Watercolor: Clint Herring's Watercolors: Celebrating Regionalism

0804herr5_408x600_2Alabama artist Clint Herring has been successful with watercolors that focus on the architecture and people of the Southern United States and the Bahamas. As one of his dealers explains, the strength of the work is its connection to the rich traditions in those regions.

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by M. Stephen Doherty

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Saturday Morning Greens
2005, watercolor, 30 x 22.
Courtesy The Gallery at Freshfields,
Johns Island, South Carolina.
Coastal Blues
2005, watercolor, 30 x 22.
Courtesy The Gallery at
Freshfields, Johns Island,
South Carolina.

"I’ve been exhibiting and selling paintings for more than 35 years, and in that time I’ve found very few contemporary artists I’ve wanted to represent,” says Robert Hicklin, the owner of the Charleston Renaissance Gallery, and the Gallery at Freshfields, in Johns Island, both in South Carolina. “I was immediately attracted to Clint Herring’s watercolors because they are exceptionally fine paintings and establish a direct connection to traditions associated with the historic painters whose work we exhibit. In particular, he is linked to the Black Belt region of Alabama where he lives. That part of the state is known for the rich, dark soil that nourished the growth of wealth, education, and generations of painters and crafters, such as Charles Eugene Shannon (1945–1995) and Kelly Fitzpatrick (1888–1953).

“Clint does an outstanding job of capturing the historic buildings and people of the Southeastern United States in watercolor,” Hicklin adds. “He paints what is so much a part of the region, including the proud, deteriorating, Southern Gothic homes; the shy, young black children; and the shrimp boats trolling the waterways. It’s the fabric of life that appeals to Clint, and to the collectors who acquire his art.”

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Bay Window
2007, watercolor,
22½ x 17. Courtesy
Knoke Fine Arts,
Marietta, Georgia.
Far Away
2003, watercolor,
30 x 22.
Private collection.

That Black Belt tradition has inspired Herring, and so have the masters of watercolor painting, including Andrew Wyeth and Winslow Homer. Herring’s admiration for Wyeth extends to his interest in regional subject matter and his combined use of fluid splashes of paint with tight strokes of color. “Wyeth talks about artists painting what they know—their families, their neighbors, and the local landscape—and I think that is sound advice,” Herring says. “Even when there isn’t a figure appearing in a painting by Wyeth or Hopper, a life presence can often be felt. I concur with Wyeth’s statement that ‘one’s art goes only as deep as one’s love.’ To create a lasting and visually alluring piece of work, I reveal to the viewer the essential character or mood of the subject in the same way I was initially awed.”

The process by which Herring develops his full-sheet watercolor paintings begins with digital photographs of potential subjects. “About a year ago I started working with a digital camera that allows me to preview the photographs and generates 4"-x-6" prints almost immediately,” he explains. “I do a lot of composing in the lens of the camera, changing the focus and cropping the image to come up with something that appeals to me. If time allows, I will also make some quick graphite sketches that might be useful in the studio.

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Captain’s Quarters
2005, watercolor,
22 x 30. Courtesy The
Gallery at Freshfields,
Johns Island,
South Carolina.
Pretty and Pink
2002, watercolor,
22 x 29½.
Private collection.

“Most of my photographs are taken outdoors because I like to have a strong pattern of light and dark values to work with,” Herring continues. “I photograph buildings from several different angles, sometimes crouching down to emphasize the angularity of the walls and other times shooting straight-on so there is a symmetrical balance to the picture. It all depends on what appeals to me at the time. Similarly, I pose most of the models outdoors near picket fences, in doorways, or along dirt roads; but I also did a series of paintings based on photographs taken both inside and outside a rural church. I found the building to be such a powerful representation of the South, and the ambient light inside the sanctuary was as intriguing as the light on the exterior walls. I just kept finding great images each time I went back to the church, so I painted it from a variety of positions. I even posed my daughters inside the church and did a painting that my wife immediately claimed for our family’s collection.

Once Herring is back in his Auburn, Alabama, studio, he reviews the photographs and sketches and decides on those that will be useful in developing a painting. He then does a loosely painted half-sheet watercolor study on Twinrocker 140-lb cold-pressed paper. As he explains, this helps him simplify the subject and emphasize the pattern of sunlight and shadows, two things he believes make a better painting. “When I look at watercolors by Sargent or Homer, for example,” he says, “I’m impressed by the way they seem to have eliminated extraneous information and pushed the value contrast.


“When I’m satisfied with the study,” the artist continues, “I lightly draw the major lines of the subject with graphite on a full sheet of 300-lb Twinrocker handmade watercolor paper and block in some of the shapes with liquid masking agent to preserve small areas of the white paper. Once the liquid is completely dry, I lay in broad, light washes of color. Using about seven or eight Winsor & Newton tube colors, I continue painting from light to dark values, although I sometimes find it helpful to establish a few of the midtones or darks early in the process to help me evaluate the full range of values I’ll need to complete the painting.”

Herring does most of this painting with Winsor & Newton Series 7 kolinsky sable brushes (Nos. 5, 6, and 7), although he does have a few larger brushes made with a combination of synthetic and natural hairs that he uses for laying in broad washes. He makes a point of working all over the paper, rather than finishing off the figures before painting the background, because he needs to see those figures in the context of the entire composition before deciding how to modulate the colors and values.

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Shadows of September
2005, watercolor, 30 x 21½.
Courtesy The Gallery at
Freshfields, Johns Island,
South Carolina.
Out of the Blue
2003, watercolor,
22½ x 29½.
Private collection.

“My paintings usually wind up being fairly tight and detailed, but lately I’ve been trying to preserve some of the looseness I get in the studies, especially in areas of the picture outside of the center of interest,” Herring says. “As I mentioned, I really like the combination of effects that Sargent maintained in his watercolors, and I’m intent on holding on to that painterly atmosphere in some parts of my paintings. I just have to resist my natural tendency to keep refining the images.”

About the Artist
Clint Herring attended Auburn University, in Alabama, and worked as art director for a major design firm before establishing himself as a full-time professional artist. His paintings have been exhibited in a number of galleries and museums throughout the Southern United States, and he is represented by Carlisle Gallery, in Auburn, Alabama; John Collette Fine Art, in Highlands, North Carolina; Knoke Fine Arts, in Marietta, Georgia; and the Charleston Renaissance Gallery, in Charleston, South Carolina.

M. Stephen Doherty is the editor-in-chief and publisher of American Artist.

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