Maria Raczyńska is a professional watercolor artist and online instructor with three online schools. Her career began in 2016 when she created her YouTube channel. At first, it was just a hobby posting occasional watercolor tutorials but once the audience grew she quickly decided to get serious about becoming a teacher. Maria lives with her two-year-old daughter and a husband in Southern Orange County, CA, where she draws her inspiration from the ocean and nearby mountain trails.
We are happy that we could get Maria for an inspiring and informing interview. Enjoy reading about how she became an artist, her professional career and much more from this fantastic artist.
As we know your mother is an oil painter and you grew up in an artistic household. Was it always clear for you, that you will also have a career as an artist?
I grew up watching my mom painting with oils. That’s all she did her entire life, selling her paintings and teaching how to paint with oils.
But I couldn’t picture myself doing the same thing. My mom was very good at what she did and she was very successful at times, but there were also times when we struggled greatly and didn’t have any money. I partially grew up in Poland and at that time, it was very hard for a single mom to raise 4 children on her own. My parents separated when I was about 5 (my dad lives in Canada, my mom lives in France)
So I dreamed of travelling and working in the travel business. However, watching my mom paint over the years has given me a lot of confidence, that when I started painting in 2011, I wasn’t afraid to do anything.
How did it come that watercolour has become your favourite media and not oil?
I think it’s because I have always seen my mom being all ‘dirty’ in paint haha I wasn’t a fan of the smell of turpentine either. So when I decided I was going to do something artistic I wanted to do it with brushes (like my mom) but I thought of something cleaner – like watercolors.
In 2011 you started drawing more seriously as you decided to create your own children’s book. What brought you to this idea?
A good friend of mine was creating her own children’s book and she was pretty successful at it. I thought to myself, I can draw too, so that’s when I bought my first watercolor pad, brushes, and paints.
I wasn’t as successful as she was. I would paint maybe once or twice a month back then. Once I was done with two books, I put it all away and got busy with other things.
You laid the foundation for your professional career by starting your YouTube channel in 2016. The follower numbers have risen extremely from one week to the other. Do you have any idea what the key was?
Between 2012 (after I was done with my children’s books) and 2014, I hardly picked up a brush. I just wasn’t too motivated because I didn’t know what to paint.
In 2014 I lost my twin brother – that’s when I grabbed my brushes and paints again. I started painting from my brother’s favourite images. Forest, animals. This has helped me to heal.
Sometime at the beginning of 2016, I created my “mariamorjane” youtube channel and I uploaded the first video. I think it was a bird. I hardly had any views. Maybe 5 – which was probably me watching my videos haha
Next month I uploaded a painting of two foxes or maybe it was a rose. I wasn’t painting as often then – maybe once a month.
Then I uploaded a beach painting, a couple of other landscapes, and a sea turtle under the water. The beach scene got a lot of views and so did the other landscape paintings.
It was August 2016 when my subscriber count went from just a few to over a thousand. I remember I was so excited, I began to paint every single day. I started uploading videos every day. I was getting a lot of views (in thousands) and I was taking my viewers requests about what to paint next.
By the end of October, I had 3-4K subscribers.
What has helped me was being active on my youtube channel. I was engaging with my subscribers. I listened to their requests and I was consistent with my uploads. I had a goal of reaching 10K subscribers by the end of 2016. On Dec 31st, 2016 I had 14K subscribers. July 2017 – 50K subscribers. I kept going but I had to slow down with video uploads. I couldn’t keep up so I went from 7 to 5 videos per week.
Today, I post 1 video per week every Saturday. With my 3 online schools, youtube channel, Instagram, Facebook it wouldn’t be possible to post every day, so I have created a schedule that works for me.
To answer the question, what was the ‘key’ – I think I was just lucky. It was all about youtube’s algorithm back then too. One ‘lucky video led to another one. Youtube was constantly recommending my channel to viewers and so I kept growing. It’s about what Youtube recommends.
Today, there are thousands of similar youtube channels like mine. When I first started there were just a few watercolor channels (the same with Patreon).
Also, youtube’s algorithm has changed and unless youtube suggests your videos to the viewers it’s hard to appear in people’s feed. Even if you have a lot of subscribers.
I think it’s like a cycle. For those that are building their channels – it’s a matter of time before you get into that ‘spin’. It’s about being consistent – one day one of your videos will get picked up and you will start gaining all the subscribers.
Whom or what inspires you most in your art?
I think my mom is still my biggest inspiration in art. Ever since my career has started – thanks to my YouTube channel/subscribers – my mom has been teaching me a lot about art. She’s my biggest fan but also the biggest critic of my work.
What’s the favourite part of your job?
I love to paint. There’s nothing more exciting than when I get to sit by my painting table. The moment I pick up a brush and start wetting the paper…
You are a watercolour artist and teacher. In the past, you have offered several online classes on Patreon and Teachable. This year you have set up your third online class at www.mariaraczynska.com. What is the difference between the two ones before?
Yes, that’s correct. In 2017 I started with Patreon where I had offered real-time videos. Patreon is a subscription-based platform. But after that, my students wanted more in-depth classes, so I created my school on teachable. The school on teachable was also for those that didn’t want any subscription.
Today on Patreon I offer weekly Voiceover tutorials, a community where I stay in touch with my students.
My teachable school is still there, it’s for those that want to buy more in-depth individual classes.
But something was missing. There was a demand for classes like I have on Teachable but with a subscription. So I have created my third online school www.mariaraczynska.com which offers more in-depth classes (no voiceovers because I talk while I am painting) available under subscription. A student can also purchase each class individually.
Did the pandemic affect your business?
Yes, at first the pandemic has brought a lot of new students to my online schools, but also because of the pandemic, more people have become watercolor online instructors. More teachers started their Patreon accounts. More people started their youtube channels. So with the pandemic, I have way more competition today, and it’s harder for my followers to find me.
As you recommend Hahnemühle The Collection Watercolour paper as your favourite paper, let us know what makes it special for you.
Hahnemühle “The Collection” is my favorite watercolor paper. I have always known that cheap student-grade art supplies will only hold you back.
My first watercolor paper (2011) was a hot pressed pad from another artist paper brand. I started with a very good watercolor paper. After that, I wanted to save money and tried cheap brands. I have quickly learned that paper is THE foundation of your watercolor painting.
I was mostly painting on the then-current quality benchmark paper back then and I thought it was the best watercolor paper on the market. But after a couple of years painting on it, I started noticing a lot of issues with the paper. Inconsistency – the quality wasn’t there anymore. I started learning more about how papers are made and have learned that they use gelatin – animal-based products.
That’s when a lot of things made sense to me. Spoiled sheets, that weird smell of the paper. Over the years I was looking for an alternative paper.
One day I started researching about Hahnemühle and I couldn’t believe how many papers Hahnemühle had to offer.
I emailed Hahnemühle and received my first samples.
That’s when I discovered “The Collection”. It was perfect timing too because “The Collection” was brand new back then.
I have found a paper that’s not just similar to the other watercolor paper, but better. It was the quality, the ability to do things I didn’t know I could do before.
What’s important to me is that paper can be used for layering. Paper that behaves the same way every time. I have quickly learned that Hahnemühle uses plant-based surface sizing, and so “The Collection” didn’t have any odd smell to it.
I was hooked right from the start. I have learned that “The Collection” is not just good for layering, but you can also lift the colors, which is very unusual for a paper that can take layers. My paintings are vibrant and show the true colors of the pigments I use.
Do you have a dream you would like to realise sometime?
My dream… I once had a dream of having a big studio.. This just happened to me recently as we moved to Southern Orange County.
But I have more dreams… I would like to publish a book about painting animals in watercolors. It has been taking years to put it together and I just don’t have the time with my current schedule. I would also like to have more time to do in-person workshops. My biggest dream is to build a physical art school (different mediums, not just watercolors) and to host international artist-teachers.
Apart from all that, I would like to start traveling again. Spend 6 months in a different country where I can get inspired daily, just by looking outside of my window..
If you would be at the beginning of your career, is there anything you would change looking back?
Probably to stress less. When I first started I was taking things too personal, but I also had a regular job so I was working 15-16 hours a day altogether. I just wish I had taken some basic watercolor classes so I would know right from the start that ‘wet on wet’ is a better way to go haha!
We are curious, what’s next?
I am hoping to finish working on my first book about painting animals. I am also working on my line of watercolor brushes.
Thanks for the time and this inspiring talk, Maria!