Santa Rosa Artist Teaches Mindfulness Through Watercolor Botanicals

SOFA District artist Hannah Day celebrates the bounty of the summer garden in her watercolor portraits and painting classes.

In a sunny painting studio in Santa Rosa’s SOFA District, artist Hannah Day is at work on a fictional landscape of purple cabbages, kale, radishes, and artichokes. Nasturtium leaves climb the edges of the page, their tendrils winding among the vegetables. It’s a gorgeous fantasy garden, an extravagant collage of treats Beatrix Potter might have dreamed up for Peter Rabbit to nibble on after hopping over Mr. McGregor’s fence.

Day grew up in rural Two Rock Valley outside Petaluma, and the natural elements have always been a part of her creativity. “My brothers and I weren’t allowed to be inside during the day. We were always outside, building forts in the eucalyptus or running around,” says Day.

Rural landscapes and plein air painting were early artistic inspirations, along with anything that allowed her to disappear into layers of meticulous, meditative process. One recent installation involved cutting 1,000 paper outlines of trees and pinning them across a gallery wall to create a delicate, black-and-white forest.

“It’s so satisfying to see something grow into what you wanted it to be,” she says.

Hannah Day Santa Rosa
Artist Hannah Day at her South of A Street studio in Santa Rosa, where she paints portraits of fruits, vegetables and plants with watercolors, on March 21, 2024. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)

Day, who spent three years in Hawaii while earning a master’s degree in printmaking, returned home to her Sonoma County roots in 2017. She’d always loved painting fruits and vegetables, and during the pandemic, she found herself playing around with produce again. Last year, she exhibited a collection of her fruit and vegetable watercolors at Café Frida Gallery, where she found the portraits unlocked deeper emotions around themes of nourishment and abundance.

“There’s a lot of the human experience that there aren’t words for,” she says. She’s currently working on a series that combines watercolor botanicals with self portraits in pencil.

Though she has worked in prints, etching, and large-scale murals, the accessibility—and challenges— of working in watercolor hold great appeal. Watercolor paints have a delicacy and luminosity that fit with botanical subjects like tomatoes or nasturtium flowers. She begins by laying down a subtle wash of translucent color, like a bright yellow for a lemon, and then adds details, like seeds or pith or kernels of juice, slowly building up the character of the subject in layers.

“With watercolor, you have to be so measured; you have to think 10 steps ahead,” she explains. Painting over a misstep isn’t an option, as it would be with more opaque materials. “You have to constantly slow down and think about what your next step is.”

For one so attuned to a deliberate, step-by-step process, it’s not a surprise that Day has become a teacher as well as a fine artist. In 2022, she partnered with artist Joseph Salinas to create a large mural celebrating Indigenous Pomo history and culture at Elsie Allen High School—in the process, coaching dozens of students in painting technique.

Day’s father is also a teacher, and she says his way of modeling a process has rubbed off on her to a large degree, allowing teaching to become almost second nature. She stresses to her students the importance of getting started, putting brush to paper without worrying too much about the final outcome, and just enjoying the moment.

“Art has been such an integral part of me just being a human—not everyone has that outlet for reflection and self-expression,” Day says. “Teaching that has become the most rewarding thing ever.”

Seeing others connect with the benefits of making art continues to drive Day. Simple subjects, like the ruffled edge of a leaf of kale or the red bulb of a radish, belie a deeper value held in the steps of creation, says Day. “It’s grounding—the joy of just observing something and trying to do it justice.”

Hannah Day Santa Rosa
A watercolor painting by Santa Rosa artist Hannah Day. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)

Want to learn how?

Artist Hannah Day teaches art classes in addition to exhibiting her work and taking commissions. She has worked with students of all ages at the Sonoma Community Center in Sonoma, Chimera Art Space in Sebastopol, and Artstart in Santa Rosa. In May and June, she will hold a series of watercolor classes that focus on fruits and vegetables at Petaluma’s Slough City Studios.

Her classes are beginner-friendly and focus on technique and process, while connecting students to the benefits of mindfulness and creativity.

“I bring in a bunch of different produce, and as a class, we choose what we want to start with,” she says. Citrus fruits and Swiss chard are popular beginner subjects. “Chard is challenging, but it also has this really interesting movement to it,” she says.

Day narrates the method of creating a botanical portrait as students follow alongside, beginning with how to lay down an initial wash of color and then moving on to finer detail. The classes are generally three hours long, which is enough time to get into the flow of working with watercolors and complete at least one botanical portrait.

For more information on fruit and vegetable painting workshops, lessons in crafting with paper or pet portrait-painting classes, visit