In Search of Great Subjects

“What should I paint? We all have to answer this question if we fall in love with watercolor painting and wish to improve our skills,” says Moira Johannessen.

“For my own work, I rely mainly on photographs. No matter where I go, I’m always on the lookout for a good painting subject — a harbor scene, sweet peas, or the nearby desert; in fact, anything that crosses my path can make a good subject. As I take reference photos, I am composing a painting in the process. If necessary, I can also crop the photos later on my computer.

“So that I always have painting possibilities on hand, I have created a file of fun and interesting photo references, from which I can draw inspiration. I also study other artists’ work that I admire. I’ve found that a good exercise is to paint in the manner of famous artists to explore various styles and techniques, or just for the fun of it.

“Painting is a journey. Enjoy!”

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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. Couldn’t agree more. I too constantly take photographs, but I try not to allow the chance accident of composition to dictate my painting. I feel it better to let the photograph be the inspiration and then to move elements, colours, shapes around to make a more satisfying painting. Over many years I find that it is just about impossible to expect a photograph to be a great painting subject, unaltered. Let it take you back to the time and location and let it inspire an emotion. Then paint that emotion not a picture.


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