2022 Eighth Annual NorthStar National Watermedia Juried Exhibition

Exhibition Dates: August 29-November 3, 2022

Juror comments By Tara Sweeney

Eyes on the Prize

It is an honor and a privilege to be invited to jury NorthStar Watermedia Society’s 8th Annual National Exhibition. Special thanks to the exhibition committee for keeping me organized and on schedule, and to Saint Paul’s Monastery for connecting art and spirit in this beautiful space.

Congratulations to all who submitted artwork. It’s a nerve wracking and exhilarating process. And, yes, there are those awards. (We’ll get to those.) But the benefits of submitting your work to an exhibition happen long before it’s on a gallery wall. First, you paint–likely more than once, maybe with others. You find a group, a mentor, a class, a workshop to help you practice and improve. Awesome. Inspiration happens and skills develop when you’re painting regularly. You select your best work. Bravo. Choosing which painting to submit requires critical reflection. In addition to showing your strengths, the process can reveal challenges to work on. Excellent. You photograph the painting. Making a photo or scan that showcases the actual quality of your best is an artform in itself. Last, but not least, you prepare the painting for presentation. Smart. You choose a pleasing mat and frame to enhance the beauty of your best painting. Thank you for the courage and generosity of sharing your work in a public space.

My task was to judge the merit of the entries submitted and make award decisions to recognize creative and technical excellence. Whether you are a beginning painter just dipping a toe in the world of watercolor or a seasoned pro, the variety of expression and skill is a delight as well as a challenge for a juror.

So, what is excellence? The Oxford dictionary defines it as “the quality of being outstanding.” I think about creative excellence with the metaphor of a three-legged stool–technique; composition; and originality of expression.

If one or more of those “legs” are wobbly your creative results might be okay, or good enough. But a painting isn’t excellent until all three legs–technique, composition and originality–are rock solid and working together for memorable impact. When these come together to support a truly unique expression there is an “aha” factor–the artwork feels resolved, complete, and award worthy. Without further ado, here are the Aha’s for NorthStar Watermedia Society’s 8th Annual National Juried Exhibition:



JudithBenhamArt Award
From Here to There
Marie Panlener, Saint Paul MN

(Image left) Watercolor and gouache

Marie Panlener, From Here to There, watercolor and gouache

This light-filled abstraction leaves plenty of room to imagine the journey. The intuitive, multi-layered layered technique is both additive and reductive resulting in a nuanced spatial illusion. Repetition of rectangular motifs unifies the composition, leads us around and through it. Dramatic use of contrast makes us pause, consider whether we are looking out or looking in.


Hahnemühle USA Award
June Elegance
Janet Judson, Pierre SD

(Image right) Watercolor batik
This painting explores a traditional subject through the lens of the tactile wax-resist technique of batik. The design integrates graphic borders with the subtle colors and transitions of floral elements. The resulting painting brings to mind fine damask linens graced with cut flowers, but it’s not a still life. By dissecting and merging these contrasting shapes and values the artist creates a painting with memorable rhythms and a unique point of view.


Dillman’s Creative Art Workshops Award
Spring Intersection
Liesa Miller, Saint Paul MN

(Image left) Watercolor
Good paintings don’t have to be full sheets. Bold and immediate mark-making and decisive value choices–the hallmarks of plein air, traditions—are abundantly evident in this diminutive painting. Spare tree limbs, long shadows, dramatic light evoke a distinct sense of place and season. No second-guessing. No wasted strokes. The waffling warmth and thaw of reluctant spring are palpable.



Grumbacher Award
Rick Lundsten, Park Rapids MN

(Image right) Watercolor and gouache
This gem of a harbor view combines a classical subject with a highly detailed technique that never feels tight or overworked. Low-intensity color choices and a compressed value scheme, paired with timeless subject matter, seem to evoke another era. (When is the last time the design of a tugboat changed?) The subtle dance of stroke and carefully rendered value structure is a delight to ponder.


Wet Paint Award II
Pensive Fascination
Patty Schmid, Saint Paul MN

(Image left) Watercolor
Diminutive but powerful, this painting deftly portrays a child’s perspective on a timeless lesson in boundaries–what’s mine, what’s yours? The toddler’s two-fisted clutch of tightly held colored pencils is not the direct object of her gaze. She seems to glance beyond the frame, wary that the objects of her obsession may soon be gone. The artist restrains the darkest values to render the skin luminous and our focus on the face and fists.



Wet Paint Award I
Oxalis and Cheez-its
Carol Humpage,
Saint Paul MN

(Image right) Watercolor
The artist’s choice of subject matter is highly personal and temporal–a darkly funny contemporary take on momento mori, or vanitas in the tradition of 16th century artists. The design, color and value contrast are expertly planned to make the viewer travel through the collected detritus and wonder, “Who or what do these quirky objects define?” Here today, gone tomorrow?


E. Peter Hopper Award for Excellence
The Gilded Gardens of Fidelity: Bagh-i-Wafa series I
Aisha Asim Imdad, Sugar Land TX

(Image right) Watercolor
The mix of contemporary technique and traditional detail in this striking painting is carefully designed and rendered. It works seamlessly to lead us down a multi-sensory path through the stylized subject matter. The artist’s understanding of value, as well as color contrast and harmony, evoke contemplation.


Second Place
Snow Wood
Z. Feng, Radford VA

(Image right) Watercolor
The mark making, color and composition of this landscape is masterful. The brushwork seamlessly marries gesture and momentum with the demands of representation. The artist tells us no more and no less than exactly what we need to enter into this contemplative landscape and linger there with a sense of profound wonder.


First Place
The Barber of Baracao
Waits for You
Suzanne Shaff, Minneapolis MN

(Image left) Watercolor
This is no ordinary portrait—both for its size (40 x 39 inches) and for its approach to the subject matter. The full figure and direct gaze against stark white are intentionally intimidating and provocative. It begs the question: did the artist ask to take a photo or surprise the subject? Did that exchange result in the aggressive body language and expression so masterfully rendered in the painting? It creates the visceral fear that our bodies could truly be in front of his, that he could indeed be waiting for us. It’s riveting.



Best of Show
They sing at dawn,
they sing at dusk
Lynette Beebe, Saint Paul MN

(Image below) Mixed Media
This figurative abstraction asks us to look, and look again–to see/hear/feel the multi-sensory world the artist has intuitively invented. Bold additive and subtractive mixed media techniques create complex layers of vibrant color harmonies. We are challenged to wonder who or what is singing, and why. It is highly original and memorable.