When Anything Goes

“State House on Conduit” (watercolor, 12 x 30 in.)

Mat Barber Kennedy has never considered himself a purist. “I’m always experimenting in the studio,” he says. “My work is unmistakably watercolor, but I’ve spent years trying to escape the flatness of the page by adding non-water-soluble elements, thickening agents, and collage, applying paint straight from the tube with my fingers and palette knives, and rubbing it away with shirt sleeves and paper towels.”

“The Grist Mill, Cedarburg” (watercolor, 12 x 12 in.)

He even sprinkled handfuls of dirt into his first washes for some historic museum pieces he made recently at the Olmsted Plein Air Invitational in Atlanta. “It created texture and brought authenticity of place,” Kennedy says. “There are lots of things that I try in the studio that fail, but every success gets added to my tool belt and expands my vocabulary.”

“Earl’s Dairy Barn” (mixed water-based media, 5 x 7 in.)

Building texture the way Kennedy does requires long periods of drying time, which often allow for him to produce two paintings at once. “Usually there is an attention to surface detail that just takes layering and more layering and cannot be rushed,” he says. “The attention to detail in the context of a loose and vibrant overall image is one of the things that I think people can recognize in my work.”

“Barn on Sauk Trail Road, WI” (watercolor, 10 x 30 in.)

He builds the major masses quickly, but then areas of focus and precise detail require a slow and sequential building of layers and specifics. “The looseness keeps the painting from becoming clinical,” Kennedy says. “The tightness lends the painting an exactness and specificity that can only come from careful observation.”

For more innovative approaches to watercolor painting, check out Ryan Fox’s video workshop.

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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.


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