Telling a Story in Watercolor

Since I accidentally discovered watercolor nearly 25 years ago, my work has changed. At first, I was obsessed with learning techniques. Now, when I look at a subject that might become a painting, I ask questions like, “Does it tell a story?” The subject that inspired Almost Abandoned was the door to a forgotten stucco barn in Tuscany. I was attracted to the texture of the stucco, but didn’t have a story until I invented the clothesline hanging across the door. I now look for subtleties in subjects I choose to paint that seem to tell a story beyond the surface.

My paintings are about contrasts: lights against darks, colors against their complements, and most of all, smooth washes against textured areas. Over the years, I’ve perfected the salt-texture technique to the point that I can pretty much predict what texture pattern table or kosher salt will make on different colors and papers. It takes time and practice to gain control.

I believe there are three stages to becoming a successful watercolorist: The inspiration comes first. You may be inspired by the work of others or just by the medium itself. Next, you must learn to master the techniques. Finally, you combine inspiration and technique and begin painting in your own style, choosing subjects that are close to your heart. You can’t skip a stage. I hope I’ve helped you get at least a little farther down the path.

Jane M. Mason is president of the Saint Louis Watercolor Society and the former president of the Greater St. Louis Art Association. She teaches locally and exhibits in galleries across the country. More of her work can be seen on her Web site at

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