Artist of the Month: Lisa Goren: A New Meaning of Wet-in-Wet Watercolor

American Artist magazine Artist of the MonthLisa Goren watercolor For this Massachusetts artist, water is both her subject and her medium.

Lisa Goren watercolor
Iceberg From Our Zodiac,
Antarctica No.  2

2005, watercolor, 24 x 36.
All artwork this
article collection
the artist, unless otherwise indicated.

by Naomi Ekperigin

The majority of Lisa Goren’s watercolors depict the ice of Antarctica, which she first viewed 10 years ago. After years of working in the music business, the artist became a stay-at-home mom, which afforded her the opportunity to nurture her love for art. “Not having a business to go back to gave me the freedom to try something new,” the artist recalls. Even before she began painting, Goren knew where her inspiration would come from. “I don't know what sparked it, but always knew I wanted to paint the ice of Antarctica,” she says. “The first paintings I created immediately after my trip were very small–I really think of them as sketches–but they were enough to get me started.” Initially, the artist found it difficult to put her thoughts onto paper. “I had trouble explaining what I wanted to do, even though I could see it so clearly,” she says. “It wasn’t until I took a class with Wendy Soneson at the Brookline Arts Center, in Massachusetts, that I was able to put it all together.” Goren did not have an art background prior to her trip to Antarctica, let alone training in traditional methods of watercolor painting. However, this is exactly what enabled her to create such interesting and dynamic abstract pieces. “Wendy’s class wasn’t a traditional watercolor class,” she explains. “People were exploring ways of using watercolor beyond realistic landscapes and still lifes, so I was really able to develop my own ideas in a safe environment.”

Lisa Goren watercolor
Bull Kelp, Antarctica No. 1
2006, watercolor, 24 x  24.
Collection Suzanne Wert.

Although the artist only began taking art classes five years ago, she is a self-proclaimed “devoted watercolorist.” “Water is my subject, so it makes sense that it is my medium,” she says matter-of-factly. She is equally certain about her process when it comes to her depiction of the arctic landscape. “I have found that when taking on a subject such as these extreme landscapes the term ‘abstract’ becomes less important,” the artist states on her website. “In general my work is more realistic and representational, which can be a surprise to those unfamiliar with the Antarctic landscape.” While many may think of a vast sea of white, Goren attests that the area she paints is full of vibrant color. “Seeing the landscape made me rethink how we perceive water and ice, which have so many manifestations and are beautiful and ever-changing. In Antarctica, dirt and snow algae can create amazing effects, and the icebergs are so dense that the only light that passes through produce a clear blue.” The artist’s process reflects her attempts to not only capture the atmosphere she loves, but recreate it. She finds that she doesn’t plan as much as other artists, and her preliminary drawing merely blocks in the major shapes on the paper. The rest of the work is done with watercolor.

Lisa Goren watercolor
300 Blue Whale Bones,
Abandoned Whaling Station,
Antarctica, No. 8
2007, watercolor, 24 x 24.

“I work very wet-in-wet,” she explains. “Each color is mixed on the paper, which I feel makes the watercolor look so alive. As the colors are forming on the paper, I have the opportunity to create mixtures that reflect the image I’m working from.” The artist’s palette is fairly limited, with three yellows, three reds, and five blues; her brand of choice for paints is Winsor & Newton. The artist works only from photographs and often takes two to three months to complete a painting. “I can’t work on the same painting consistently,” Goren says. “Because of my process, I have to wait for the painting to dry at least a day or two before I can continue. I tend to have two or three pieces in progress at one time, so I am able to go between them.”

The artist does not pin or tape down her paper, and as it becomes wet from layers of watercolor, it curls. Some artists might find this distracting, but Goren doesn’t mind it. “I like when the paper curls,” she says. “It gives the pieces a sculptural aspect, much like the landscape itself. When I frame the pieces, they are almost always floating, so that movement becomes part of the piece. I think of this as a way of putting less distance between the viewer and the painting.” Although the artist enjoys the visual effect, she notes that recently she has been working on heavy paper, which doesn’t curl as much. “These days I don’t work with anything less than 300-lb watercolor paper—Arches or Fabriano,” she says. “In fact, in the past year or so, I have been working mainly with 300-lb, extra-white, hot-pressed Fabriano paper. Switching from lighter paper to heavier paper was like a leap to a different world; it’s really hard to go back to a 140-lb stock. When you work on paper that can’t handle the water, you don’t really know what you can do.”

Lisa Goren watercolor
300 Blue Whale Bones,
Abandoned Whaling Station,
Antarctica, No. 12

2007, watercolor, 24 x 24.

Goren has recently begun a new series of watercolors depicting whale bones, inspired by her visit to an abandoned whaling station while in Antarctica. “I had originally gone to Antarctica to see blue whales, but there weren’t any,” she recalls. “I learned that between 1905 and 1966—when it became illegal to hunt them—nearly 300,000 blue whales had been caught, and there are only about 300 left in the Antarctic seas now. It was so moving to me, to think that there were only 300 left down there. I knew I had to create 300 paintings.” Because the bones can be upwards of 15 feet in size, Goren must rely on photographs taken on site.

Goren’s dedication to depicting a landscape that is rapidly deteriorating is further fueled by her increasing knowledge of watercolor. She enjoys taking classes and workshops taught by various kinds of instructors, although her work is considered abstract. “It’s always good to have different voices in your head, and to have a different set of tools to rely on,” she says. Her desire to expand her set of tools increases when she enters her work in juried shows.  “I go to shows and think, ‘I can’t do that. Or that. Or that,’” she says with a laugh. “But I’m not discouraged. It’s great knowing that there’s so much more to learn.” Although she came to art relatively late in life, she feels that anyone can discover their inner artist if they find a subject that moves them. “There’s no such thing as someone who doesn’t think artistically. Whenever you choose a radio station to listen to, or the color to paint your dining room wall, you are making an artistic choice. I think anyone can do what I’m doing if they have a connection to the medium and their subject.”

For more information on Goren, visit the artist’s website at, or email her at

Naomi Ekperigin is the editorial assistant for American Artist.


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