The Tennessee Watercolor Society: Making Magic with Watermedia

By Meghan E. Gattignolo 

It’s hard to argue against the beauty of a watercolor painting. Flower petals appear so delicate, and the atmosphere often feels more whimsical than with other forms of painting. The lighter hues and fine edges lend a dream-like air to any scene. As beautiful as they are, watercolors are also one of the hardest mediums to master. Knowing the difficulty level of the medium makes it all the more impressive when looking at the works on exhibit by the member artists of the Tennessee Watercolor Society. 

Tennessee Watercolor Society Biennial Juried Traveling Exhibition. Located in the Crough Gallery. Photo by Justin Kaicles.

How It Started

The organization came into existence when Tennessee artist Mary Britton Lynch contacted other artists she felt would be interested in starting a watercolor society. She involved artists from institutions like the Hunter Museum in Chattanooga and the Art Department of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. In turn, they connected Mary with other like-minded artists who wanted to start a society. The Tennessee Watercolor Society was born when their first gathering of seven members met in Nashville in 1971. 

The Tennessee Watercolor Society is united under the mission to educate others about the importance of watermedia as a significant form of art, while elevating the medium’s stature in the art world. The Society also encourages new artists by hosting events and workshops and helping form connections among artists. 

The Society gives artists a platform, too, by hosting exhibition events. The Biennial Juried Exhibition is an event that takes place every other year when burgeoning watercolor artists who live in Tennessee can submit their work for consideration; to be included in this traveling exhibit is an honor. It’s a wonderful opportunity for new artists to get their work seen, and it’s a point of pride for artists at any stage of their career for their work to be chosen for the exhibit and to win best in show.

Heritage Spirit Dance. Tuva Stephens. Watercolor, 29×21. (Photo by Justin Kaicles)

Why Watercolor?

What makes watercolors so special? Watercolor is considered a master art medium. Anyone who has ever tried painting with watercolors knows how hard it is to get right without ending up in a muddy mess.  

The fact that it is so delicate to work with makes this artform unique. Some artists refer to watercolors as an immediate art. The effect it makes is instantaneous. The artist has to slow down and think about where and how to apply the paint. As soon as the artist presses the color to the paper, they lose control over the process. The paint interacts with the water and the paper naturally, and the artist has to trust something beautiful will happen.

While it is difficult to master, getting started is easy. Watercolor is an art medium with one of the lowest barriers to entry. Unlike oil paints which can cost a pretty penny just to get going, watercolor paints are more affordable, making artistic pursuits less costly and the new artist a little more comfortable to experiment.

Pool Play. Lil Clinard. Watercolor/21.5×21.5 (Photo by Justin Kaicles)

How It’s Going

The Tennessee Watercolor Society continues to elevate, educate and encourage through the magic of watermedia more than 50 years after their first meeting! Now with more than 250 members across the state, the Society is thriving. Come see The Tennessee Watercolor Society’s Biennial Juried Exhibition – a 30-piece traveling show sponsored by the Lyndhurst Foundation – before it’s gone. The show features a wide variety of artists in different stages of their careers, but all are amazing at what they do – painting watercolors! On exhibit for a short time only – now until July 28th, 2024.

Radnor Reflections. Johnny Guthrie. Gouache, 22×30. (Photo by Justin Kaicles)


History – Tennessee Watercolor Society (

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 children. 

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