The Social Aspects of Watermedia Painting

19 Jan 2009

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:

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Email Diva wrote
on 20 Jan 2009 9:33 AM

This is great information, Thank you Steve!

Isabel26 wrote
on 20 Jan 2009 4:21 PM

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.

n.b. wrote
on 22 Jan 2009 1:13 PM

Fascinating! There is a doctoral degree waiting to happen in delving into the whys and wherefores of this observation.

sdoherty wrote
on 24 Jan 2009 6:14 AM

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.