene’s projects, his favorite was a pink stuffed elephant clad in overalls made with upcycled denim.

“To get the idea and the emotions across, I don’t use people [as a subject for art] to keep it universal. I really want to get the message across and I purposely don’t use people because I want it to work for all races and all gender identities. I want it to work for everyone.” 
—Charlie O’Shields

Photo on the left: Charlie at five years old. Photo on the right: The bear little Charlie had his mom made a wardrobe of clothes for.

Charlie’s older sister and brother were a decade older than him and both married young. Thus, from grade school, he lived the life of an only child in the household, doted on and surrounded by love and art. Because of this, Charlie’s parents made sure he gets all the creative boosts they can give. His earliest exposure to art was through picture books. Numerous storybooks with beautiful illustrations, which would inspire his dream of making a picture book of his own someday.

Charlie and His Many Hats

It’s not surprising with two imaginative parents that the gift of creativity would be passed through Charlie. At a young age, he wore many artistic hats. He was a professional actor, a singer, a playwright, and a set designer. On top of all his creative pursuits, Charlie also designed his own costumes for all his performances. With the help of his talented mother, Marlene collaborated with her son to bring all Charlie’s designs to life.

A newspaper clipping about Charlie during his high school years.

Later in his adolescent years, he also taught tap and jazz dance while working through college for his arts degree. It is undeniable that this young multidisciplinary artist was destined to do more. It is likely that both his parents even hoped that he would continue on pursuing acting and singing as a life-long career. However, around his mid-20s, Charlie found a new career path and left the stage for good. To this day, he works as a full-time creative director on top of all his other hats. 

“Nobody in my family really knows what that [Creative Director] means, so they always just said I worked with computers. In reality, I’ve worked in many different fields of design. This includes web design, game design, product development, print design, and packaging design.” 
—Charlie O’Shields

Charlie during his theater days.

The Inner Child’s Dream to Write and Illustrate Books

One fine weekend in July 2015, his husband Philippe brought home a little box of watercolor to try out. After over 20 years of not picking up an actual brush to paint, Charlie found himself thoroughly enjoying the medium.

My Little Palette (2015) one of the first watercolor paintings by Charlie in 2015.

His inner child, giddy with excitement, reminded him of his long-ago dream to illustrate a picture book. That same weekend, Charlie started a blog and named it Doodlewash — a fun name to describe that warm fuzzy feeling he gets whenever he plays or dabbles with drawing and watercolor.

Charlie’s first-ever post on Doodlewash back in July 2015.

On Doodlewash, Charlie initially shared only his daily drawings and paintings. However, the writer in him eventually came to life as well. Soon, he started accompanying his paintings with short stories, entertaining ramblings about random imaginings and things that come to mind. Later, Charlie would be including snippets of his everyday life with husband Philippe and their adorable dog, Phineas.

Phineas, Charlie and Philippes’s Basenji dog.

Within a year of continued practice, he felt the urge to do something more with Doodlewash. Charlie expanded the Doodlewash website to include a community area. An area where artists like himself can share their art practice and artworks with other watercolor lovers. To date, Doodlewash has featured over 600 guest artists from around the globe.

The Birth of World Watercolor Month

It was in 2016 that Charlie started World Watercolor Month. For his sketches, he would often use prompts and themes to keep himself painting daily. Most of these themes were all celebration days like Ice Cream Day or Hot Dog Day. He realized that there wasn’t anything watercolor-related.

Consequently, Charlie set out to change that. With the support of a community of watercolor artists, he established a way to celebrate the medium, unite the watercolor world while supporting an initiative to further art education. A day would be nice, but a whole month would be extra. The annual watercolor celebration was born and July is now and forever, officially World Watercolor Month. 

World Watercolor Month is a gift for the arts community. It’s a non-profit event that aims to support arts education. Charlie not only believes in the benefits of creating art for the holistic growth and development of children. He also believes in the importance of cultivating future generations of artists. Artists who would help create and shape ideas that can elevate humanity in the future.

Art for Art Education

World Watercolor Month’s 2021 charitable partner is the International Child Art Foundation. An organization that promotes art in schools through the Arts Olympiad program. They host the World Children’s Festival (WCF) every four years in Washington D.C. We’re glad to mention that ZenART is sponsoring this massive celebration this year. We heartily believe in Charlie and Doodlewash’s values.

“I wanted the month to be a gift to the art community, so I made it a non-profit event to help support arts education. I’m very passionate about getting kids to keep doodling and creating art as they grow up. The world can never have too many artists as they help create and shape the ideas that will elevate us in the future.”
—Charlie O’Shields

So what happens during this month-long celebration? World Watercolor Month features the “31 watercolors in 31 days” challenge. The goal is to paint with watercolor every day in July. An optional list of daily prompts was released to inspire more artists to paint. Similarly, for artists who like to create larger pieces, this month can also be a chance to share their process and show them in stages. The hope is to come together as a global community to share, learn, and celebrate the wonderful medium of watercolor.

The Sketching Stuff Podcast 

In 2018 as Charlie continued to maintain the Doodlewash platform and community as well as a massive festival on top of all his pursuits, he decided to launch the Sketching Stuff podcast. Sketching Stuff is a means to host and share the audio versions of some of his best write-ups.

Finally, Picture Books!

Let’s go back to Charlie’s dream of writing and illustrating his very own picture book. Charlie did not only end up publishing one or two books. He’s actually released seven books to date!

It all started with a short allegory that ended up turning into a full book — The Curious Case of.. Miser Snoot and the Bibliomaniacs (2002). After his success with Doodlewash, World Watercolor Month, and the Sketching Stuff podcast, Charlie created a series of Sketching Stuff activity books.

Books under the series include Stories Sketched from Life (2018), Nature (2019), and Food (2020). Above is Sketching Stuff Activity Book – Nature: For People of All Ages (2019)

Also, Charlie released an illustrated cookbook Do Cook! which he co-authored with his husband Philippe Noguera. The 40-page cookbook features Philippe’s recipes plus Charlie’s watercolor food illustrations and thoughts about life, family, and art. 

Photo on the left: Philippe with Charlie in Paris. Photo on the right: Do Cook! Illustrated cookbook by Charlie and Philippe.

Sketching Stuff Draw Upon A Time

Just this year, Charlie finally launched an interactive picture book series for people of all ages called Sketching Stuff Draw Upon a Time. The first book in the series is One Little Mouse followed by One Little Dog. Charlie used a format that can work for all types of people. Thus, there are only animals and no gender pronouns were used in the story. The books are truly for all races, genders, and gender identities. 

Sketching Stuff Draw Upon A Time One Little Dog and One Little Mouse.

These interactive picture books give kids and adults the opportunity to add their own drawings to help complete the tale. Indeed, the only character is an animal that talks directly to the reader. On top of that, whoever holds the brush, pen, or crayon becomes a wizard of sorts, conjuring up additional drawings.

The final illustration for One Little Mouse and One Little Dog, respectively.

Fine Line Mini for Sketching Stuff Draw Upon a Time

We’re thrilled to mention that Charlie enjoyed using the ZenART Fine Line Miniature Collection detailing brushes for creating the small sketches for his most recent books Sketching Stuff Draw Upon a Time: One Little Mouse and One Little Dog.

Charlie used ZenART Fine Line Miniature Brushes for creating the small detailed sketches for his Sketching Stuff Draw Upon a Time books.

“For me, my career has always been about creativity. I love creative problem-solving, concepts, and ideas.”
—Charlie O’Shields

Selected Pieces from Charlie’s Body of Work

We’ve selected a few of Charlie O’Shields’ pieces to highlight his visual style. Let’s take a look at some of these wonderful watercolor paintings.

The Smell of Old Books (2020) by Charlie O’Shields

Being Self-Aware (2020)  by Charlie O’Shields

Little Treasures (2020) by Charlie O’Shields

The Next Bright Idea (2021) by Charlie O’Shields

Finally, it is worth noting that Charlie’s studio is still, to this day, the edge of his kitchen counter. Now, what’s stopping you to paint?

Say hello to our ZenARTist for June 2021, Charlie O’Shields! Send some love his way on Instagram @doodlewashed and on the official Doodlewash blog. 

Did Charlie’s story inspire you to start a painting habit? Get some motivation and inspiration to start painting daily, join our group on Facebook Painting Inspiration Daily.  In addition to that, check our Start a Daily Painting Habit Today inspiration article. 

Have some questions for Charlie? For us? Don’t forget to write them all in the comments section below! Happy painting!


Fabrianne is the Ambassador of Art Buzz at ZenART, resident eccentric pocket-sized art curator, editor, and art world liaison. She builds and develops relationships with the arts community and makes sure that ZenART’s inspirational articles get to you “hot off the press.” She co-founded an online contemporary art gallery, worked with over 100 artists on exhibitions and performances, wears only black clothes and when she’s not creating buzz or curating and saturating in art, still daydreams of becoming a quirky Wes Anderson film character.