Deb Ward, GWS, OWS, PWS, WSI - WATERCOLOR/WATER MEDIA - My passion is teaching adult “beginners”. Weekly classes in my home; workshops; classes for Cincinnati Recreation Commission. My work is nationally recognized and published - see “Featured” on my sidebar. I’m a Signature Member of Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana state Watercolor Societies, Cincinnati Art Club, past-President of Greater Cincinnati Watercolor Society. Contact info below under “Class Information”

Sunday, January 29, 2012


At our January GCWS meeting one of our members stood and read an article he had found on the internet that talked about watercolor.

Several colleges had been interviewed in the article as to whether watercolor was taught at the college. Not a one – and these were high level art schools – “bothered” to teach watercolor. Most of the instructors interviewed did not paint in watercolor, did not know how to paint in watercolor, and more than once watercolor was referred to as an inferior medium, relegated to “little old ladies who paint”! (For the rest of the meeting we called him “lady”!)

Can you believe this??? Are you as stunned as I am, that, in this day with all of the advancements in paints, and all of the great watercolor painters we have - especially those “little old ladies” like Ted Nuttall, John Salminen, Mark Mehaffey, Nick Simmons, Charles Reid, George James, Bill James, Fred Graff, Gerald Brommer, Laurin McCracken, to name but a few – watercolor is still considered “inferior”.

Who are these idiots who are supposedly “teaching” in respected institutions of higher learning? To them I say - “Get a clue, people.” Jeepers. All they have to do is look at an art magazine that does not cater to oil or pastel. But, they probably wouldn’t know where to find one of those, right?

My question is, and always has been – if watercolor is so hard to control, so difficult to learn and use – why is an oil painting still valued more than a watercolor of same size and skill level?  Usually in life something that is hard to do is valued more than something that is easy to do – think brain surgeon versus store clerk (and I mean no offense to all you store clerks out there, but I think you get my drift).

Is it because one is on canvas and the other on paper? But, both have longevity if handled properly, and you could argue that the one under glass is better protected than the canvas since one could easily cut or punch a hole through the canvas.
So, why is the medium that is so hard to learn, control and handle (watercolor) valued less than an oil painting that can be changed or scraped off ad nauseum?

I’ve asked this question over and over and no one can really say, other than, it all goes back to the “olden days” when watercolors were fugitive, didn’t come in many colors and were considered “ladies’ paint” or just a sketch medium.

It’s not the 1800’s anymore. Watercolor has come a long way, baby. Isn’t it time that it gets its just due in the art world?

What can we watercolorists do to change the art world?

Have today’s watercolorists made watercolor the dark sheep of the family just because of its difficult attributes?

Someone in our watercolor society suggested that watercolor is the medium for “the thinking artist”. Have we become elitist in our attitude? Have we somehow demeaned this medium?

All you watercolorists out there – let’s band together and take the art world by storm. We know what watercolor is capable of, so let’s try to get noticed by the art world!

Let’s create shields of 300# Arches, make some tri-pointed hats out of 140# and bury those oil painters under a mountain of fine cotton paper as we attack with our #6 pointed rounds held high!


Nancy Van Blaricom said...

Interesting blog post Deb. When I started painting - in watercolor - some of our 'friends' said "oh no, old ladies take up painting". At the time I wondered where they got their information.

When I was in Europe at the Musee' d'Orsay I was amazed to see beautifully preserved work done on 'cardboard' by Taulouse Lautrec. Seems that work can last from most mediums if someone wants them
to last ....

Nancy Van Blaricom said...

Oh... also wanted to say that personally I am willing to pay equal price for watercolor or oil if I love the work of both pieces.

Carrie'sCreations said...

Completely agree with you Deb!!! I just don't understand this mindset. I was recently at a gallery in New Orleans and they had several original Picasso's, Chagall's and Rembrandt (sketches). Anyway I was shocked that the Chagall's (oils on canvas) were all matted and under uv plexi-glass with the back left uncovered to preserve the pieces. I really, at that point, thought what's the point--all art is fragile. Our watercolors are better preserved if under uv plexi and with acid free matting. With the advances in paint making them fade less I really think it's an even playing field.

Jeanette said...

Your post made me smile. And all your points are so true.

I don't know why oil is considered superior. I know that people buy my watercolours and my oils and that its more down to what the painting does for a viewer as to the medium its executed in.

I've also had the same discussion around drawing and why its considered with even more disdain than watercolour. Drawing too, seems to be on its way out as a taught technique in art school. My heart sinks at the thought of a generation of 'live for the moment' artists who can't draw and don't have patience for watercolour.

Joining you with the #6 and a sharp pencil at the ready!

Watercolors by Susan Roper said...

You go girl! Deb, you have verbalized my own thoughts I have had for so long. What is up with this antiquated notion in the art world?! It just gives me a rash to hear things like this.

In our retirement community art club, where I paint weekly, I only paint one afternoon a week because that is when the watercolorists are allowed to paint as a group (without breathing pastel dust or oil paint fumes) since there are fewer of us. Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings are allotted to the oil painters since there are so many more of them, most of whom are "little old ladies who paint" oil! They have made this choice due to the fact that they have tried watercolor and found it "too hard to do" (or were told by those who have tried it that it was too difficult so they never tried it themselves!).

These oil painters are also the ones who copy paintings right out of a magazine and then are disappointed when they are not allowed to hang them for sale in the club's display. I say this because I feel that watercolorists, who use different techniques, often are more open to changing compositions around to work for them and explore more avenues outside their comfort zones. This is my own, admittedly, highly-partial thought; but there it is.

Now that you and I have had our diatribes for the day, I can go on with what I was going to do, this does include painting in watercolor!

PS...the word verification below says "afthug", so I am sending you an afthug (does that mean one from behind?) LOL

Studio at the Farm said...

Deb, I couldn't agree with you more! I truly enjoyed your "rant" on the black sheep of the art world. You've got me riled, too!!!

RH Carpenter said...

Well, Deb, if the above mentioned watercolorists (and many more who could be added to the list) don't change people's minds, I don't know who or what will - perhaps we need some scandalous behavior among watercolorists to get names and information out there? I'm sure we could think of something interesting involving Nick Simmons, if we tried :) ha ha (Just teasing, Nick, if you're reading this!)

Christiane Kingsley said...

Well said, Deb! I am preparing my shield:-)

debwardart said...

Nancy, we have watercolors from waaaaaaaaaay back, so they CAN last, that's for sure!
Carrie, yes, I agree, under glazing should certainly be better than on canvas!!!
Jeanette and Christiane - now we are 3 - against the world (of art)!! We'll make a good team!
Susan, I'll take hugs any way I can get them! Loved your "rant" too!
Kathryn, we need to get "riled" sometimes!
Rhonda, as you know, it can be VERY hard to change some minds!!!

Arti said...

I am also at pains to understand why do people treat watercolors badly!I love this medium and I would be happiest mastering it someday.Its disheartening that its treated as a step brother to oils
Maybe its because its considered cheaper in cost...thats the only reason I could come up with.And yes, most people do not realize that good quality watercolor material costs as much as oils.

Kimberly Vanlandingham said...

Deb great post! Though, I'm an oil I guess I should be quaking in my boots! LOL! I think watercolor is an amazing medium and requires an incredible amount of skill to master. Some of the most beautiful work I've ever seen was watercolor. I totally agree with you girl! It needed to be said!

Nancy Goldman said...

I'm not sure this mindset will ever change but even if it doesn't, I will continue to paint in watercolors. Even though I use most mediums, watercolor remains my favorite to paint with and I consider it to be the most beautiful, versatile medium. Of course, it would be nice to have watercolor paintings command the same prices as comparable oils. I guess we just have to continue to educate the public and try to erase their prejudices.

debwardart said...

Arti, I've seen cheap oils, too! And w/c is not cheap, is it? It's time we got out of the past and into the present, don't you agree!
Kimberly, I won't hold your painting preferences against you!
Nancy, it's an uphill battle, that's for sure.