If your idea of a watercolor is an image painted in delicate pastels, blurred and imprecise, you might want to think again.
Organizers of the New England Watercolor Society Signature Member Art Exhibit, opening Tuesday in Boston, promise a few surprises.
The show, featuring more than 200 artists from New England, including a number from New Hampshire, showcases the talent of artists who have met strict requirements. To be a Signature artist one needs to be juried and have their work in four shows, including one national show, over 10 years.
"Watercolor is the hardest the medium of all," said Nancy Motley Walton, an artist and co-chair of the event. "It depends on time. You must think in watercolor time. So much happens if you don't play the timing right."
The show features a variety of pieces ranging from abstract and contemporary to still life and nudes. The common thread is watercolor.
Goffstown artist Ann Trainor Domingue, 60, calls her art "messy, uncommon, friendly and contemporary." Her piece "And Through It All" will be on exhibit at the show. The focal point of the painting is a fisherman wearing bib overalls with fish swimming through and around him.
"I've been attracted to things not highly defined, so most of the time there is no facial quality," says Domingue, who grew up along the Rhode Island and Massachusetts coast. Though her studio is well inland, it is the ocean that calls her, along with a fondness for fisherman. She began with one fisherman character and then decided to "add some company."
"I started with him as my everyman and put him in situations and then brought in a female, other fisherman and birds. It's allowed me to develop a new series I am working on," she said last month.
Domingue also uses subtle themes.
"Often I will put an arch over the fisherman or the woman. In art history, artists often depicted side altars with arches, so I use them as a protective symbol. ... I want people to engage with my work on a couple of different levels. I found that once I started putting something in my work that had a sense of a broader world, people seem to recognize it right way."
To achieve a certain look or texture to a watercolor, artists can be creative when it comes to tools. For Domingue, that requires a walk in the woods.
"I find a stick that feels good in my hand, and with a little knife I whittle the bark down and shape it to what I want," Domingue says.
Durham artist Nancy Davis Johnson has been painting full-time since 1989. She has won awards for her work in oil, pastel and watercolor, and while she belongs to several art groups, she says being named a Signature Artist is an honor for a watercolorist.
"I was juried in and it was a big thrill for me. It's a lot of prestige to get in and to be nationally recognized," Johnson says.
When it comes to inspiration, Johnson turns to nature and the years she spent sailing among the islands of Maine, where she spent many summers sailing with her husband.
"The medium of watercolor provides me with a most satisfying and versatile way to express my love of the natural world," Johnson says on her website.
Johnson's newest watercolor, "Shore Study: Island Bones," will be in the show.
"I've seen so many islands. I'm struck by their skeletal bones; the way the island shoreline rests on bones." Johnson says. "It's about history and how water and islands interact. You can see the bones."
The painting is done on Yupo paper which is a polypropylene plastic film with a surface textured just enough to hold paint without it sinking in.
"The color is brilliant, and the paper allows you to erase the paint and redo it. It takes patience and you get frustrated," says Johnson.
Traditionally in watercolor, once paint has been applied, there is no going back to white. With the Yupo paper white can be restored.
Johnson says in all her work, she hopes people will see a glimpse into her mind.
"I want them to identify the emotion in the piece and why I painted it, what feelings it invoked in me," says Johnson, adding, "other than that, I paint for my own enjoyment."
Other New Hampshire Signature Watercolorists in the show include Peg Scully and Terri Brooks, both of Freedom, and Gerarde Doucette of Charlestown.
The New England Watercolor Society Signature Member show takes place at the Guild of Boston Artists, 162 Newbury St., Boston, from Feb. 6 through March 4. Most of the paintings will be for sale and admission to the show is free.
For more information visit www.newenglandwatercolorsociety.org