An artist working with watercolors isn't the type to haphazardly try out different shades and textures on paper, searching for the right balance of expression through trial and error. The medium doesn't allow for that sort of experimentation. The watercolorist is methodical, pragmatic and attuned to a vision.
"You really have to think through your process and build on it in layers," says Susan Wellington, president of the Mississippi Watercolor Society for the past two years.
A Jackson native and Flowood resident, Wellington, 56, has only painted seriously for six years, but she's knowledgeable about watercolors and enjoys the challenges of working from "light to dark," a specific feature of watercolors, as opposed from "dark to light," the technique used in most other painting mediums.
"What I love about watercolors is the luminosity you get from paper coming through that color and pigment," Wellington says. "For me, certain subjects just lend themselves more to watercolors than oils. Watercolor is a very pure medium."
The margin of error for watercolors tends to be much smaller than that of oils or acrylics, which is why Wellington and her fellow members of MSWS are adamant about changing some of the misconceptions about this medium, particularly those that label it as "amateur."
"Once you stain the paper, it's done," Wellington says. "You can't go back over it."
Most of the society's goals and objectives are geared toward helping its current members and surrounding community hone in on their craft.
"It (the society) is a way to network with other artists," Wellington says. "We do workshops, have demos at our quarterly meetings, and share information about other regional shows that our members can enter."
The society's marquee event is the annual Grand National Watercolor Exhibition, housed at the Mississippi Museum of Art (380 S. Lamar St.) near the end of each year. A national juror judged the works, which artists from around the nation submit, and chooses 50 to hang in MMA. The top artists, usually 10 to 12 plus honorable mentions, chosen from the 50 finalists receive cash prizes going from $500 to $1,500 for the first-place winner. In 2013, MSWS awarded around $10,000 total to the top artists. Holly Bluff native Cathy Hegman won.
In addition to the Grand National Show, MSWS also offers annual members a show at the Jackson Municipal Arts Gallery, titled the Sandra Williams Members Show in honor of the MSWS founder. Artists are not juried to get into this show, so members get a good opportunity to showcase their work. After the work is hung, the art is juried for awards. Wellington won "Best in Show" at this year's members show with a painting called "Just Hitched," a depiction of three mules harnessed and idling away the time, looking a bit overdressed in their inter-
"Last year at the rodeo parade (Dixie National), I took a ton of photographs of old cars and different things," Wellington says, "but the mules that pulled the covered wagons fascinated me. I think they're really humorous to look at."
Wellington has taken advantage of the opportunity that the society has offered, especially the chance to be around more experienced members and painters. She encourages others interested in painting or who just want to join the society. The fee is small ($35) and reduced for college-age students ($25), something Wellington wants to push hard in the upcoming years. "One of the things we're really working towards is to bring in some younger people into the MSWS," Wellington says.
In addition to having access to society meetings, members can attend workshops offered throughout the course of the year under the instruction of both local and nationally recognized watercolorists. Wellington looks forward to continuing and increasing the frequency of these educational gatherings in the future.
"We're looking at doing some one-day workshops on Saturdays this winter with some of our local artists," Wellington says. "We're also thinking about putting together an introduction-to-watercolor workshop for anybody who would like to try it but have never painted before."
Visit mississippiwatercolor.org for more information.