June 12, 2024


Yo Quiero Techno

The Art of Hard Work, with Iain Stewart

4 min read
Iain Stewart, the Art of Hard Work


For this Three for Thursday, we spoke with Iain Stewart, an award-winning watercolor artist and a signature member of the American and National Watercolor Societies. He maintains a studio in Opelika, Alabama. In addition to his gallery work, he is an Architectural Illustrator and teaches watercolor and design drawing at Auburn University, where he received his degree in Architecture.

What is your most effective art habit? And, conversely, what’s the hardest bad habit you’ve had to break?

Thinking of my job in the same way you would consider any other profession. I clock in and work a set amount of hours a week. Coming from the field of architectural illustration and having worked for myself for over 25 years, I think learning how to say no to a particular project or commission is important. Quite often our minds trick us into believing that we have to take every opportunity. Conversely, as you say, I have found that learning to believe in myself and breaking that particular habit to be quite challenging.

George Street Edinburgh
Watercolor, 8×10
Two Boys and a Boat, Gothenburg
Watercolor, 22×12

Is there a lesson you learned early in your career that you have never forgotten and that still guides you?

A great mentor of mine, Samuel Mockbee of the Rural Studio program at Auburn University’s Department of Architecture, once pulled me aside and said, “You have two choices here Iain. You will either earn an A or an F is this course. There are no other options; B, C, and D are not on the table and you know what you can do.” This stunned me. Doing enough to get by does not push you. Earn it and own it. I worked my way through architecture school and we would stay up days on a project. In this course, I was up for 3 days with a cat nap here and there. I turned the project in and went straight to my job as a bartender on absolutely no sleep. My studio came in and were celebrating the end of term. I served them. I’ll never forget that feeling of longing to join them, but I knew I had bigger goals and there would be time enough to celebrate later. That, I think, has stayed with me in some form or fashion. Put the work in and the rest will follow. I got the A too.

Our Lady of Paris
Watercolor, 15×22

What would you recommend for artists struggling to develop their own artistic “voice”?

I quite often say in workshops that your paintings listen to you. You need to do the same. If you begin a painting thinking you can’t do it you will usually prove yourself correct. There is a point in the life of all paintings where the reference must take a back seat to your vision. The sooner you learn that lesson the better. Do not let reality get in the way of a good painting. This is your opportunity to speak clearly in your own voice and that is a skill you must teach yourself. Also, you cannot skip steps in how you learn technique. Drawing with accuracy is extremely hard. If you are going to paint you need to learn the visual language that allows you to communicate your ideas effectively. You have to learn those skills and there are no shortcuts. Lastly, paint what you know, what you see daily. As you progress, the understanding that your painting speaks on a higher level to your audience is of utmost importance. For me this is the key to developing your unique vision.

Meet the Artist

Iain Stewart is an award winning watercolor artist and a signature member of the American and National Watercolor Societies among other state and international entities. His work has received numerous awards in international competition and hangs in many corporate and private collections.

A sought after watercolor instructor and juror, he and has been published in many books and periodicals. He has a 3 DVD set of instructional videos and is planning to have another set available next year.  Iain has just finished his first  book on painting En Plein Air- Light and Color, Walters Foster Publisher.

Iain maintains a studio in Opelika, Alabama, and in addition to gallery work, is an Architectural Illustrator with an international clientele and teaches watercolor and design drawing at Auburn University where he received his degree in Architecture.


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