You don't have to be gifted to be good

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Martha Bull was a successful businesswoman before a divorce and a recession-driven bankruptcy made her reconsider her priorities in the mid-1980s. Deciding it was time for a bold new direction, she enrolled in a three-year full-time program at the Ontario College of Art, and discovered a love for watercolour painting.

“It was liberating,” she remembers. “It felt like, for the first time in a long time, I was taking time to do something I really wanted to do.”

In the ensuing years, she has worked in several different fields, but she has also joined a friend who runs an adventure tourism company on countless canoe trips to Ontario’s north, taking along her art supplies and giving fellow trippers lessons in en plein air watercolour painting. And she has discovered a passion for teaching, one that’s just as strong as her love for creating art.
Last year, she started a company, My Time Watercolour, and set about merging her two loves professionally. Named for that feeling she had back at OCA, her lessons are aimed at those who are approaching watercolour and feel that it’s “their time” to finally explore their creativity in a different way.

Based in Toronto, Bull has been conducting classes in that city primarily, but this winter she’s spending weekends at the Mulmur farm that her parents left to her and her siblings. So she’s bringing her lessons northward, and is hoping to find a group of people who would like to try their hands at watercolour at a series of workshops. The first, on January 25 and 26, will take place at the Honeywood School House, and feature a hot lunch on both days. The second will be at the same venue from February 14 to 17 and feature Sue Miller as a guest instructor as well as Bull herself. After that, she’s hoping her students will join her in the great outdoors – her favourite place to paint – for a summer of creativity.

A first watercolour attempt by Cathy, one of Martha’s students.

“What I really want people to know is that painting is not difficult,” said Bull, her passion for teaching coming through in her voice. “And also, that you don’t have to be gifted to be good at it. It’s about coming at it from the right angle and then practicing.”

Over the years, Bull has refined a teaching approach that has guaranteed results, she said. The key, the first time students put paint to paper, is to keep things abstract. “The first session is all about water and paint, and lines and texture.” The second session is about the establishment of a scene… but really, only the outline of a scene. “I can promise you that you’ll be proud of that one,” she said.

Once you have those two paintings under your belt, it’s all about discovering what you’re good at – some people are line and texture people, and some people are shape and colour people, says Bull. She loves to help students discover their own creative personalities and gets a thrill out of guiding them to that point.

“It turns my crank to see people exploring,” said Bull. “And they need to do that to find out what they like to do. What I can do is help push them in the right direction.”

Martha Bull’s My Time Watercolour sessions cost $170 To book yourself a spot, call 416-546-2555, email or visit

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