Telling Stories and Capturing Moods: Todd Saal’s Watercolor Journey

By Meghan E. Gattignolo 

Few things are more dream-inducing than diluted pastel pigments on creamy white paper. The colors drip into each other like raindrops pulling down the color from the sky. Images in a watercolor painting appear as if a splash of water alone created it, so intuitive and effortless they seem to be. In reality, painting with watercolors takes a special brand of dedication to get right. As artist Todd Saal has learned, painting with watercolors takes technique one doesn’t learn from creating art in other mediums.   

Todd Saal enjoyed his time alone as a child by telling stories and illustrating them with drawings. For much of his adult life, Todd worked in the tech industry and had to put away his initial love for art in order to focus on earning an income. After living for most of his life in New York City, recent years have brought Todd and his wife to Nashville. Here in Tennessee, he’s reconnected to his love of art and other creative pursuits. Todd can have the best of both worlds, painting both cityscapes and country landscapes. 

Welcome to the Oliver

Work is stressful when the work you’re doing doesn’t inspire you. Throughout his life, Todd has learned how to reinvent himself when something isn’t working. While his long career in the tech industry was successful, he felt like he let an important part of himself go dormant. His career paid the bills, but did not feed his soul. Todd’s reinvestment in his creative side has led him to where he is today, an accomplished artist. 

Watercolor paintings have been a subject of Todd’s interest long before he attempted to work in the medium himself. Enjoying work from master artists like John Singer Sargent and Edgar Degas, as well as some contemporary watercolor artists like Joseph Zbuvick, compelled Saal to try his hand at watercolor. As Todd mentions in his blog, he struggled with painting in watercolor at first. When Todd realized “watercolor is a medium that you never really have complete control over,” he relaxed and allowed the artistic process to happen. He lets the paint dictate his process and the direction he goes, so the resulting work that is a combination of Todd’s own perspective and the natural inclinations of the materials he works with.  

Todd Saal is the kind of artist who gleans inspiration sitting in a coffee shop, soaking up the bustling bean-scented atmosphere. He likes to sketch people he observes going about their everyday life.  Todd also reconnects to his childhood impulse to tell stories by striving to communicate the story of the subjects of his paintings. He isn’t simply painting a portrait, but capturing people involved deeply in their craft.   

Airport Stranger

Happy Guy

Todd also loves painting outside. “Plein air” is a term in the art world that refers to an artist’s experience of painting outside. The idea is that the quality of an artist’s surroundings and using the natural light comes across in the works the artist produces. Todd does this in part to help capture the mood, and also because the outdoors inspires him, as he mentions in a recent Art Beat Nashville video. Todd enjoys painting landscapes, buildings – any place that he finds inspiring or provocative.  

In watercolor, Todd’s artwork can feel more like a dreamscape, or a thought or impression transmitted straight from his mind onto his canvas. Not only intending to paint a picture, Todd attempts to capture a mood that will hopefully inspire the viewer. Todd gives otherwise mundane places a special character. Even a dull office building on a dreary day can take on a thought-provoking aura through Todd’s lens.  

Enjoy the delectable watercolors of Todd Saal: Telling Stories, on exhibit now in the Orgain and Bruner Galleries until October 29.

Featured photo: Huntington Harbor | Watercolor

Meghan E. Gattignolo is a freelance writer and longtime Clarksville, TN resident. She loves to obsess about historical subjects and annoy her family daily with unsolicited random facts. Meghan holds a History B.A. from Austin Peay State University and lives in town with her husband and two daughters. 

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