Celebrate Watercolor Painting

From March 31 through April 26, the American Watercolor Society will be exhibiting its 142nd Annual International Exhibit at the Salmagundi Club at 47 Fifth Avenue, in New York City. This is usually the first major international exhibition of watermedia paintings to be presented each year, and it will be followed by the 33rd Annual National Exhibit of the Transparent Watercolor Society of America from May 17 through July 16 at the Kenosha Public Museum, in Wisconsin, and the National Watercolor Society’s 89th Annual Exhibition from October 10 through December 20 at the City of Brea Art Gallery, in California.

Like many of you, I always look forward to seeing these comprehensive displays of watermedia painting and reviewing the color catalogues of award-winning paintings. Those events always inspire me to explore new images and techniques, follow the careers of exhibiting painters, and work harder at making my paintings even better. I’m always impressed by the depth of talent among watercolorists and by the varieties of ways they use transparent watercolor, acrylics, gouache, casein, and egg tempera. There are always new people to discover, perceptible shifts in popular styles and subjects to be noted, and fascinating techniques to be studied and applied. The displays always reinforce the idea that if one puts the same paints, brushes, and papers in the hands of 10 artists, the resulting paintings will expand the range of creative possibilities by a factor of ten.

Yes, one can always be suspicious about the politics of who gets juried into the shows and who wins the awards, but in general these exhibitions still offer unknown watercolorists the best opportunity for national exposure. If you read the biographies of internationally known watermedia painters, you will almost always find they got their first big break after winning an award in a state, regional, or national art competition; and they didn’t have to move to New York, Los Angeles, or Houston to be taken seriously as a professional artist.

Most of these organizations now make it easy to enter their contests by uploading a digital photograph to a website and paying the entry fee electronically. You no longer have to wrap up slides, prepare a paper entry form and a self-addressed stamped envelope, or take your package to the post office. If you haven’t been submitting your artwork to contests, I encourage you to do so. It’s a great way to validate yourself and gain recognition for your achievements.

If you have participated in juried shows and have found it to be either a positive or negative experience, I’m sure members of this online community would appreciate learning about your experiences and any advice you might have for taking full advantage of the opportunities.

M. Stephen Doherty

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About M. Stephen Doherty

I've been interested in art since I was a child,  and I was fortunate to be able to take Saturday art classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum from the time I was 9 years old until I finished high school. I majored in art at Knox College and graduated summa *** laude, Phi Beta Kappa (proving artists can use both sides of their brain!).  I then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from Cornell University; taught art in public schools, a community college, an adult education program, and a college; worked in the marketing department of a company that manufactured screen printing supplies; and was hired to be editor of American Artist in January, 1979.

Thomas S. Buecher introduced me to plein air painting and it immediately became a passion of mine because it got me outdoors and allowed me to continue learning when I traveled to judge art shows, attend conventions, give lectures, and interview artists. Over the years I've exhibited my paintings at Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, Trees Place Gallery on Cape Cod, and in a traveling exhibition titled From Sea to Shining Sea.

I've written 10 books on artists and art techniques and contibuted articles to magazines, websites, and exhibition catalogs. Now as I prepare for semi-retirement, I'm trying to hone my painting skills -- especially those related to painting portraits.

I've been very fortunate to have met thousands of talented artists who have enriched my life with their art, their friendship, and their advice. I am grateful to Jerry Hobbs and Susan Meyer who hired me in 1979, to the talented people who worked with me on the magazines, and to the artists and advertisers who supported American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and Drawing  magazines and the related websites.

I've also been blessed with a supportive, talented wife, Sara; a daughter, Clare, who works for an insurance agency; a son, Michael, who is a computer enginner in Austin; a son-in-law, Shawn, who can fix and carry anything; a granddaughter, Amanda, who has me wrapped around her finger; and my mother, Dotty, who has advised and encouraged me from the beginning.

5 thoughts on “Celebrate Watercolor Painting

  1. I enter all local and some state and the National Watercolor Society’s show. Sometimes I’m in and sometimes I’m rained out. It feels real good to get in and see you painting hanging with the big guys.

    The National Watercolor Society is a little costly since you have to invest in a shipping container, pay frieght both ways, pay the show’s handler, framing and enter fee but I enter when possible.

    The opportunity and the prestige are good for the ego (at every level). I enjoy the local, state and regional just as much but I sure would like to get my signature!

  2. Hi Steve,
    your blogs are always very informative and encouraging. The only problem I have is the actual layout of the text, in terms of line-length. As it is, I find the information difficult to read, even when I increase the text size.
    I think that using two columns instead of one would be helpful.

  3. I would like to see some information on how the change over to digital entries is working. Are there any standards evolving for file size, resolution, image size, etc. What are the judges using to view the entries? Computer monitors or digital projectors or both? Pros and cons of digital vs slides. Personally I really like the ease of digital submissions. I think this would make a good subject for an indepth blog.

  4. Eljey: Thanks for the suggestion. We’ll be working on a redesign of the site this summer and we’ll keep your comments in mind.

    Robert: I only know what I hear from groups running contests. The formats are all different but becoming more standarized. Some organizations give people the option of mailing in slides or uploading digital images; others insist on uploading and can handle almost any size and format; and some groups have very specific size and format requirements.

    One group in Florida told me the number of entries dropped significantly when they went to all digital, in part because their members are not used to transmittine images over the internet. However, I’ve judged shows where the number of entries increased over previous years because the artists didn’t have to mail slides and entry forms. I guess the conclusion about all of this is the everyone is learning, and they are being forced to make changes because it is so diffiicult to produce slides, and organizations no longer want to deal with slides.

    Our system is operated by IPN, a division of Photo District News. Because they are geared to professional photographers, they can handle almost any format; and they give the judges access to a website where their votes are recorded independently through two or three rounds of judging. That is, the artwork receiving the hightest number of votes advances to the next round; and then the judges have a phone conversation or meet in the same location to discuss the final decision about first, second, third prizes. Check out the contest requirements for the Utrecht/American Artist contest and you’ll see what IPN’s standards are.