When he selected the painting above as best watercolor for October, juror Tim Doud said the artist’s “approach, her experimental use of paint, was unique among other watercolorists.”
We talked to that artist — Amy Sabrin — about why she painted this scene, why she works in watercolor, and what’s next:
What was your goal for Glen Echo Creek?
Amy Sabrin: I painted Glen Echo Creek on a plein air expedition late last November. I had been painting outside a lot that fall, primarily along the C+O Canal, and had been inspired by Charles Burchfield’s autumn paintings. My main goal was to be in the moment and really concentrate on what I was seeing, and not get hung up on making “The Perfect Painting.”
What does this location mean to you? Why did you want to capture it?
I took a number of classes at Glen Echo, and I walked across the bridge from the parking lot to the amusement park many times. I thought it was a very soothing spot, and I was drawn to the reflections in the rocky stream and the shapes of the overhanging trees. One day, when the trees were that amazing golden greeny mustard color, I said, I just have to stop and paint it — so I did! I particularly liked the abstract, negative shapes of the pools made by the jutting rocks. I also like to do scenes that are back-lit, as this was in the late afternoon.
Why are you an artist? Why watercolor, specifically?
I have simply felt compelled to draw and paint since I was a small child. My father was a doctor who loved art and design. He took us to museums all the time, and made abstract art himself out of shells. He modeled the importance of having a creative outlet regardless of your chosen field. I majored in art history in college, and although I went on to have careers in journalism and the law, I painted when I could.
I took up watercolor initially because it was easy to set up and clean up when I was working and had a small child in the house, but grew to love it for its transparency and intensity of hue. (A large reason why I paint is that I love color!) Since I retired, I have been indulging my love for both traveling and painting, and watercolors are also easy to pack.
What do you think makes a good landscape?
I think a successful landscape is based on finding the strong, underlying geometric shapes in a landscape and a path that moves you through the scene. Good landscapes also capture the unique light of a place — easier said than done!
What’s your favorite color on your palette?
Do I have to choose just one? That’s like asking which is your favorite child!
What are you working on now?
I am coming to terms with the reality that my work is never going to be the kind of gauzy, realistic, technical tour-de-force watercolors you see in the Splash books or an American Watercolor Society show. I really appreciated judge Tim Doud’s comments about Glen Echo Creek, because they encouraged me to be more comfortable with my own style and validated my risk-taking. Now I am taking a class in abstract acrylics. I don’t know if I want to go there on a permanent basis, but I think exploring this path will help me to get where I want to go with my watercolors.