On a recent warm summer evening, a handful of Southwest Washington Watercolor Society members gathered on the patio of Vancouver’s historic O.O. Howard House to paint outdoors.
“It’s awesome. It’s peaceful,” watercolorist JoyLynn Woodard said. “It feels so good.”
She and her colleagues reflected on the many joys of their endeavor, including the surprise they often feel as they watch watercolors merge on paper.
“They’re ethereal, and they flow together in a way you can’t really predict,” watercolorist Mary Emert said. “So much happens when the layers meet. You couldn’t plan it.”
The Aug. 9 event was part of The Historic Trust’s Summer Fest. Many of the participating painters had recently displayed their work at the inaugural Vancouver Arts and Music Festival Aug. 4-6.
“This is our release and relaxation,” watercolorist Cheryl Herndon said.
She was working on the cheerful likeness of a sunflower plucked from her own garden. She recalled doodling cartoons of Tweety Bird and Sylvester the Cat as a child. She said didn’t go much further than that until her artist mother died at age 60.
“I realized this was something I wanted to do and I’d better get on with it,” Herndon said.
She finds mystery and magic in the artistic process. No matter the external subject, she said, what’s reflected in the painting is the artist’s own personality and mood.
“I may be painting a landscape but what really comes through is what’s inside of me,” she said. “That’s why artificial intelligence can never hurt us.”
Watercolor Society President Barbara Hope pointed to a leftover white field that seemed to suggest a frosty glacier in an abstract landscape painting. She said it was a “happy accident” she decided to keep.
“This stuff right here, that’s the magic,” she said. “The main question is knowing when to stop. If you don’t stop, you make mud.”
Another thing artificial intelligence can never do is gather in person to make friends, trade tips and organize live exhibits. The Southwest Washington Watercolor Society holds monthly workshops and instruction by guest artists, sponsors two annual exhibits and provides scholarships for art students, Hope said.
Separately, Herndon convenes an informal “art chat” that’s aimed at practicing artists — but open to all — at 10 a.m. every first Tuesday of the month at the Ridgefield Community Library and every second Wednesday at the Battle Ground Community Library.
Painter Nathun Finkhouse said he’d never given much thought to framing and displaying his pieces properly until he joined the Watercolor Society. He just studied and painted.
“I was never in any art group and I was green about everything,” said Finkhouse, now an art instructor at Clark College and at the Vancouver Art Space. “This has given me exposure to people and to shows. I get so many ideas from people that I never would have thought of.”
As Finkhouse worked on a watercolor portrayal of an old jalopy disintegrating into a forest, he echoed his colleagues’ sentiment that the essential element of art is what’s inside the artist.
“I tell my students, when you’re deep into a project your brain shuts off and you’re not thinking about anything. You’re just doing the work,” he said. “That’s where the good stuff happens.”