Samantha McNally: more than just watercolors

Samantha McNally: more than just watercolors

In “Path to Diablo”, artist Samantha McNally doesn’t use white paint for the clouds. She plans ahead and leaves white space where the clouds will be.

John NakanishiCONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Feb. 26, 2024) — If you are involved in the East Bay artist community, you have probably heard of Samantha McNally.

Many Bay Area galleries display the award-winning watercolor artist’s work. She is active with several local art organizations, including on the board of directors and as past president of the California Watercolor Association and as a member of Main Street Arts Gallery in Martinez and Valley Art Gallery in Walnut Creek. She also teaches a weekly online watercolor class. On top of all her artistic endeavors, McNally is the webmaster for several local art organizations, art galleries and individual artists.

McNally grew up in New Jersey and studied art at Ramapo College and Ridgewood School of Art before going on to the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She left school after one year, accepting a job as an embroidery designer in the garment district.

She enjoyed drawing fashion designs for 15 years. “All I did was draw all day … it didn’t feel like work.”


Samantha McNally.

When not at work, McNally created oil paintings. After learning how toxic oil paints could be, she changed to acrylic paints. She switched media again after noticing that most art show submissions were watercolors. She took some watercolor classes and discovered that she loved it.

Many people say that watercolor is the most difficult medium, but McNally finds it easy. She says all it takes is experience. For example, a watercolor purist doesn’t use white paint; instead, she plans ahead to maintain the areas to leave white.

According to McNally, it becomes easy “once you get to know how much water and paint is on your brush, how much water and paint is on your paper, and what will happen when you touch one with the other.”

After moving to California in 1999, she joined the California Watercolor Association and began years of plein air painting. She thought it would be fun to go on “paint vacations” with her fellow artists, so in 2012 she created a business called Artist Getaway where artists could sign up for painting trips to scenic locations.

McNally organized all the trips, choosing the location, finding hotel rooms at a good price, and negotiating with vendors for samples and prizes. Trips would last four to seven days. Artist guests were treated to scenic areas to paint, a place to touch up paintings at the hotel, free art sample goody bags and competitions with prizes. She managed the company for four years, making about three trips per year.

Local scenes

McNally’s watercolor works encompass familiar Bay Area sites as well as a lot of animals. She is looking to capture more local scenes with groups of people, such as outdoor dining areas, farmers markets and historical locations, both indoors and out.

In 2023, McNally organized the first East Bay Gallery Tour, involving eight galleries from Martinez to Danville. Once visitors stopped at all the galleries, their stamped ticket would be entered into a drawing for two $300 prizes. She is planning the second annual tour, which will run for the full month of October.

For more about Samantha McNally and her art, see, and Instagram/Facebook @samanthamcnallywatercolors.

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John Nakanishi
John Nakanishi

John Nakanishi is treasurer of The Concord Art Association. He is an acrylic painter and a ceramic artist. When John isn’t creating art, he coaches soccer for East Bay Eclipse, a competitive soccer club based in Moraga. He is also an avid trail runner, enjoying runs from 5 miles to 50K.