JamesMorrisonPhotoLast weekend, the Arboretum unveiled its newest exhibit, The Magic of Western North Carolina, which is located in the upstairs gallery of the Baker Exhibit Center. Produced by James Scott Morrison of Hendersonville, N.C., The Magic of Western North Carolina includes more than 80 realistic watercolor paintings featuring the landscapes, life and landmarks of the Blue Ridge Mountain area of western North Carolina. When you see one of Mr. Morrison’s paintings at first glance, you may not even realize his paintings are watercolor. His attention to detail and craftsmanship are remarkable, which makes his pieces all the more beautiful. Recently, I had a chance to catch up with Mr. Morrison and learn more about his artistic background, his decision to use watercolors and why he paints scenes based in western North Carolina.

1.) What’s your background as an artist?

I am essentially a self-taught artist. My father went to Stanford and received a degree in electrical engineering in the 1920s, but he lost his job in 1930 when he was hit by a Greyhound bus that broke both of his legs. This was about two weeks after my twin sister and I were born. To earn some extra money, he started drawing cartoons on cocktail glasses. This led him to draw professionally for a syndicated comic strip, and I would often accompany him to his studio while he worked. My own interest in art began after spending so much time with him in his studio; however, my only “formal” training was in high school. When I went in to the Air Force in 1952, some of my senior officers discovered that I had some art experience and asked me to help them with their presentations. Years later, I suffered a heart attack at the young age of 34, and it was my father who suggested the paintbrush as a stress reliever. The rest is history!

2.) Why did you choose watercolor as your medium?

I chose watercolor because I like the transparency of the material and the vibrancy of the colors. I believe that you can do more with watercolor then you can with oil or acrylics by the nature of the media (with the understanding that a lot of training and learning is required when using watercolor).

3.) What is the best part about working with watercolors?

Watercolor paints are not very easy to make corrections with, so you have to plan on that as part of your work process. The best part of using watercolors is that there is more opportunity for doing such things as creating soft edges or blending.

4.) How do you decide on a scene?

That’s a difficult question to answer. The scene definitely has to give me some kind of feeling about it, but it also needs high contrast and strong colors and areas.

5.) What is the one most valuable technical lesson you’ve learned about painting in watercolor?


6.) What do you believe is a key element in creating a good composition?

I like the age-old rule of thirds. Also, depending on where you put your center of interest, it’s necessary to direct the attention of the viewer toward that center point.

7.) Has your style changed over the years? If yes, how?

Yes it has. I started fairly loose, which is how most watercolors are done, but I moved to doing a large number of paintings for the military that required more detail, because I was recording a historical event. I then translated this detailing technique to my landscape paintings, which led me to where I am today.

8.) Why did you decide to focus your exhibit on western North Carolina?

For an artist that lives here, there’s just nothing else that you want to do than cover this beautiful area. There is just so much to paint, and it’s difficult to go without finding a subject when traveling within western North Carolina.

Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through September 5, 2016, The Magic of Western North Carolina is located on the second floor gallery in the Baker Exhibit Center at The North Carolina Arboretum. All pieces are available for purchase, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit The North Carolina Arboretum Society. Every Saturday in July, James Scott Morrison will host a free demonstration to the public starting at 1 p.m. on the second floor lobby of the Baker Exhibit Center.