From watermedia paintings by famous artists and beloved instructors to works from painters who, at the time of publication, were at the cusp of their careers, here are 25 watermedia paintings from 25 talented artists. Get ready to be inspired to grab your paintbrush and start painting.
1. Bideford by Frank Webb
When Frank Webb works on location, he recasts the landscape, infusing what he sees with the qualities he thinks are important in a painting.
“In general, I use intense colors, which are completely arbitrary, having no reference to the local color,” notes Webb. “But, for me, the shapes are the most important element. Good shapes must be created. They can’t be copied.”
2. October Russet by Tony Couch
To paint autumn foliage, like that seen in October Russet, Tony Couch sticks to a range of warm colors — from red to yellow/green. To keep his colors bright, he places complementary colors near one another on the paper. But, Couch doesn’t mix the complements, which would create a dull gray.
3. Koi 98, No. 1 by Cheng-Kee Chee
Watermedia paintings like Cheng-Khee Chee’s Koi 98, No. 1 come to life as an expressive, intuitive abstraction. They’re filled with the surprises and accidental happenings that characterize wet-into-wet painting.
Colors blend and follow their own laws, and the paint is allowed to work for itself. Following that, the painting process moves into a more conscious and structured phase.
4. Lily Sleeping by Mary Whyte
For the painting, Lily Sleeping, Mary Whyte’s goal was to not only recreate the quality of light on her subject’s face, but also the feeling of warmth and safety, and to capture the look and feel of a child’s dream.
“To suggest the pattern of the quilt, I laid down washes, then dabbed in places with crinkled plastic wrap,” explains Whyte. “To create an otherworldly, dreamlike effect, I dropped pieces of yarn into the background as well as pieces of paper towel I had cut into leaflike shapes.”
5. The Wash by Milford Zornes
Line is the most important graphic element in a painting, followed by value then color, according to Milford Zornes (1908-2008). When painting, he mentally traced the progress of a line in four ways: horizontal, vertical, angular and curved.
“When I’m painting a tree,” said Zornes. “I think to myself, ‘OK, go vertical out of the ground for the first trunk. Stop. Curve into the branches. Stop. Thrust out at an angle for the smaller branches. Stop.’”
6. Tenuousness by José Apaza
The dim values in Peruvian-born, Mexican artist José Apaza’s Tenuousness reflect the meditative state of the figure. “Every human being is a summary of universal wisdom,” he states. “Humble people are my greatest teachers and have exerted a great influence on me.”
7. Camara de Lobos, Madeira, Portugal by Eugen Chisnicean
Moldovan artist Eugen Chisnicean painted Camara de Lobos, Madeira, Portugal on an island in the Atlantic Ocean called Madeira.
“It was such a different world, unlike any place I’d ever been,” recalls Chisnicean. “The scene had everything I needed to make a painting: mountains, houses, boats, people. I tried to combine all the elements in a natural way and to create harmony between the shapes.”
8. Tapestry by Paul Jackson
While standing on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, Paul Jackson took reference photos for his large painting, Tapestry.
“The photos were shot at dusk, but they allowed me to keep track of all the buildings,” says Jackson. “This isn’t photographic realism. Everything is in this painting — all of my feelings about, and memories of, New York City.”
9. Wind Song by Joseph Raffael
The subject of artist Joseph Raffael’s Wind Song is his garden. For the artist, this garden is a constant source of inspiration.
10. Foxy Lady II by Frederick C. Graff
Artist Frederick C. Graff believes it’s crucial for his art to go beyond simply recording facts and to convey what he sees in an “unrestricted yet semicontrolled” way.
“In Foxy Lady II, for example, the complex array of planes in the foreground suggests the paraphernalia of a boatyard without actually describing it in detail,” notes Graff. “Likewise, the bluish-green masses in the background give the impression of a forest of pine trees.”
11. Green Dot Jug With Sunflowers/Maine by Carolyn Brady
The striking still life, Green Dot Jug With Sunflowers/Maine, by Carolyn Brady demonstrates why the virtuoso colorist is considered a master of contemporary American Realism.
12. Equilibrium by Denny Bond
Denny Bond created Equilibrium while dining in Jamestown, Rhode Island. “I was originally attracted to the light hitting the teal walls,” explains Bond. “So I urged my wife to move into the light but still leave room for me to see the equestrian image painted on the wall.”
He continues, “The story created itself. All of the elements were there. They just needed to be brought together.”
13. Stars and Stripes by Judi Betts
In this soft and poetic rendering, Judi Betts uses the primaries and their complements. She exploits a variety of shape, size and value, creating lovely neutrals in the background of her floral painting, Stars and Stripes.
“Colors can be lullabies or symphonies, but what makes them sing in either case is the position of complementary colors,” says Betts. “Colors surrounded by their complements cause an explosion. It can be subtle or monumental.”
14. Damp Morning by Dean Mitchell
Dean Mitchell manages to find the quiet poetry in the subjects of his watermedia paintings that may otherwise be overlooked, such as in the down-at-heel houses featured in Damp Morning. The open space in the center of the composition forms a place for the eye to rest and meditate.
15. The Mall by John Salminen
For this snow-covered composition, John Salminen used a group of passersby to add a sense of scale. “The cold winter sunlight filtered through a maze of frost-covered limbs,” he says, “giving the scene for The Mall a frigid luminosity.”
16. Girls on a Date by Dongfeng Li
A professor of art at Morehead State University, Dongfeng Li paints a variety of subjects including people of different ages and backgrounds, like the young women featured in Girls on a Date. In each case, the artist manages to capture the humanity, grace, and dignity of his subject.
“Their different backgrounds can create interesting contexts,” states Li. “I’m curious about these differences; so it’s one of my primary motivations in creating my work.”
17. Winter Road by Ian Ramsey
The white paper, or snow, became the platform of Ian Ramsey’s painting, Winter Road, a scene in Southern Wyoming.
Winter compositions rely greatly on the negative space provided by snow. The darker elements of the grass banks, ruts and background hills guide the eye down the road to the farm buildings.
18. Mission District, Riverside by Frank Francese
“There’s a little magic in Mission District, Riverside,” says Frank Francese. “It doesn’t happen for me all the time. It happens more if I just let myself go and trust my judgment and my heart.”
The artist chooses color based on emotional response rather than what he actually sees. “In fact,” notes Francese, “I usually work from a quick black-and-white felt-tip field sketch. Then, I just make up my own colors as I paint.”
19. In Shine Mirror by George James
Following the death of his father, George James (1932-2016) painted In Shine Mirror to memorialize him in a portrait. “Instead of creating an exact likeness, I tried to capture his essence by leaving out the face,” explained James. “I used mirrors to imply spirituality and reflection.”
20. Michelle by Scott Burdick
The idea for Scott Burdick’s painting, Michelle, came before he even sat down with his subject.
“This vision I had of this painting was so clear,” recalls Burdick. “I even did a sketch of it before the photo session to help Michelle understand the mood I was after—that split second of rising in expectations as someone enters a room. The rest is left up to the viewer’s imagination.”
21. Fishermen, Myrtle Beach, S.C. by Serge Hollenbach
In Serge Hollenbach’s watercolor painting, Fishermen, Myrtle Beach, S.C., five fishermen are linked in value to the slats of pier’s fence—balancing the verticals against a strong horizontal format.
22. Bewitching Branches, Backwoods V by Christine Cozic
Part of a series of eight, this watercolor painting was a departure for Christine Cozic when she started the piece in 2006. “I had done botanicals, but they were more tropical flowers,” notes Cozic.
The 45-minute drive to her daughter’s school in Northern Louisiana each day introduced the artist to “all these gorgeous colors on the trees.”
23. Fjord Dal by Stanislaw Zoladz
The snow-covered mountaintops and white patches of fallen snow in the foreground contribute a balance of shapes in Polish-born, Swedish painter Stanislaw Zoladz’ painting, Fjord Dal.
“In April and May, after a long winter, the light comes back to Norway with force,” says Zoladz.
24. Urchfront Flowers by Charles Reid
Artist Charles Reid believes the beginnings of watermedia paintings are more important than the finishes. “Sometimes you’re so keen to paint a flower accurately, you become tight and literal,” he explains. “The trick is to allow your paint and a little water to do the painting for you.”
25. The Red Sweater by Jean Pederson
The skillful use of shadows and highlights in Jean Pederson’s The Red Sweater not only helps to create a strong painting but establishes a feeling of strength within the subject, too.
“Though starting a new life in Canada, this young man hasn’t forsaken his identity as Ugandan,” says Pederson. “For many immigrants, melancholy accompanies hope—a feeling I tried to convey in The Red Sweater.”
A version of this article, written by Anne Hevener, first featured in the 25th Anniversary issue of Watercolor Artist.
Be sure to tell us which of these 25 watermedia paintings is your favorite in the comments. Happy painting, artists!
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