Kay Russell, Morris Graves/ Rain, 2008, 30 x 21 inches, watercolor and gouache over monotype background. Collection of Gail Block.

Kay Russell, Morris Graves/ Rain, 2008, 30 x 21 inches, watercolor and gouache over monotype background. Collection of Gail Block.

“When it Rains…”

Monday, December 15, 2014

Kay Russell is a  watercolorist and retired professor of watercolor and drawing at the City College of San Francisco in California. Russell has been painting over thirty years using gouache and other mediums. Russell likes to live in the moment and transfers this into her artwork. When painting, she throws copious amounts of gouache on the painting with the possible risk of ruining the artwork.

As an instructor, she wanted to teach her students to live without fear and not to fear the openness of possibilities that are achievable through mistakes.   She wanted her students to "push beyond what is known and comfortable"[1].

Her early work was inspired by photographs she took of the Lakes Basin area of the Sierra Mountains in California. Eventually after taking photographs of the landscape in the rain she was inspired further to depict the obscured landscape and the atmosphere of a "scene that wasn't precise" [1]. Russell would construct her paintings by establishing the background using a printmaking process called a monotype, at times she has multiple monotype layers. Applying watercolor paint, she builds the subject, pushing the limits and adds gouache to enhance the light and dark areas with opaque paint. Russell calls her technique a "moving process" from start to finish. 

When viewing the watercolor painting, "Morris Graves/Rain" you are confronted by the poetic space and atmosphere she aims to create in her artwork.  The entire painting adopts a mystical and fantastical feeling because of the runs and drips across the entire work. The viewer’s eyes travels along the drops and explore different parts of the painting.  When looking at the watercolor, the viewer is transported into the scene feeling the pouring rain. The bottom portion of the painting, the reflection of the tree, reminds me of Hayao Miyazki's colorful scenes where he depicts rain in his animated features. Kay Russell's paintings in her Rain series are ethereal and are visually pleasing to the eye. Her Rain series would later influence her Hats/Rain series where she creates mysterious and melancholy tone in her paintings.


1. Bahr, L. (2009). Painting Moment by Moment. American Artist: Watercolor, 86-95.

—Katie Bethge


Katie Bethge is a first year graduate student at SUNY, Buffalo State College and a graduate of Buffalo State College with an undergraduate major in Art Education. She lives in Hamburg with her four cats and expecting her first child in March. She enjoys working on her own watercolor and charcoal artworks.