The Creative Spark: Watercolor Inspiration from Splash 22

See a sampling of exceptional paintings from The Best of Watercolor: Splash 22 competition, plus the stories behind them. Prepare to be inspired!

Learn more about the inspiration behind Calvin Chua Cheng Koon’s Chrous (watercolor on paper 22×30), as well as 12 other winning watermedia works in this year’s Splash competition, below.

For more than 20 years, the annual Splash watercolor competition has been celebrating the outstanding work being done in watermedia by contemporary artists from around the globe. The Best of Watercolor: Splash 22 Competition Winners presents 111 paintings selected from the 22nd Splash competition, sponsored by BLICK Art Materials. This year’s art inspiration and theme was “The Creative Spark.”

Everyday Moments

The silence of an empty street. A crisp fall walk with grandchildren. The evening light illuminating a beloved pear tree in the backyard. Two colorfully dressed strangers observed on vacation. A forgotten memory from childhood unearthed on a trip to the grocery store.

These everyday moments exemplify the theme of “the creative spark,” which inspired the entries in the Splash 22 competition. While every work of art begins with a spark of inspiration, a compelling concept is particularly apparent in the 111 winning works of watermedia art showcased within this contemporary collection. These award-winning artists take their inspiration along with a passion for the medium — with all of its unique and spontaneous properties — and use this to fuel their artistic processes and choices all the way to the finish.

Below you’ll find a sampling of the kind of exceptional paintings you’ll see featured in this special publication, as well as the artists’ stories about the art inspiration and intention behind them. To see all 111 winning works, check out The Best of Watercolor: Splash 22 Competition Winners. Enjoy!

Reason of Light—Atom (watercolor on paper, 36×46) by Junsung Back

Reason of Light—Atom by Junsung Back

THE CREATIVE SPARK: “I’ve been thinking about the light for a long time. The sun, so generous in nature, creates warmth and light. We who see the world through this light are the light and universe itself. This kind of thought makes us feel deeply connected with many other Earth-living beings while enjoying a deep connection with ancient times. In Reason of Light—Atom, I painted subjects and objects from everyday life being penetrated with light to depict the metaphorical creation of light.

“I’ve become more and more charmed with watercolors, which adapt to the nature of paper better than heavily overlapped oils. My ideal workspace for watercolor is my indoor studio because the raw materials I like to use are sensitive to humidity.”

Day is Done I (watercolor on paper 22×30) by Rainbow Tse

Day is Done I by Rainbow Tse

THE CREATIVE SPARK: “There’s a different type of beauty in the silence of an empty street. This is the scene of a wet market in Hong Kong after closing time. In contrast to its lively character during the day — bustling with people and commotion — the closed shops depict a serene perspective with light reflected upon the cleanly washed wet ground. It’s beautiful to see the different personalities of a street during day and night, as if the empty streets tell the story of its people who have retreated back home after a long day of work, resting for the night.”

And He Sang for Free (watercolor on Fabriano Artistico 140-lb. cold-pressed paper 13 1⁄2×10 1⁄2) by Carol McSweeney

And He Sang for Free by Carol McSweeney

THE CREATIVE SPARK: “This piece came about as a result of a chance meeting in a tunnel in New York City. I heard a beautiful voice coming from the darkness, followed it and met a lovely young man who was singing his heart out. After spending a couple of hours together, I sketched and photographed him. I felt that his eyes told the story of his soul — sincere and open-hearted — and hoped to capture that in my portrait of him. To add creative mystery to my work, I try to mix what I see with a little of what I don’t see, whether it’s color, brushwork or value.”

Opportunities Abound (watercolor on paper 19×27) by Barbara Fox

Opportunities Abound by Barbara Fox

THE CREATIVE SPARK: “This work was painted in response to an invitational exhibition. I chose to paint glass marbles, and my creative spark was ignited by the inverted, fish-eye view of the scene behind the orbs as well as the reflections on the smooth glass surfaces. I observed that each marble was identical, yet completely unique, depending on its environment.

“As an artist focusing on realism, I was delighted to paint a bit of an unconventional subject — the marbles were both fun and challenging to paint in watercolor. I set up this scene late one afternoon, thinking the red origami crane was a great counterpart to the transparent orbs. I was amused at the playful imagery of a mother bird stiffly at attention and her energetic brood rolling hither and yon, exploring the great beyond.”

Pounce (watercolor on paper 14×21) by Tina Forkner

Pounce by Tina Forkner

THE CREATIVE SPARK: “My creative spark began with a printer malfunction that produced both a pixilated and color-shifted ‘painterly’ image of an original photograph given to me by wildlife photographer and friend, Jim Stamates. The pixilated image made it easier for me to identify shapes and values as well as the color shift from the original browns and golds to blues, violets and pinks, which gave the image a fantasy effect. In the end, this coyote represented to me the spirit of faith and hope all mixed up with a little bit of fun.”

The Gathering Tree (watercolor on paper 40×60) by Paul Jackson

The Gathering Tree by Paul Jackson

THE CREATIVE SPARK: “Standing alone in the flood plain of the Missouri River for more than 400 years, our state grand champion bur oak tree has become a gathering place for locals during celestial events. I’ve visited this tree frequently over the years and have painted her many times as an old familiar friend, but seeing her from above was like discovering something for the first time. This new perspective that my drone camera captured allowed me to see something familiar with fresh eyes and celebrate this majestic tree all over again.

“With this renewed interest, I attempted to describe the tree and its surroundings with a broad brush and bold colors, allowing my imagination to take liberties with all but the most important details. Working on a large scale allowed me to create details with my fingers — and even a toy tractor to mimic the farmers’ tracks in the field. Those who know this place from the ground are surprised when the details add up for them and they recognize their old, familiar friend.”

The Swallow (watercolor on aquabord, 20×16) by Daniela Werneck

The Swallow by Daniela Werneck

THE CREATIVE SPARK: “In Portuguese culture, it’s common to find the swallow in various places and forms: murals, crafts, sculpture, poetry and songs. The swallow is monogamous and is associated with love and fidelity, but it’s also a figure of departure and return, much like the Portuguese navigators that discovered new lands. I did this painting after I returned from a quick trip to Portugal. It represents the journey of many of my Brazilian ancestors—Portuguese people who made their way to Brazil in search of a better life — like my grandfather who left his homeland as a child, sailing bravely alone on a ship, starving and cold. The model is my niece who posed for me while I was there.

“I’m a realistic artist, and my subjects are mainly figurative. I prefer to work from photos, which allows me to spend more time on the rich detail in my paintings. My favorite surface is Aquabord because it affords me more control over the medium than paper does. I usually work with a limited palette of no more than five colors in a painting. It keeps the painting soft to the eyes and less distracting to the viewer. Recently I’ve been exploring the contrast between light and dark to bring more drama to my art.”

La Muralla (The Wall) (watercolor on paper 18×24) by Alma Hoffmann

La Muralla (The Wall) by Alma Hoffmann

THE CREATIVE SPARK: “This artwork is based on the poem titled ‘La Muralla’ by the Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén. The poem was later interpreted into a song by the Puerto Rican group, Haciendo Punto en Otro Son, founded in 1975. It’s a call to end discord and establish a community that embraces peace. The wall would filter out those with ill intentions but remain open for those of pure intentions. For instance, it would open for the rose and the carnation but would be closed to the colonel’s sword. It would open to the friend’s heart while closing to the snake’s fang. Even after many years, this poem remains relevant to our present need for truth and connection.”

Harlem Over Third (watercolor on paper 16×12) by Frank M. Koran

Harlem Over Third by Frank M. Koran

THE CREATIVE SPARK: “This painting was done on site from the roof of my apartment building in Harlem on a cold January afternoon. The temperature hovered a bit above freezing — just warm enough that my paint and fingers didn’t freeze. The wind was quite gusty that day. My favorite hat was blown off my head and fell 12 stories to the ground below. My glass water jar fell from my easel and shattered on the brick floor of the roof. I worked with cold ears and wet shoes, my fingers numbing as I painted the neighboring rooftops. I worked until the sun started to set, when the biting sensation of the cold wind finally won out against my need to get the light just right. Then I packed up my gear and finished the painting inside.”

Impression of Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (watercolor on paper, 15×22) by Jansen Chow

Impression of Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood by Jansen Chow

THE CREATIVE SPARK: “My process for creating this painting involved first turning on loud music. Then, I moistened the entire sheet of drawing paper with water and immediately began applying paint with a large brush. I went with the rhythm of the music, letting the paint and water mix freely to form. After that, I used flat brushes of different sizes to loosely depict the general details of the scenery. I used reference photos when painting the main building in the center, but the sky, river and background buildings were created from imagination. I hope this kind of painting method not only allows the audience to feel my sense of freedom of artistic creation, but to also hear the music coming through the work.”

Under the Spotlight (watercolor on paper 30×20) by Keiko Yasuoka

Under the Spotlight by Keiko Yasuoka

THE CREATIVE SPARK: “An important technique I use in my work is contrast between vibrant, strong colors and a dark background. In this specific painting, finding the balance within the piece itself was difficult. Deciding which parts of the composition should be lost edges versus hard edges, determining how to balance the top of the painting with the bottom, and working with the timing of the natural light source when taking the reference photo all presented challenges. The white on the flowers truly tested my artistic ability, since white reflects its surrounding colors. Creating the clear, dark background was another challenge that required about 15 layers of color.”

Wondrous Vision by Jeannie Vodden

Wondrous Vision by Jeannie Vodden

THE CREATIVE SPARK: “In this painting, I used three transparent-staining colors: Winsor blue green shade, permanent rose and Winsor yellow. My glazing technique is wet-on-dry, mingling color and then letting each layer dry to create a translucent glow, as well as adding darker values and neutral tones.

“I used a combination of reference photos and imagination to create this piece. I drew the various elements, gradually painted them, and stepped back to contemplate all along the way, letting my instincts and my love of the subject guide me as I proceeded.

“Sometimes someone touches your life so deeply, they spark something in you that begs to be recorded. My sweetheart, Doug, passed away in 2017. He was creative, humorous and a visionary. He was my confidant and my cheerleader. As I painted Wondrous Visions, he spoke to me, and in memory he continues to inspire.”

Chorus (watercolor on paper 22×30) by Calvin Chua Cheng Koon

Chorus by Calvin Chua Cheng Koon

THE CREATIVE SPARK: “I came across this group of kids having the time of their lives swinging on vines along a river stream at Ulu Yam, Malaysia. It was a sweet reminder of a typical day from my own childhood, which I often spent playing with my siblings in natural spots like these. I find that in these serene moments, inspiration chooses to come out and play.”


To see all the Splash winners plus enjoy endless art inspiration, check out the special issue, The Best of Watercolor: Splash 22 Competition Winners digital edition now.

We would like to extend a special thanks to our competition sponsor, BLICK Art Materials for their ongoing support for artists!

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