Embracing Tension

“I try not to see objects; I try to drive the idea that I am painting a certain object out of my head,” says Iain Stewart. “So as I come down the side of a building, for example, and it connects to the sidewalk, a car, people, whatever, I just see them as shapes. If all those things exist on the shady side of the street, they’re all going to become one shape. If I do it correctly, I can say enough that way. I don’t have to explain everything. From there, I have to find a way to get across street and connect to the rest of the painting. So if I start to see things lining up horizontally, I immediately start looking for verticals that begin to tie planes together. And that’s where tension can play an important role.

Train Spotting- Sweden

“If I have a couple of objects in close proximity, and there is a slight gap between them, that creates an area of tension within the piece. That can be good or bad depending on your intention.

“Two Boys and a Bicycle, Gothenburg, Sweden” (watercolor, 21 x 10 in. )

“Not all painting should be beautiful or serene. Sometimes you want to allow that sort of tension to exist to create a feeling of unease. The viewer may not be able to articulate why they feel that way when looking at the painting, but they know it doesn’t make them feel nice. Regardless, it does evoke a mood, and that may be just what you’re after. You have to understand what you’re doing, though, and make conscious decisions about when and where to use it in order to wield its power effectively. Otherwise, you risk evoking a feeling in the viewer that you did not intend.”

Rue de Rivoli- Paris

This article was excerpted from a podcast interview by Eric Rhoads. You can listen to it in its entirety here.

Iain Stewart is an award winning watercolor artist and a signature member of the American and National Watercolor Societies among other state and international societies. His work has received numerous awards in international competition. Most recently his watercolor “From Pierre Loti Hill” received 2nd Place in the Mississippi Grand National, his work “Thurlow Dam- Tallassee, Alabama” was selected for inclusion in the Shanghai Zhujiajiao International Watercolour Biennial Exhibition, and his watercolor “Apse End Notre Dame” will be on exhibition at the NWS / China small works exchange.

Iain was featured in the 2017 April / May issue of PleinAir Magazine, the March 2013 issue of the international publication The Art of Watercolour, and the March 2014 cover and feature in The Art of Watercolor. His paintings have been published in Southern Living, Cottage Living, Better Homes and Gardens, The Robb Report, Watercolor Artist Magazine, Splash 15 16 18, and the French publication Pratique des Arts.

Iain maintains a studio in Opelika, Alabama, and in addition to gallery work, is an Architectural Illustrator with an international clientele and teaches watercolor and design drawing at Auburn University.

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