Contemporary watercolor Watercolor portrait by Shelley Prior
Watercolor portrait by Shelley Prior

The following is part of a series featuring a leader in the art community who will be joining us on the faculty of Watercolor Live, a virtual art conference taking place January 26-28, 2023, with a Beginner’s Day on January 25.

Watercolor Artist of the Week: Shelley Prior

I’m a realistic watercolor artist in Ontario, Canada, and have been a full-time artist and art instructor for the past 25 years. Beautiful light is what inspires me most, whether it’s a portrait, a still life, landscape, floral, bird or animal.

I love all mediums in art but watercolor is something special to me. Perhaps it’s because it has taken so many failed paintings to get to where I’m currently at in my artistic journey … a real labor of love you might say.

Watercolor by Shelley Prior
Watercolor by Shelley Prior

I’m not what you would call “talented,” which implies that everything comes effortlessly. Au contraire! I have a passion for watercolor which has made me work hard to learn how to utilize the beauty of this medium (notice I didn’t say control?). The thing that I’ve always loved is its ability to glow and show luminous depth through its transparent layers. I love the way that the paint flows on the paper which is, of course, the most unique aspect of this medium. That element of surprise and often delight when colors melt together and soften seamlessly without any manipulation from my brush.

And like marriage, it’s not without its challenges. You learn the characteristics, all the idiosyncrasies and give up some of that control and work with it rather than against it. It takes patience and understanding.

One of my favorite subjects to paint with watercolor is glass, whether it’s crystal, colored, antique, or modern. Watercolor is the perfect medium to use to paint a transparent object. With glass subjects, I can use vibrant color, sparkling whites, and rich darks, and arrange my objects in any manner that pleases my eye.

Realism Still life painting of glass objects, by Shelley Prior
Still life painting of glass objects, by Shelley Prior

Glass, especially colored glass, seems to come to life when it’s exposed to sunshine and the shadows are just as interesting and vibrant as the glass itself. Sometimes the shadows even become the center of interest.

Creating the illusion of light is something I look for in all of my work. The light already exists on the paper. I work transparently with clean color to allow that brilliance to shine through my work and compliment it with rich darks in shadows and with light I can create the illusion of form.

Not all types of glass are shiny, though. I have a collection of perfume bottles and other glass objects which range from crackled glass to iridescent, to etched, molded with lettering, or swirling colors or bubbles. It’s often a puzzle of abstract shapes and values and I enjoy solving it to create something often more vibrant than the original. It’s satisfying and I learn something with every painting since I try to challenge myself with each one.

When a painting showcases softness and light, it brings a wonderful sense of peace and calm to all who see it. This is exactly what artist Shelley Prior teaches in the course “Pet Portraits in Watercolor.” [learn more about how to paint with watercolor here]

Connect with Shelley Prior:
Website | Instagram

Save years of struggle and frustration by discovering techniques revealed by the world’s top watercolor artists in just three days in the world’s largest online art training event January 26-28, 2023 with Beginner’s Day on January 25: Watercolor Live!

Visit (Publisher of Realism Today) to learn about opportunities for artists and art collectors, including: Art Retreats – International Art Trips – Art Conventions – Art Workshops (in person and online, including Realism Live) – And More!