Catherine Hearding wins statewide watercolor award

Catherine Hearding works on a still life watercolor inside her home studio in Lake Elmo. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Catherine Hearding works on a still life watercolor inside her home studio in Lake Elmo. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Catherine Hearding’s watercolor “Beach Walkers” won Best in Show at the Minnesota Watercolor Society’s fall show. (submitted graphic)
Catherine Hearding’s watercolor “Beach Walkers” won Best in Show at the Minnesota Watercolor Society’s fall show. (submitted graphic)

On vacation with her husband in Oregon, Catherine Hearding, 63, began snapping several photos near the ocean. She was fascinated with the shadows cast by sand dunes and the dynamic lighting cast by waves rolling in and out along the shore.

In the distance, she noticed the reflections and shadows surrounding a couple walking down the beach. She raised her camera, capturing the inspiration for her next watercolor project, to be completed at her home studio in Lake Elmo.

Little did she suspect, her watercolor would capture the attention of those at the Minnesota Watercolor Society's fall show.

Hearding's entry, titled "Beach Walkers," took Best of Show at that fall show Nov. 5, where 72 artists submitted work.

"She's won one of the top awards for as many shows as I can remember," says Wendy Westlake, president of the Minnesota Watercolor Society. "This particular entry, however, I did not immediately recognize as Catherine's. While she usually enters a landscape, a mountain river or snow-covered trees, this entry featured people."

"It was a stunning painting."
Watercolor, a way of life

Hearding started doing watercolor about 40 years ago and she doesn't deviate much from her preferred medium. She started out selling cards and prints and entering art shows, then took some time off when her kids were little.

Since 2004, she's been back at it full time, splitting her time between her home studio in Lake Elmo and various studios in the metro area where she teaches watercolor classes.

Originally from Roseville, this local artist has made a career out of selling her watercolor pieces — which largely feature landscape and snow — and passing along her expertise to aspiring watercolorists.

"Having grown up in Minnesota, I pretty much know winter and snow," she says with a smile. "What fascinates me about snow is the shadows and the way the shadows define the topography. There's an awful lot of color to snow, especially on sunny days."

While she says her winter watercolors are some of her most popular, she's also been commissioned to paint local farmhouses and finds lots of inspiration in the rural setting just outside her studio windows.

Asked why she enjoys the challenge of watercolor, Hearding says, "I think watercolor is the only medium that captures the light. It's a transparent medium and it has the characteristics of light.

"It's also a spontaneous medium. You're never really sure how it's going to turn out, so it's a mystery, [which is] pretty exciting."
Brilliant passages

According to Suzie McArdle, chair of the fall show, Hearding's winning watercolor dovetailed with the show's theme — brilliant passages.

"When you're painting, you're painting from passage to passage," she says, noting how Hearding's piece demonstrates this technique.

Perhaps more evident to the novice onlooker, "Beach Walkers" also aligns with the show's theme in its narrative — two people walking through the sunlight.

"She's a classical watercolorist," McArdle adds, noting her skill — not her name — is what set her piece apart, as it was judged blindly by the juror.

"Watercolor is a difficult medium. It's highly appreciated by people when it's done in this way," she says of Hearding's traditional or "transparent" technique.
'Paint every day'

Hearding describes herself as a self-taught artist, familiar with the persistence required to master the craft of watercolor.

"It doesn't happen overnight," she says. "In my case, it took many years."

The persistence has paid off: From 2008 to 2010, she served as president of the Minnesota Watercolor Society. It's an organization she continues to be involved with, as it lends support to artists across the spectrum of skill levels.

The Society is open to artists of all ages. Paying members have access to lessons and exhibit opportunities to showcase their work.

"It's a wonderful way to catapult yourself into a semi-professional organization and a lifelong learning situation too," McArdle says.

Outside of shows, Hearding says the secret to mastering watercolor is simple.

"My biggest suggestion is that you paint every day and practice. It's about getting hours under your belt, understanding the medium," she says. "I would advise people not to be intimidated by it. It's a fun medium."
Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and Follow her at

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