Artist Mary Bea McWatters’ freshwater scenes and vibrant colors can transport you to some of the most beautiful places in the Mitten State, in a variety of seasons. “I love the long shadows of winter as much as the rippling summer shoreline,” she says.
McWatters’ talent and curious nature are reflected in the success she’s found as an artist in Petoskey. “Nature is the best teacher,” McWatters explains. “I’m interested in the way light (and, therefore, color) changes throughout the seasons.”
The artist depends on the power of observation in her process. Whether she’s biking, kayaking, snowboarding, or gardening, McWatters immerses herself in the beauty of Michigan’s seasons — and then translates the beautiful, fleeting moments she experiences into highly luminescent and expressive works of art.
The artist says the roots of her creative and curious spirit go all the way back to her childhood. “My parents encouraged my siblings and me to create. We were always making tree forts, planting gardens, painting, sculpting, and making up games. I had a very free and creative childhood, and I’ve continued that path throughout my life,” she says.
Her painting style reflects a sense of openness and freedom. “I don’t sketch; I typically take a painting (using acrylics) all the way from broad strokes down to the fine details,” McWatters explains. That boldness and sense of confidence have led to the creation of masterpieces such as “Pine Prism,” which the artist says she painted “For those who seek light in shadowy times, for the adventurers and the observers, for those who inspire, and for those who seek inspiration.”
McWatters notes that she keeps her tools simple and her colors few. “My favorite ‘big’ brush is the Wooster shortcut; it’s perfect for blocking in the basic shapes of the painting,” she says. When it comes to colors, she typically uses a limited palette of three colors, plus white. Her technique of building layers and mixing paint results in an incomprehensible array of colors, each one seamlessly fading into the next. Color gradients and subtle shifts flawlessly mimic the way sunlight dances across the land, water, and sky.
The artist’s studio is nestled along the banks of the Bear River in Petoskey, where she finds constant inspiration in the flowing waters outside her window. “Water as a metaphor is great at teaching us about ourselves; it reflects back who we are. It’s continually changing, and continually reflecting the world around it, just like we are,” muses McWatters, who also resides in Petoskey.
McWatters’ pleasant studio is large enough that she’s been able to use the space for more than just creating her own artwork. She’s used the space to host performance parties, teach children’s art classes, and collaborate with other makers.
In addition to connecting to nature, McWatters says it’s key that she’s able to connect with other people. She wants her artwork to be accessible, restorative, and sometimes even wearable. That’s why, in addition to items ranging from greeting cards to large wall art, McWatters also fashions hand-painted accessories including baseball caps and geometric drop earrings.
“I wanted to create art with a function, and I noticed that wearable art allows people to connect. I’ve (received) a lot of feedback about the compliments people get and the joy it brings when wearing a hand-painted hat or pair of earrings.”
McWatters continues to dream big. Her future goals include creating public artwork, board games, and books. The sky’s the limit for this painter, who is always evolving because of her curiosity and love of the natural world.
To see Mary Bea McWatters’ artwork or to commission a work, visit marybea-art.com.