behind-the-scenes etsy watercolor watercolor wednesdays

The Big Lake Original


Welcome to Watercolor Wednesdays! For today’s post, I wanted to share a bit of my origins with The Big Lake and share some of the original pieces that started everything and made the foundations for this very post. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, The Big Lake is my art business, my Etsy shop, my Great Lakes passion expressed through watercolor. Currently I work full-time as a one-woman show behind the brand and business, managing my online retail shop, working with some truly wonderful brick-and-mortar stores that carry my products, creating new pieces, and maintaining all the day-to-day operations (which can seem like an ever-growing list!). I’ve come a long way from where I first started, and I have so much more I’d like to do and accomplish with The Big Lake–such as building up this blog!–so it only seemed fitting to begin at the beginning, as it were.

A few years ago, closer to five (six?) years ago now, I was living in Ann Arbor, working on a graduate degree (or two) from Eastern Michigan University, in Literature, and Children’s Literature, and was looking for a creative outlet as a brief reprieve from studies. Never much of painter, I actually can’t recall what made me reach for my watercolors–perhaps the challenge or novelty of the medium?–and start painting. At first, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have any idea of what I even wanted to paint, but I remember feeling distinctly land-locked, missing the shores and views of Lake Michigan where I grew up.

With pencil in hand, I sketched an outline of Lake Michigan, and let the watercolor move and flow and bloom and break free of my initial outline, fluid and, compared to my meticulous studies, a little bit reckless. I loved it! I immediately started on another idea:


This time I sketched a full outline of all of the Great Lakes, and perhaps a little overzealously, soaked the paper with water and watery pigment so that it immediately started overflowing and surpassing any semblance of the detail I had initially included. The Upper Peninsula became a bit of a squiggle, and every single Lake spilled over, it was like the painting had a life of its own. I couldn’t figure out if I loved the rawness of the medium, or if I was disappointed in my lack of painting proficiency, but I did feel something special about this particular piece. I snapped a few pictures of this painting, titled it “The Living Great Lakes,” and settled back into a pile of nearly overdue readings and assignments.

Over the next few weeks, I showed a few people the picture of my painting, and even had a few friends express interest in it, enough that I thought I’d list the original painting for sale on my first Etsy site. At the time, John and I were making and selling recycled pop bottle drinking glasses and beer bottle guitar slides, so attempting to share my paintings felt like a wild departure, and certainly didn’t fit the vibe of the first shop I created. I wasn’t even sure someone else would even want this wild painting, but the thrill of sharing it made me want to paint a few more, if only squeezing in a few more creative hours in between my study schedule.


I loved that no two paintings were the same, even though I was essentially painting the same map, over and over. With each attempt, a new expression revealed itself, a new memory of time on the water, or a new mood that the Great Lakes represented: tranquil and serene, lush and tropical, wild and untamed. I continued to paint.


I’ve always been a comfort seeker, at home in the repetitive, a lover of re-reading and re-watching my favorite books, movies, and tv shows. Painting the shape, over and over and over, allowed me to experiment with the paint and the paper, the fluidity and style of watercolor, and the mood or memory I wanted to share. Online, in my first Etsy shop, I sold my first few paintings, and I connected with people who held a deep love for the Great Lakes from all over the country. It was this type of connection–one that I hadn’t experienced in my academic work or in my recycled glass Etsy shop–that inspired me to move in an entirely new (albeit very familiar!) direction with my creative work.

And so The Big Lake was born, named after my very first painting of Lake Michigan. I renamed my Etsy shop, continued painting the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan, and Michigan, along with Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario, and over the years created prints, cards, stickers, and apparel from my watercolor designs. It has always been, and continues to be, a wonderful opportunity for learning and creating and connecting with fellow lake lovers (and beyond!). I’m excited to see how this new adventure unfolds as I continue to develop the blog, create new pieces, and share my experiences with you.


Thank you for joining me for this first installment of Watercolor Wednesdays! In the weeks to come I’ll be sharing more watercolor projects from my studio, in addition to tutorials, resources, and favorite artists from around the web.

Until then, I’d love to hear from you! Do you enjoy painting? Did you fall into a new hobby unexpectedly? Do you have a favorite maker or Etsy shop? Let me know in the comments below or over @thebiglakemi on Instagram!