Practice, Practice, Practice … But Don’t Forget Spontaneity

Painter Sue Dolamore in her River Arts District Studio.
Portrait by Evan Anderson

Hanging in Sue Dolamore’s Asheville home is a small watercolor study of a rural Maine landscape, painted by an uncle and given to her as a child. “I was probably nine at the time,” Dolamore recalls. “I kept it through all these years and eventually had it framed. Though it’s a small painting, I was in awe of it for a long time.” By now long a practicing artist herself, Dolamore still favors watercolor, and painting en plein air is one of her favorite pastimes, satisfying her passionate attachment to the mountain landscape around her.

“The beauty and variety of scenes is rich here,” she says. But working with watercolor requires a certain efficiency. Starting with a lightly sketched underdrawing, Dolamore swiftly adds broad foundational strokes to each work for what will be the lightest parts of the composition, and then builds form with deeper color and line. 

High Point of the Day

Before that, though, a long hike might be required. Dolamore will go far with her equipment to capture a scene, particularly if a waterfall is involved. “I love working with scenes of water because I can work to create a sense of movement,” she explains. While such work emerges nearly finished before Dolamore returns to her studio, she often later accentuates the scene with what she calls “the sweet little details,” added with an ink pen. 

“I’m looking to capture a little bit of joyfulness and light in the finished work,” she adds.

Spring Air

Dolamore is no stranger to painting in oil, however. Her most recent work is in that medium, a series inspired by the Appalachian Barn Alliance that preserves historic Madison County tobacco barns. “I love how oil allows for changes and variations to a greater degree [than watercolor],” she says. “Bold brushstrokes also allow for another type of expression and can depict movement in a beautiful way. I love the creamy textures of the paint and the opaqueness, so I keep working in both media.”

Ten Acre Farm

Asheville’s thriving arts community has been an important catalyst for her own growth, especially now that she’s set up a studio in the River Arts District. “I gleaned a little bit from so many about technique, materials, and gear. I love this community of artists and now that I’m in the RAD, I find the supportive vibe continues,” she says.


Dolamore gives back to that peer group with her own teaching, based on the three approaches she considers critical: taking risks, inviting critiques, and constantly practicing. 

Nevertheless, “I encourage my students to trust their impulses and be playful while they’re learning,” she says. “If we can let go of fear, a little bit of apprehension is part of what can make the practice exciting and lead to new discoveries about the work, ourselves — even life.

A Beautiful Day

“My artwork is fueled by a love of life — and one of the richest parts of that is the nature surrounding us.”

Sue Dolamore, Asheville, Warehouse Studios in the River Arts District (170 Lyman St. #3),

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