Artist of the Month: Steve White: Capturing Nature in Transparent Watercolor

 This artist, who primarily paints landscapes in transparent watercolor, finds the unpredictability of the medium to be its most enjoyable trait.

by Naomi Ekperigin

White Cascade watercolor
2004, watercolor, 19 x 28.
All artwork this
article private collection
unless otherwise indicated.

Steve White has always loved recording the natural world. Born in Virginia and raised in New Jersey, the artist says that from an early age he was “always looking and drawing. I was a restless adventurer.” After a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force, White toured the United States and captured his surroundings in pen-and-ink, pastels, and charcoal, with the focus of his subject matter being the small towns, lakes, fields, and forests he came across. In a year and a half, his collection grew to include more than 400 drawings ranging from small sketches to full-size sheets. “My attachment to the outdoors motivates me to record scenes on paper as a way of preserving what is disappearing,” White explains. Now pursuing painting full time, most of the artist’s subjects are found near his home in rural Pennsylvania. “I have always been emotionally drawn to scenes and events where I live,” the artist says. “I don’t think you have to go farther than your own backyard to find inspiration. It could be anything from the way a shadow falls on an interesting cluster of buildings—I just know it when I see it.”

As he wanders around quiet wooded areas near his home, White takes pictures of scenes that strike him. These serve as references when he works back in his studio. After reviewing his photographs, White determines whether he needs to go back on site and do small thumbnail sketches. “Except for these small drawings, I don’t do any preliminary work,” the artist says. “From experience I know what the paint will do, but I don’t want to know exactly how all the pigments will respond beforehand. It’s the reason I paint in watercolor—the anticipation of surprises you can’t plan is what I live for when painting. While working, I take these surprises and build on them."

White Sundown Symphony watercolor White Relentless watercolor
Sundown Symphony
2007, watercolor, 20 x 38.
2004, watercolor, 18 x 26.

As a self-taught watercolorist, White has learned by trial and error, but he found that his background in drawing enabled him to grasp painting rather quickly. “Being able to render whatever I wanted fairly accurately meant that I only had to learn about the mechanics of paint,” he says. “The biggest challenge was color. After a few years of using color by instinct, I wanted to know why certain colors worked and others didn’t, and how I could control them. So I became a student of color theory, reading every book I could find on the subject. The old adage of ‘practice makes perfect’ really was true for me—there are no shortcuts!” White, who first began working in watercolor more than 20 years ago, still finds he learns something new with each painting. Take, for example, Relentless, which he completed in 2004. The dark river and the shadows in the forest were especially difficult to render in transparent watercolor. “The challenge was bringing life to the beautiful darks,” the artist recalls. “I would experiment every day with different color mixtures to create different grays. I found that burnt sienna and cobalt blue created a gray that was impossible to get too dark, so I used that. I also started underpainting the shadows in the lightest color and using thin layers to build them up.”

White Forest Theater watercolor White Nice Catch watercolor
Forest Theater
2005, watercolor, 17 x 31.
Nice Catch
2007, watercolor, 20 x 28. Collection the artist.

The artist now teaches workshops in his area to artists of all levels. He advises his students to try new techniques without fear and learn from their mistakes. “Every day, before you start painting, do a little experimentation,” says White. “Either with color, by mixing some paints never tried before, or by applying paint on a different kind of surface, or any other technique you’ve read about and wanted to try. As for subject matter, I tell them to paint what they know and love. Paint what moves you.”

About the Artist

Steve White has been a signature member of the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society since 1995. His paintings have been included in many regional and international exhibitions and have earned numerous awards. His studio is located at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, in Reading, Pennslyvania. For more information on the artist and his workshops, visit

Naomi Ekperigin is the editorial assistant of American Artist.


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