HUMS 075, Mastering the Art of Watercolor

Meeting Time: 
W 2:30pm-5:30pm
Fall 2022

Course Description:

An introductory course on the art of watercolor as a humanistic discipline within the liberal arts tradition. Readings, discussions, and studio work emphasize critical, creative thinking through a tactile, “learning by doing” study of the watercolor medium. Students analyze and imitate the classic techniques of J. M.W. Turner, John Singer Sargent, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Edward Hopper, among others. Studio components include painting en plein air to understand color, form, perspective, composition, and shade and shadow. Basic drawing skills recommended.


Enrollment limited to first-year students. Preregistration required; see under First-Year Seminar Program:

Fulfills HU distribution requirement.

Led by:

Adam Van Doren is the artist and author of The Stones of Yale (Godine), which includes a foreword by Robert A. M. Stern and a preface by Henry Chauncey, Jr. 

Van Doren’s artwork is included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; The Wadsworth Atheneum; The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Yale University Art Gallery, The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, The New Britain Museum of American Art, The Addison Gallery, The Princeton University Art Museum; and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. His work has been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., among other institutions, and Van Doren teaches at Yale University, where he is also an Associate Fellow.

Van Doren is a graduate of Columbia University. He is the subject of a monograph (Hudson Hills Press, 2007) that features his watercolors of Paris, Venice, Rome, and New York, and which includes essays by Avis Berman, Samuel G. White and Richard Boyle. In 2009, the book An Artist in Rome was published (Kelly-Winterton Press) in collaboration with the noted poet John Tagliabue, and features Van Doren’s paintings from when Van Doren was a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome. Additional books by Van Doren have been published since then: An Artist in Venice (2013, Godine), and The House Tells the Story: Homes of the American Presidents (2015, Godine). Two catalogs have been published (The Renaissance Studios, New York) of Van Doren’s paintings with essays by Mark D. Mitchell, Holcolmb Green Curator of American Art at Yale University; and Patricia Hickson, Emily Hall Tremaine Curator of Contemporary Art, The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. A recent publication, A Yale Sketchbook (Yale University, Lustman Fellowship Fund), includes Van Doren’s paintings of the architecture of the campus and contains essays by Pulitzer Prize winning critic Paul Goldberger and former New York magazine critic Carter Wiseman. 

Van Doren has also written and directed two documentaries about the arts which were broadcast on PBS and cable television: James Thurber: The Life and Hard Times, narrated by George Plimpton, which was awarded a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities; and Top Hat and Tales: Harold Ross and the Making of The New Yorker, narrated by Stanley Tucci. 

Van Doren is a member of the Authors Guild.


This course was previously offered in the Fall of 2018. Testimonials come from student course evaluations:

  • “It’s a good course to get away from a STEM-heavy semester and it gives you an opportunity to relax and watercolor while still learning useful life skills.”
  • “I would definitely recommend this class because it was great fun and a lot. Watercolor is a medium that you can make as simple or challenging as you would like to. This course is also a great excuse to be creative as take a break from problem sets because the homework every week is literally to paint and create something.”
  • “Getting to visit the YUAG and Center for British Art and actually see watercolors that we talked about in class was very rewarding. Also, the experience of actually doing watercolors and having them critiqued and evaluated in front of you was a good learning opportunity. I feel like sometimes students can get behind on their work just due to a lack of personal timeliness but Professor Van Doren could help by checking in and making sure everyone is caught up.”