The Social Aspects of Watermedia Painting

One of the first things I noticed when I started editing American Artist thirty years ago is that some artists identify themselves by their preferred medium and others by the subjects they draw and paint most often. Oil painters seemed more inclined to introduce themselves by saying they were portraitists, plein air landscape painters, still life painters, or figurative artists; whereas others would tell me they were watercolorists, pastel painters, or colored pencil artists. Once I recognized that pattern of self-identification, I could better understand why there were dozens of local, state, and national watercolor societies but no significant groups of oil painters. (This was before the founding of the Oil Painters of America and the National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society.)

When I started attending exhibition openings and conventions that brought artists together, the watercolorists seemed to be the most sociable artists. They were more actively involved in societies, they took more workshops, they entered more juried shows, and they attended more meetings. They seemed to thrive on interacting with other watermedia artists, whereas oil and pastel painters only had a small group of artist friends.

Over the years new organizations of colored pencil artists, pastel painters, and oil painters were formed, but the watercolor groups also grew in number and size. There are some state watercolor societies that are now larger than the national organizations of oil, pastel, and acrylic painters.

What does any of this mean? Perhaps that art groups grow like political and religious organizations in that the more the members promote the benefits of the group, the larger the membership will become. The proliferations of books, DVDs, workshops, and competitions for watercolorists makes it easier for people to become involved in the activity, thus increasing the likelihood that they will join forces with others who share their interest. It may also be true that those beginners have the mistaken idea that watercolor is easier, cheaper, and safer than other painting media, so novices are more likely to try it.

If my ruminations making you curious about some of the groups I’m mentioned, then perhaps you might want to check out some of the organizations dedicated to helping you connect with other artists with similar interests.

National Watercolor Society:
American Watercolor Society:
Transparent Watercolor Society of America:
Florida Watercolor Society:
Ohio Watercolor Society:
Southern Watercolor Society:
Colored Pencil Society of America:
Pastel Society of America:
International Association of Pastel Societies:
Portrait Society of America:
Oil Painters of America:
National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society:

Related Posts:


Steven Doherty Blog
M. Stephen Doherty

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.

4 thoughts on “The Social Aspects of Watermedia Painting

  1. I stared in pencil, charcoal then pastel still love them all but have to say the hardest and most reveiling of what an artist can do is watercolor. So so far the greatest painting of all time are in oil. I hope I live to see the greatest in watercolor. Think it might be because of all the new paints in oil acrylic etc. but in watercolur no way great unless the artist can use the medium and really make a painting worth looking at.

  2. A Ph.D in watermedia marketing? I love the idea, Nancy. I’d be the first to enroll in the courses.

    BTW, several people have responded to this by sending me personal e-mails. While I’m happy to hear from people through any form of correspondence, it would be great if everyone used this forum section so the comments can be read by more people. Alex Powers had some great commments and I’ll ask him for permission to transfer them here. As you know, Alex has a wonderfully irreverent point of view about a lot of things. He’s great at provoking people to think serious about what they are doing.