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Watercolor painting is definitely one of the first forms of painting that most people try out besides finger painting with those washable craft paints. Most kindergartens and primary schools have these colors as a staple because they are easy to manage. You might think that this makes it one of the easiest paints to work with, but that is not entirely the case, because there is a lot of skill needed to control the watery paints so you do not over-saturate the paper and make a muddy mess instead of a beautiful artwork. There are many famous watercolor artists who have succeeded in their skills and are now watercolor masters. In this tutorial, we will be celebrating those watercolor painters that we deem worthy of acknowledgment. Of course, there are so many more artists, and we will not be able to mention them all, but these are the few watercolor painting artists that have wowed enough art lovers and critics alike to be mentioned here today.
- 1 What Makes Watercolors Iconic?
- 2 Famous Watercolor Artists of the Past
- 2.1 Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
- 2.2 William Blake (1757-1827)
- 2.3 J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851)
- 2.4 John Constable (1776-1837)
- 2.5 John James Audubon (1785-1851)
- 2.6 Elizabeth Murray (1815-1882)
- 2.7 Thomas Moran (1837-1926)
- 2.8 John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)
- 2.9 Paul Klee (1879-1940)
- 2.10 Charles Demuth (1883-1935)
- 2.11 Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)
- 2.12 Reginald Marsh (1898-1954)
- 2.13 Antonio Calderara (1903-1978)
- 2.14 Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)
- 3 Contemporary Watercolor Artists Worth Following
- 4 Frequently Asked Questions
What Makes Watercolors Iconic?
Watercolors are a unique type of painting medium because it is the only one of their kind to look the way it does. Gouache and acrylic paints look very similar to each other when they are wet. You cannot tell them apart unless you feel their texture or firmness when they have dried. Watercolors are transparent and opaque simultaneously. The colors are lighter than most, even though some watercolor paint manufacturers make theirs richer in pigment than others.
Background to Watercolor Painting
There is a great deal more history to watercolor art than many people are aware of, with the oldest recorded watercolor paintings dating back to the Paleolithic age in Europe. The popularity of using watercolors in book and manuscript illustrations grew and grew during the Middle Ages, particularly for designing small and intricate patterns, and painting small scenes as you would when illustrating.
The Renaissance period saw the rise of watercolor painting, and it was then that its popularity was highest.
Wing of a European Roller (c. 1500) by Albrecht Dürer; Albrecht Dürer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
It was easily one of the most preferred mediums for painters. Famous watercolor artists like Albrecht Dürer were one of the watercolor masters that would incorporate watercolor paints into their sketches. And this marked the beginning of the aristocratic watercolor splendor – the medium was primarily used by those with a particular public stature. However, they never quite topped the impressiveness of oil paints.
By the early 19th century, watercolors had finally earned their way up the social ladder. During this time, watercolor illustrations became common in scientific publications, sparked by a growing worldwide awareness of nature. James Audubon, a famous artist of this era, illustrated “The Birds of America” in lively watercolor illustrations. His book showcased all 25 species.
Famous Watercolor Artists of the Past
As we have promised, a list of some famous watercolor artists. These watercolor painters have created some epic artwork, worthy of noting here, with their well-practiced and well-earned skills with the medium. Read through these and see which ones you might recognize.
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
We mentioned Albrecht Dürer as an artist who loved to sketch. He would use watercolor paint in his sketches and illustrations. Dürer was also known for using other paint mediums, but he was known in particular for his watercolor artworks, which were the highlight of his work. He liked to paint many different things, but you will find many of his watercolor landscapes, animal depictions, people wearing no clothes, and pretty much anything of the natural form. One of his watercolor paintings we have as a reference is the Young Hare painting.
Hare (1502) by Albrecht Dürer; Albrecht Dürer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
William Blake (1757-1827)
William Blake has a name that is hard to forget, and the same could be said for his artwork. It is not easy to forget the beauty of it once you have cast your gaze upon it. He was most famous for his literacy skills, and his poems were adored by many.
But he was a well-rounded person who had earned his spot amongst the watercolor masters of the art world. Not only that, but he was also a printmaker, so he was pretty much a jack of all trades!
Newton (c. 1804 – 1805) by William Blake; William Blake, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Blake painted with some rather unusual styles and unconventional techniques that became unique to his style of watercolor artworks. He developed and perfected a style, called fresco, that many watercolor painters use today.
J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851)
Before Joseph Mallord William Turner passed away, he graced this world with more than 2000 of his glorious watercolor artworks. Having been trained from an early age, along with some determination, he was able to exhibit his first work at the Royal Academy at the youthful age of 20. Turner would produce painting after painting to earn his income, and he would also keep a record of what we experienced from traveling around the world with watercolor paints.
Fluelen: Morning (looking towards the lake) (1845) by J.M.W. Turner; J. M. W. Turner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
John Constable (1776-1837)
Among John Constable’s many accomplishments, the oil paintings are perhaps his most well-known, however, after 1829 he began to create watercolors. He paints subjects similar to those he drew in his oil sketches in the past. Watercolor can be very expressive, and John would utilize the effects it gives off to represent the color changes during sunrise and sunset, and throughout the day.
John James Audubon (1785-1851)
It has already been mentioned that John Audubon illustrated The Birds of America, and these are his more famous artworks and what makes his name so recognizable. In addition to being a naturalist, Audubon was also an artist, and his artworks are a perfect representation of both parts of himself.
John was fascinated by depicting scenes of nature, and his fascination spread amongst many other artists.
Plate 2 from Birds of America depicting Yellow-billed Cuckoo (1827 – 1838) by John James Audubon; John James Audubon, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Elizabeth Murray (1815-1882)
England sported some amazing watercolor artists, what with their gorgeous countryside scenery, it is the perfect setting for the medium. Elizabeth Murray was a well-renowned watercolor artist, following in the footsteps of her own father. The two of them traveled through various parts of the world whilst depicting what they saw with watercolor paints.
Elizabeth would superimpose the watercolor paints that are mixed to perfection, and this would create the depths in her artwork.
Vista de la Orotava y del Pico Teide (1851) by Elizabeth Murray; Elizabeth Heaphy Murray, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Thomas Moran (1837-1926)
If you are a lover of painted landscapes, then you might be familiar with Thomas Moran. He is one of the watercolor masters who would depict a scene in the countryside accurately, yet dreamily. His schooling was a big influence on his style of watercolor works; he went to the Hudson River and Rocky Mountain.
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)
John Singer Sargent was an artist who would paint beautiful portraits. He would use watercolors in his works, and this is what helped earn him his spot of recognition. Like many other artists during this era, he would travel the world and paint his experiences.
He was quite productive as an artist, producing over 2000 paintings but this is no surprise, because the world is a large and wonderful thing, and there is a lot to paint as memories and records to exhibit to the world.
White Ships (c. 1908) by John Singer Sargent; John Singer Sargent, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Paul Klee is regarded as one of the most notable and influential painters of the last century by many art historians. Klee was highly expressive in his style of artwork, and he thrived off challenging the perception of anyone who viewed his paintings.
Klee would use mixed mediums and sometimes add lines within the artworks to add dimension.
The Twittering Machine (1922) by Paul Klee; Paul Klee, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Charles Demuth (1883-1935)
Charles Demuth, who was involved with watercolor painting during the Modern era, incorporated elements of cubism into his work. In his early years, Demuth was fascinated with watercolors first, and he only turned to oils as a second love later in life. Being a homosexual, Demuth would portray his own experiences, but he would also pass time by painting elaborate bowls of fruits and vegetables.
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)
If you are an avid artist follower, you will know that Georgia O’Keeffe is famous for the amazing artworks that she painted with oil paints. Before she was well recognized, she created some beautiful watercolor artworks, mostly during her 20s.
As with most watercolors, O’Keeffe’s subjects are often stylized depictions of the Texan landscapes, as well as naked bodies.
Sunrise (1916) by Georgia O’Keeffe; Georgia O’Keeffe, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
During her watercolor phase, O’Keeffe developed her artistic footing, which led to less-representational oil paintings after her abstract watercolors, as her later oil paintings flowed from her abstract watercolors.
Reginald Marsh (1898-1954)
Reginald Marsh is an American artist and watercolor painter who gives his paintings a lively and gritty representation of urban life. Marsh faithfully documented the everyday happenings in New York City throughout the 1930s and 1940s, including Coney Island and burlesque parlors, as well as the food, sports, and the latest fashion.
Not only that, but he would also illustrate for The Daily News newspaper.
Antonio Calderara (1903-1978)
Antonio Calderara was a modernist painter from Italy who played around with graphic design, various handicrafts, as well as being a self-taught artist. His artworks were inspired by other artists like Albers or Mondrian.
What made him so well-known were his geometric designs and abstract imagery.
Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)
Another watercolor painting artist who we simply cannot leave out is Andrew Wyeth. He was lucky (or skilled) enough to have his first exhibition at only 20 years old, and it was a solo exhibition at that! This first show was a sell-out and from there, his name rose in admiration (and so too did his artworks).
The soft and muted colors in his watercolor paintings defined his style. He was also inspired by the forests of his hometown, Chadds Ford in Pennsylvania.
Contemporary Watercolor Artists Worth Following
Knowing these famous watercolor artists is all fine and dandy, but what if you want to tantalize your eyes with modern art, and be inspired by an artist who is still creating art to this day. The following are our favorite contemporary artists who work with watercolor paint.
Sukran Moral (Born 1962)
Sukran Moral is from Turkey, and she is famous for the intense manner that she paints with. Her watercolor artworks would represent the injustices that minority groups face within our daily societal lives. The majority of her subjects would showcase issues relating to mental health problems, gender-based discriminations of all forms, xenophobia, and more.
Tracy Emin (Born 1963)
The majority of Tracy Emin’s work is not watercolor-based, but that has not stopped her from producing a large number of works in watercolor. The subject matter of Emin’s work is inspired by her own lived experiences, and she has created a few collections with her watercolor artwork that are quite emotionally triggering.
As part of a genre referred to as confessional art, Emin has created collections such as her Abortion series from 1990. She depicts individual suffering as well as the expectations of society’s opinion in these collections.
Nadine Faraj (Born 1977)
Nadine Faraj’s abstract watercolor paintings utilize just a touch more humanity in her approach to the subject of sex. This is possibly one of the oldest topics for artistic expression. In Faraj’s painting, the watercolor is splattered, spilled, and washed across the canvas in a way that makes it appear that the colors on the canvas are moving. Humans are depicted in quite erotic scenes in her artwork, and this is what makes her art noteworthy and memorable.
Ekaterina Smirnova (Born 1981)
Katerina Smirnova is an American water painter who lives and works in Seattle. She is widely known for her large-scale watercolor paintings inspired by science, technology, and space. In the last few months, Smirnova has instigated incorporating electronic matter in her watercolor artworks.
Smirnova uses a large brush to create her creations, which can be up to 2.5 meters in height, onto which she sprays, wipes, washes, and splashes paint.
Dima Rebus (Born 1988)
If you love the dark side of art, and the portrayal of all things that are not so bright and beautiful. His artworks fall somewhere in between realism and surrealism, and they often showcase the supernatural in terms of spirits and all things spooky. National Geographic recently hired him to illustrate their image for their film, Saints and strangers.
As you can see, there are many watercolor painting artists that can inspire you to create a world of paintings. Keep an eye out for the artists we mentioned that are still producing art, because there is a lot to learn from watercolor masters, and the ones we have mentioned here are truly inspiring.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Watercolor Painting?
Watercolor painting is painting with a painting medium that is transparent and opaque at the same time. The colors are not as vivid and opaque as oil paints and acrylic paints will be, but some manufacturers have produced watercolor paints with high pigments levels.
Who Are Some of The Most Influential Watercolor Artists in History?
Some of the most influential artists that work with watercolors are Paul Klee, Andrew Wyeth, William Blake, and Albrecht Durer.