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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 presents 124 paintings selected from the 21st Splash Competition, sponsored by BLICK Art Materials. This year’s art inspiration and theme was “Capturing Mood.”
Whether it portrays the serenity of a quiet landscape, the vibrant energy of an urban street scene or the beautiful mystery of maternity, a painting that successfully establishes mood will also captivate, intrigue and delight its viewers. 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.
Singer III by Suzy Schultz
Suzy Schultz’s “Singer” series was first inspired by a black-and-white photo of Bessie Smith singing. “Her hands were up, her eyes were closed. You couldn’t tell if she was praying or singing. But there was something about that expression that I wanted to capture,” says Schultz. “The model for this painting is a neighbor of mine whom I’ve worked with over the years. When I wanted to revisit the series, he came into my studio and sang songs—hymns that his mother sang to him as a child—with a strong and soulful voice. I felt transported and wanted to bring that healing energy to the painting.
“I started with a detailed drawing, which took a few days. With the watercolor, I started with the eyes and worked out from there. Words from ‘Amazing Grace,’ which Mr. Banks sang in my studio, are embedded in the background.”
Spiral Swirl Staircase by Sally J. K. Davies
Sally J. Davies set her scene at the Louvre. “I went back several times to observe different lighting situations on the spiral staircase at the museum’s entrance,” Davies says. “It was painted in my studio from a composite of preliminary sketches and photos I did on site. All of the circles and curves were visually intriguing, but a challenge to paint accurately. I placed the warm glowing yellows to contrast the purple and blue shadows.
“My paintings are inspired by life—ordinary people in environments with interesting views or unusual compositions. I love the human dynamics in this painting— the lady on her cell phone, the exhausted toddler in his stroller, and the bored museum guard. I hope to show our planet as one whole place—a community.”
Expecting by Eric Yi Lin
Eric Yi Lin says his wife has been his favorite subject ever since they were first dating. “This piece was painted in 2018 from a photo taken by me when she was about 30 weeks pregnant with our third child,” Lin says. “I wanted to capture the stage of her life when she had this beautiful mother’s glow. She became emotionally vulnerable but stronger at the same time. It’s such a beautiful and feminine transformation from the inside out. It’s so unique, and to me, it went by way too fast.
“Watercolor is my favorite medium because of its liveliness. There are some beautiful moments during the process, which coincidentally echoes the theme of this painting.”
Homeless by Ann Pember
In Homeless, Ann Pember depicts a small kitten that she photographed in a feral cat colony. “His expression, the lighting and the setting were so expressive of the plight of these animals, who deserve a real home and loving attention,” Pember says. “It’s the emotion of that encounter that I painted. The Strathmore plate illustration board allowed me to paint the soft textures and lift paint as needed to indicate fur and whiskers.”
Temple Prayers and Wishes by Carrie Waller
Carrie Waller has been living in Japan for five years and loves the culture and country. “I enjoy visiting shrines and temples,” says Waller. “They have ema, which are small wooden boards that you can purchase as offerings. People write their prayers and wishes on these boards and tie them to designated areas. Working from a photo reference, I wanted to capture the beauty of this scene. I loved the angular aspects of this composition and wanted to play up the lights and darks using warm and cool colors.
Using watercolor and the aid of a ruler and ruling pen, I was able to get precise lines for each board. I used a variety of wet-into-wet and wet-into-dry techniques, painting cellularly, working each area to completion before moving on to the next.”
Green Heron, Red Mangrove by Kris Parins
“Maybe he was getting used to me, or maybe he was so hungry that he couldn’t be bothered to take flight,” says Kris Parins about her painting subject. “Whatever the reason, the green heron allowed me to approach slowly with my camera while he concentrated on catching his fishy breakfast in the water below the mangroves. I’d spied him previously and admired the natural framing of the leaves and reflected sky, and the shy, subtly colored bird emerging from the dark shade. Objecting to my presence with a chicken-like squawk, the heron would usually flap away before I could capture the scene. This time, I got him!”
“I created a reference by digitally combining and editing my photos,” Parins says. “After masking the bird’s shape, I poured paint and worked wet-into-wet to create the background Then I removed the mask, carefully painted the heron, and added detail with a paintbrush.”
Plaza Mayor by Carlotta Miller
While exploring Spain on a sun-drenched afternoon, Carlotta Miller snapped several photos of this plaza. “I was captivated by the glowing light that silhouetted sauntering callers against its deeply shadowed archway,” Miller says. “My goal was to capture the mood and allure of that streaming light. Once my drawing was complete, I chose to pour my watercolors. My process was a combination of pouring alternate layers of quinacridone gold, red, blue and masking fluid, followed by direct painting.”
Yuen Long by Rainbow Tse
“Sunset often brings with it many emotions,” says Rainbow Tse. “It’s a time of transition, when the day ends and night falls as people return home from work. This painting speaks to the moment the sun has set, retiring its last speck of light to the deep blue night. It speaks to a sense of refreshing coldness, the feeling of letting out a deep breath at the end of the day. Blending colors and contrasting darks and lights with areas of softness were key to unifying the painting and creating a harmonious landscape.”
Aroma by Denny Bond
Denny Bond considers mood an important factor when designing a painting. “This mid-century coffee pot demanded a high contrast design to complement its reflective capabilities,” Bond says. “The accompanying pieces were not only placed to reflect onto the coffee pot, but also to balance the composition. The spoon on top of the coffee pot emphasizes a sense of urgency for the forthcoming caffeine. When I design a still life painting, I want it to relay a message. The chosen items need to relate to one another and be coherent to the viewer.”
Three for Breakfast by Lois Ward Wolford
“I’m always looking for subjects that invoke a mood and tell a story,” says Lois Ward Wolford. “While eating breakfast, I was struck by the shape of a woman sitting across the way. Her hair was in a bun, and she was leaning in with light from above hitting the back of her red dress. Her head was turned slightly, and she became almost a silhouette. I then noticed the other family members. The body language of the three figures told a familiar story of parents engaged in conversation while their young child showed early signs of restlessness. My hope for this painting was to invite the viewer in and allow them to relate to this young family.”
Praying by Zhou Tianya
To create this portrait of an old Tibetan woman praying, Zhou Tianya used more than 20 layers of transparent watercolor as a way of embodying Tibetans’ devotion to faith. “I emphasized two points to form the features of the painting,” says Tianya. “The first was enhancing the tonal unity by reducing the contrast of color, thus creating a solemn, noble and classic beauty. The second was creating a religious, mystical atmosphere. By designing the painting with half light and half shade I created more imaginative space.”
Morning Prayer, Athens by Frank Spino
“It was a brilliant morning in Athens, Greece,” says Frank Spino about the encounter that inspired his painting. “We were up before dawn, wandering the deserted city hours before the hordes of tourists roused from their sleep. On our way to the early service at the newly restored metropolitan Cathedral, we found ourselves following two Greek orthodox priests. Gliding across the reflective marble, prayer beads in hand, they too, were headed to church for morning worship. It was a dramatic moment, as the dazzling light of the new day emerged from the shadow of the historic Acropolis.
A Bag of Apples by J.J. Jiang
“A good painter can see beauty amid mundane surroundings and create something extraordinary out of seemingly ordinary subjects,” says J.J. Jiang. “In my painting, A Bag of Apples, the obvious result is an eye-catching surprise—something refreshing and unusual that leaves an impression on the viewers. There are no special techniques involved in the creation of this painting. I used the most basic of watercolor techniques: wet-into-wet for the apples to create a fresh and juicy aspect, and drybrushing for the bag.”
To see all the Splash winners plus enjoy endless art inspiration, check out the special issue, The Best of Watercolor: Splash 21 Competition Winners digital edition now. Look for the print edition on newsstands and in the Network Store in September 2020.
We would like to extend a special thanks to our competition sponsor, BLICK Art Materials for their ongoing support for artists!