A Place to Belong

By Matthew Bird

“Spring” by Matthew Bird

One of the most difficult aspects of being an artist is the hours of solidarity. After pouring weeks into a piece, artists then need to put on their marketing hat and sell the work, hopefully avoiding the starving artist trope. Then go back into the studio and do it again. And again.

I thought this was how it worked until I discovered the value in connecting with the right art societies. In my case, one of those groups was the National Watercolor Society (NWS).

I can say definitively that NWS and the people I’ve met have greatly helped my career as a professional artist. The exhibitions, mentoring, and motivation have been the springboard for opportunities, growth, and advancement.

National Watercolor Society Board

NWS recently opened their 98th International Exhibition in San Pedro, California. Visiting the exhibition reminded me of not just the importance of these shows on a cultural level, but also the value of connecting with our peers.

“Everyone attending understands the language of the artist,” says NWS President Robbie Laird, “that solitude is necessary when we create, and the balance of that solitude time is to be with others who understand.”

Karen Heidler, of Brooksville, Florida, poses with her painting at the exhibition

Attending these sorts of events can be very rewarding, even if you are an artist who doesn’t have a painting in the show. It’s a great opportunity to network, see old friends, and make new ones. It is also a time to be inspired and challenged in new ways by being around people that do things differently than you do. By attending you will likely up your game, meet painters you’ve long admired, and see museum-quality artwork up close instead of on a little screen.

In the words of exhibiting artist Karen Heidler, “Meeting the artists at the NWS International Opening Reception was just as exciting as seeing the exquisite paintings they produced!”

Sean Barrett from Fullerton, California

As with much in life, there can be great value and reward in just showing up. Yes, it can be unnerving to walk into an event when you don’t know anyone. That was my experience four years ago when I had my first painting accepted into the show. We had young children and many responsibilities, and I almost didn’t fly out for the opening. But attending that exhibit gave me the hope and direction I’d been missing. It was during that weekend that I made amazing friends and connections that led to other opportunities, one of which is serving on the NWS Board of Directors.

Hugh Mossman from Boise, Idaho

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that NWS has been promoting water media for 98 years all through the efforts of volunteers. As the centennial anniversary approaches in 2020, there are many more exciting events and opportunities on the horizon, and there’s no better time to get involved.

NWS is a national organization with board members and volunteers from all over the country. To learn more, visit the NWS website. Also, please feel free to reach out to any board member about how you can get involved.

Matthew Bird is a Signature member of NWS and serves on the board as a director at large.

Previous articleThe Best of the Best
Next articleLet It Snow!
Kelly Kane
PleinAir Magazine and American Watercolor Weekly Editor-in-Chief With more than 20 years experience in art publishing, Kelly Kane has served previously as Editor-in-Chief of Watercolor Artist magazine and Content Director for The Artist’s Magazine, Drawing, Acrylic Artist, and Pastel Journal. She has interviewed many of the preeminent artists of our time and written numerous articles about painting, drawing, art education and art history. She is now the Editor-in-Chief of PleinAir Magazine and the American Watercolor Weekly newsletter. Click here to send her an email.


  1. Thank you for this article Matthew. I’m just on the precipice of becoming a member in the AWS and I do look forward to it as well as transitioning into this medium with both feet. Your article is a great motivation and guide.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here