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Take a look at what it means to paint with watercolors in 2018 at upcoming juried exhibit

Opening reception at City Art in 2012.
Opening reception at City Art in 2012. Courtesy of SCWS

Not Your Grandmother’s Watercolors

Pity the watercolor painting. Although great artists like Van Gogh and Winslow Homer created stunning watercolor paintings, the medium is all too often associated with bad garage-sale landscapes and beach scenes. Even worse, many watercolors tended fade over the years, making them seem almost temporary.

According to Anne Hightower-Patterson, president of the South Carolina Watermedia Society (SCWS), that all changed in the 1990’s, when technology not only made watercolor paints more stable, but more diverse as well.

“All these new paints and products have changed what it means to be a watercolorist,” she said. “Artists choosing not to use oil-based paints now have access to vibrant colors and a variety of textures. If you think you know watercolors you probably don’t!”

Ready to take a look at what it means to paint with watercolors? In 2018?

On Saturday, Oct. 6, SCWS will open its 41st annual exhibition, a juried show of 65 works by top watermedia artists from across the country. The show will be on exhibit at Columbia’s City Art Gallery, in the Congaree Vista. The paintings will remain on display until Nov. 26, when the 30 award-winning entries will begin a year-long tour throughout South Carolina.

“We started with 184 entries,” Hightower-Patterson said. “Of the 65 that remained, 30 received awards. Our talented juror, Laurie Goldstein-Warren, did a fabulous job.”

The winners of this year’s show will be announced at an opening reception at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6. The reception is free and open to the public. The only downside? Anyone who has purchased one of the winning pieces will have to wait until it returns from its tour before taking possession. “It’s a good thing and a bad thing,” laughs Hightower-Patterson.

One look at this year’s entries and it’s clear that watercolors have evolved. Hues range from the palest wash of color to deep, rich shades that could be mistaken for oil. Texture varies, too, thanks to the invention of thicker water-based paints like acrylics.

The availability of so many tools, which also include water-soluble pencils, crayons, charcoal and ink, has given rise to paintings that are abstract and experimental.

“All these new toys have inspired a lot of creativity,” notes Hightower-Patterson. “We just love the level of diversity we’re seeing in the medium now. One artists laid down lace, sprayed paint over it, and removed the lace. It was ingenious and the effect was beautiful.”

Created with water-soluble paints crafted from minerals, the world’s earliest paintings — cave drawings and the like — were technically watercolors. Renaissance frescoes that appear on walls and ceilings —think Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and Bronzino’s Crossing of the Red Sea — also used water-soluble pigments, as did works on silk and other fabrics.

Later, as paper-making technology improved, artists began to appreciate the transparency and luminosity that watercolors brought to their work. Many artists came to respect watercolors, too, since, unlike oil paint, watercolors can’t be altered once they’ve hit the paper. Brushstrokes, color choice, line placement and depth of pigment are all there to stay, requiring a near-perfect level of planning and confidence.

Founded in 1977 as the South Carolina Watercolor Society, the South Carolina Watermedia Society is the largest visual arts guild in the state. In addition to the annual exhibition, which rotates to a different site each year, the group creates opportunities for members to exhibit and market their work, holds classes and workshops and is an active advocate for South Carolina’s art community.

“The depth of artistic talent here in South Carolina is incredible,” Hightower-Patterson said. “Watermedia is our passion and we work hard to promote it.”

If you go

The SC Watermedia Society Annual Exhibition

When: Oct. 6-Nov. 26. Opening reception is from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Oct. 6.

Where: City Art Gallery, 1224 Lincoln St., Columbia

Good to know: The opening reception and show are free and open to the public. For more information, go to cityartonline.com or scwatermedia.com.