Five Questions for Watercolorist Mel Stabin

One of our most popular watercolor instructors is back this year! From August 5-11, 2018, join us for a workshop with artist Mel Stabin! In advance of his workshop, Mel took a moment to share a bit more about his background and approach to art.

Q: What was your path to becoming a full-time working artist?
MS: I’ve always enjoyed drawing from an early age. I attended fine art and advertising classes at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Edgar Whitney was my teacher at Pratt. He was my mentor and friend and he introduced me to watercolor painting. When I graduated from Pratt, I became an art director for various advertising agencies in New York City in the days before computers when you had to know how to draw. After 30 years creating major campaigns for clients, I retired from advertising as a creative director and began conducting watercolor workshops throughout the country and abroad. 

Q: Do you work on multiple pieces concurrently or focus on exclusively one at a time? If the former, how do you balance that? If the later, how do you decide which one to start next?
MS: I focus and complete one watercolor painting at a time. Whatever grabs my attention at the moment, I respond to. People, people in landscapes, pure landscapes, and portraits are all of interest to me. 

Q: How do you comie up with ideas to begin something new?
MS: The choice of subjects to paint is endless. Watercolor is the most free of all the mediums to paint so if I (like everyone) get in a rut, sometimes I will just throw paint around (often on wet paper) and let nature take its course. I respond to what the “out of control” watercolor is doing and then I create something out of it.

Q: What keeps you motivated to continue making art?
MS: Studying the Great Masters… Cezanne, Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, Gaugan, Sargent… and going to museums, galleries, and exhibitions. 

Q: What’s the biggest “risk” you’ve taken in your journey as an artist? Creatively, in a business sense, or in life?
MS: I take risks every time I begin a watercolor painting. It’s all about challenging yourself each time you pick up a paint brush. As I tell my students in my workshops, taking risks is essential in watercolor painting. Don’t be concerned about failing. We learn more from failure than success. Failure teaches us what not to do. Success can make one complacent. Continue to acquire knowledge and never be discouraged.

Learn more about Mel’s workshop here.
Find out more about Mel on his website.

Watercolor and Pastel

Two weeks have sped by and now I have two wonderful workshops to post about. The first one was a 5 day watercolor workshop with incomparable Mel Stabin! Mel had them working in the studio and out around the Hudson / Catskill area. IMG 3921
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IMG 3928 Dinner with Mel was always a jolly time. In fact on the final night he had them tapping a rhythm while he sang for them. IMG 2133 Following the week with Mel, Margaret Evans arrived on the scene to teach Pastels Unleash! The weather that week was a bit on the hot side, but Margaret always found some nice shady areas for painting her demo. IMG 3945
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This is Margaret’s watercolor sketch of the Hudson River as viewed from Olana. IMG 2142
Margaret then showed the class how she used that quick sketch a reference for doing a pastel painting back in the studio. IMG 2146
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During a couple of rainy days in the studio a model stopped by for a sitting! This is Troy, Alexis’ dog (and our “emergency back-up dog.”) Troy can be found in the office on most days, in case anyone needs an emergency dog petting experience! IMG 2147 This is Troy up close and personal! IMG 2149 There are two other inn dogs, in case you didn’t know, Hudson, a dalmatian, and Bree, a ridgeback, who mostly get out and about while the class is in session. They have their own room on the 3rd floor of the Main Inn.

An Interview with Mel Stabin – Watercolor Artist

Stabin mel lg2014Mel Stabin has been teaching watercolor workshops at the Hudson River Valley Art Workshops for decades. If you’ve ever taken a workshop with Mel, you understand why he is such a popular teacher.

Mel taught here this past summer and, of course, is already scheduled for a return engagement in 2016.

We interviewed Mel prior to his workshop and these are his responses to our questions.

How long have you been teaching and what got you started teaching?

I have been conducting watercolor painting workshops throughout the US and abroad for over 25 years. My teacher and mentor, Ed Whitney, who I studied with at Pratt Institute, was renowned as one of the great teachers of his time. His love of teaching and his love of the medium of watercolor had a profound influence in both my advertising career and subsequent career as a watercolor teacher.

What is your favorite part about teaching?

Relating to students by helping them discover the joy of watercolor and its magical and transparent qualities.

What would you tell your prospective students are three best reasons for taking a workshop?

To gain more confidence as an artist by learning the many aspects of painting, to be in the company of fellow artists, and to have fun.

What are you currently working on in your own art?

Painting nature’s varied moments.

Where is your art currently being exhibited?

The North East Watercolor Society.
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Do you sell your work in any online gallery?

The New American Gallery at

What is your favorite art quote?

My favorite art quote is by the American artist and teacher Robert Henri… “There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall his vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign-posts on the way to what may be. Sign-posts toward greater knowledge.”

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Describe your studio.

My art studio occupies an entire floor. It is a large room with many windows and a skylight, which provide abundant natural light. I have a drafting table to paint on and a floor to ceiling wall of shelves which hold all of my art books and art supplies. I also have a wooden cabinet with ten drawers large enough to store my watercolor paintings of all sizes as well as extra watercolor paper.

Name five of your “can’t” do without tools/products.

  • Hake paintbrush made with goat hair by Holbein.
  • Backpack that holds all of my equipment including my easel, paper, paints, brushes, etc. When traveling, it conveniently can be stored in the overhead compartment of airplanes.
  • Mat cutter… I cut all of my own bevelled edge mats.
  • Sketch pad so I can use some of my sketches that I’ve done during my travels as reference for future paintings.
  • Camera to take pictures of people and places for my photo albums of my travels and, as with sketches, to use as reference for future paintings.

More Recent Instructor Interviews:

Going Beyond Your Boundaries in Watercolor with Mel Stabin

Another fun workshop week with Mel Stabin has just come to a close. Mel has been coming to teach workshops at the Hudson River Valley Art Workshops more years than I want to count!

This year he taught a workshop titled “Pushing the Envelope in Watercolor: Express Yourself.” It was all about challenging yourself and go beyond your boundaries in watercolor! Mel wanted to encourage his students to experience the magical, spontaneous, and transparent qualities of watercolor and help them discover that watercolor is at its best when it is set free.

The class spent about equal time painting outdoors on location and in the studio.

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The final day was spent in the studio where Mel did a demo on figures and how to incorporate them in your landscapes. This was Mel’s demo painting.

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Painting and learning all day can be exhausting but this group knew how to relax. Every evening they’d gather on the front porch of the inn for some beers or wine, and some great conversation.

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This is one of the dishes served for dinner during the workshop – a savory Thai braised beef served on top of long rice noodles. The fragrance of the lemongrass, coconut milk, and spices emanating from the kitchen has people licking their lips in anticipation.

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And speaking of licking lips, this is Link who came with Suzy and got more attention and hellos than anyone else in the workshop.

Maybe he is thinking of the home-made pumpkin dog biscuit he found in his room upon his arrival!

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If you missed this class, Mel is scheduled to return again in 2016! Don’t miss it.