5 Breakthrough Water Media Artists to Watch in 2018

Arts, Featured • Views: 135

These five up-and-coming artists have caught the attention of some of the top watermedia artists and instructors. What do they all have in common? Passion. The passion to take risks, accept challenges and make an artistic statement.

Each one of these watermedia artists has made our must-watch list for 2018 for not only their passion but for their talent as well. And we are confident you will love their artwork and dedication to their craft as much as we do. Enjoy!

Matthew Bird: Baltimore, Maryland

For the first of our five must-see watermedia artists, Matthew Bird, the way to inspiration is found in the light. “In Once Upon a Time, the light creates depth and mood,” he says. “The figure recedes into the background with just her legs and the top of her head in the sun.”

Bird continues, “We all know that watercolour isn’t a forgiving medium. For my style, it’s very important to have it all worked out ahead of time. Once I have the drawing on the paper, I still stare at it for a long time. I’m sure I look like a crazy person, but I’m painting in my head, planning the steps.”


After a light pencil drawing, Bird applies a mask. This will protect the areas where he wants to preserve the white paper. “It’s common for watercolor artists to paint light to dark, but for me, I’m more comfortable establishing the deep values first, often the background,” he explains.

Expert Insight

Matt’s realist approach to watercolor stood out to me from the moment I first saw it. His sense of composition and subject is superb. He’s able to edit his scenes with a clarity that eliminates all but the necessary elements to set the narrative. Yet, he allows certain passages to remain understated.

–Iain Stewart

Kathleen Mooney: Lowell, Michigan

Kathleen Mooney likes that Sunflowers For Vincent always seems to produce a smile or a laugh. “It’s so anthropomorphic,” she says. “Each sunflower head has attitude.”

Mooney used colour symbolically for the piece, selecting a palette that evokes colours we associate with van Gogh. She describes them as “the colours of sunbaked southern France — past its prime harvest, faded yet exuberant beauty.”


Colour is clearly at the forefront of Mooney’s aesthetic. As an artist who also licenses designs for rugs, clothing and consumer goods, she’s exposed regularly to new color trends and cutting-edge combinations that constantly feed her colour enthusiasm.

“Colour can take my breath away,” states Mooney. “Two or more colours working with each other can produce an audible ‘hummmmm …’ when I can see that they’re simply right.”

Expert Insight

Kathleen’s mixed watermedia work is absolutely bold and colorful, as well as influenced by her history of studying indigenous people’s artwork.

–Kathleen Conover

Nicki Heenan: Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England

At the heart of Nicki Heenan’s paintings are a love and respect for the natural world. “I want to convey the preciousness and transience of the landscape,” she says.

The river Avon, which passes through the artist’s garden, inspired her painting, Old Roman Bridge. “The ancient bridge has stood since Roman times,” explains Heenan, “and the light that’s suffused through the trees seems to whisper of stories past. My challenge is to create the evanescence of form so it becomes a place you feel exists in a memory.”

Heenan is captivated by light — specifically, in this case, by the way light “filters through the trees with droplets of water that glisten in the sun,” she notes. “It’s this elusive moment that I wanted to share, which is — as Whistler put it — ‘like a breath on glass.’”

The artist uses inks and watercolor in a fluid manner, and dry pigments, to add textured form. A closer look reveals the subtle textural differences between the various paints and color washes.

“It’s these elements that make you look at a painting twice — from a distance and up close,” says Heenan. The artist’s approach to colour involves carefully mixed neutrals that create notes of colour that vibrate until they’re “singing in tune.”

Expert Insight

Nicki is a risk-taker. She experiments with watermedia and takes her work deeper, probing to find her personal approach and expression. I feel the elements when I view her work.

–Stephen Quiller

Martha Wakefield: Belmont, Massachusetts

It was Martha Wakefield’s brother who first introduced her to Native American dream catchers, and she became captivated immediately by both the design and symbolism. In her painting, Dream Catchers, the cups and bowls appear to float while still remaining connected by lines “as if in the web of a dream catcher,” she says.

The tangled containers become part of a graphic language, expressing the artist’s ideas about vessels and the things — perhaps dreams — that they hold. The colours and lines, the submerging and emerging shapes, they’re all part of that language. In Dream Catchers, “the touches of bright colours, juxtaposed with the cool whites and gray, add just enough tension,” explains Wakefield.

When Wakefield first began to paint, her work was more representational, but she felt it was restricted, that she was blocked from emotionally connecting to her subject. “My work slowly morphed toward abstraction,” she continues. “Now I use abstraction to bring order to the disorder of memory and remembering.”

Her goal is to make lines that are expressive, as well as “bold at times and other times poetic,” notes Wakefield. “I’d like my marks to appear random and spontaneous, but never as a second thought.”

Expert Insight

Martha’s well-considered color palette, along with the marks in her abstractions, make them strong personal statements.

–Katherine Chang Liu

Chris Nelson: Malvern, Pennsylvania

Chris Nelson’s interest in historical subjects is clearly evident in Founding Fathers, a portrayal of two trains — a Chesapeake & Ohio and a Baltimore & Ohio, meeting at the newly built Cincinnati Union Terminal around 1949.

“Anything that has interesting architectural features and design captures my eye,” says Nelson. “I love the challenge of painting subjects to scale and authentically reproducing them, whether they’re landscapes, buildings, trains, cars or people. Just about anything in the American History Museum could be the subject of a magnificent painting.”

In Founding Fathers, Nelson created deep, colorful shadows and reflected light on the engines, allowing the sunlit areas to glow. “Likewise, the reflected light on the engines defines and shapes the magnificent design,” he explains. “The sunlight is everywhere, even in the shadows.”

Expert Insight

Chris’ work has strong compositions, descriptive and elegant brushwork, and a wonderful feeling of light.”

–James Toogood