Ambassador of the Week: Catherine Hillis

Meet Catherine Hillis, this week’s top American Watercolor Weekly Ambassador!

“A Steel Magnolia, plein air.” This painting was created just a few weeks ago. I’ve moved from the purple hills of Northern Virginia to the coastal environs of South Georgia. I’m very excited and my plein air work is showing it. This old house is in the historic district of nearby Brunswick, GA and I love painting in this neighborhood. I’m attracted to scenes that incorporate a sense of history, a narrative and dramatic light. Not all of the old homes have been cared for but the intrinsic beauty is still apparent. These old houses have good bones and they seem to be made of steel, just like a strong Southern woman.

Catherine Hillis has always been an achiever in the arts. She won awards for her artwork as a child and was an accomplished musician as well. As a youngster, she acted and modeled in print and television ads, later majoring in Theatre at the University of Georgia. She knew she would always be involved in the arts in some way.

Receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts, cum laude, from the University of Georgia, Hillis continued her Master of Fine Art studies at the University of Texas. Her journalist husband’s career took her to different cities, finally settling in the Virginia and Washington D.C. area, where she established her reputation as a fine art water color artist and a popular instructor. In late 2017, she moved to St. Simons Island, on the coast of southern Georgia, to continue her work, inspired by the low country, the beach and the spirit of the area.

“The Shipyard.” I recently took a trip to Mystic, CT and the weather was perfect with bright and direct light. I took many pictures of the shipyard and the building where the crews were working to put ancient vessels back together. I was so taken by the light and the warm effect the light had inside the walls of this old structure. It felt like good things were happening here and I knew I’d be painting this scene.

Hillis works both in the studio and outdoors. During the past few years, the artist has traveled extensively to plein air competitions, fulfilling her love for painting nature and history. She is drawn to scenes that are often forgotten or neglected and finds the intrinsic beauty in them. Hillis believes that observation is her best teacher and she is known for the effect of light and movement in her work.

Hillis has won hundreds of awards and honors at competitive shows regionally and nationally. She has earned eight Signature Memberships from national watercolor organizations, was one of 40 elected members of the prestigious Washington Society of Landscape Painters and is a newly elected member of the Georgia Coastal Artists Guild. The artist regularly competes in international watercolor exhibitions as well as plein air competitions and invitational shows. She served as artist in residence in Dinan, France (2007), and at Hot Springs National Park (2010).

“Buoyant.” This watercolor expresses the joy I’m feeling about living along the coast now. Again, it’s always about the light for this painter but when there is a story and some history accompanying it, along with such fabulous colors, I know I’ll paint the scene. This is a studio painting completed with repeated glazes. I took a series of photographs and then began cropping until I found a composition that I deemed successful. I moved a few of the buoys around to improve the scene.

Catherine Hillis is a respected instructor and taught classes and workshops at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA and at Frederick Community College as well as workshops nationally and abroad. Her watercolor paintings are included in museum, corporate and personal collections and have been published in many venues, including Plein Air Magazine, Watercolor Artist Magazine, American Artist Magazine, Splash 12, Splash 14, Splash 18, the Artistic Touch series of water-media books, The Washington Post, the Best of America Watercolor Artists & Artisans, Volume 1 and the Best of Virginia Artists & Artisans 2005. Her article “Ten Tools for Better Watercolors” was published in American Artist Magazine in September, 2006 and her most recent article was featured in Watercolor Artist Magazine’s April 2017 issue. You may see Hillis teaching a series of brief watercolor lessons on

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