Dayton artist places in international competition for watercolor portraits

A local artist is bringing in international applause for his watercolor work.

Daytonian Gregg DeGroat competed among thousands of artists around the globe for the 2023 World Art Awards competition. Artists from nearly 80 countries entered pieces to be judged by 20 of the most revered art galleries in the world, as selected by the World Art Award advisory board. Two of his watercolor paintings tied for third place in separate categories: watercolor human figure and self-portrait.

Among the finalist for the categories were artists from France, China, India, Bulgaria, Uzbekistan, United States, Canada, Turkey and Italy. DeGroat said he was initially surprised when he heard he placed among artists from around the world, but he also has great confidence in his abilities.

“I’ve always — especially when it comes to watercolors — compared myself to the very best watercolorist on the planet,” DeGroat said. “If I’m not doing stuff this on their level, then I don’t think I did anything.”

Long before the entry period for the competition, DeGroat was approached by a representative for the World Art Awards who had been following his art for a while. DeGroat posts a lot of his work to social media, which he said gave him the exposure necessary for this kind of opportunity. The representative encouraged him to apply for the awards.

“The next thing I knew, I ended up with two third-place finishes,” DeGroat said.

DeGroat has studied the medium all across the world, giving him a foothold on the type of artistry that enables him to be internationally awarded. However, he hasn’t always been a watercolorist.

Going back to his early years, DeGroat remembers his father — also an artist — sitting him down and teaching him how to draw and paint from the age of 5. He always though his abilities were genetic and inherited from his father up until his 20s when he learned he was adopted. DeGroat realized his artistic ability stemmed from faith, persistence and a good teacher.

“He told me that I could draw, and he taught me how to draw, and I believed him,” DeGroat said of his father.

It wasn’t just his father who had artistry in his blood, DeGroat said. His whole family connected with art in different ways. DeGroat’s mother was a singer and pianist, and his brother was a member of the Dayton funk band Zapp. DeGroat was a choir member and joined four bands, particularly fronting a band as lead vocalist in the U.S. Air Force when he was stationed in Iceland.

DeGroat went on to get a degree in commercial art from Clark Technical College in Springfield before transferring to the Columbus College of Art and Design. He left CCAD after a year when he answered a blind ad in the newspaper for a position with the Dayton Daily News. Joining the newspaper staff in the promotions department and later the advertising and editorial departments as a graphic designer, he spent his 27-year career bouncing between the Dayton Daily News and the Springfield News-Sun before retiring to focus on creating commercially licensed art and fine art pieces.

It was at the newspaper where DeGroat met a future portrait subject, Karla Garrett Harshaw, who was the editor of the Springfield News-Sun at the time. Garrett Harshaw was named a 2023 Dayton Skyscraper for the “Visual Voices” exhibition curated by Dayton artist Willis “Bing” Davis. DeGroat was tapped to create her likeness in watercolors.

He has been involved with the “Visual Voices: Dayton Skyscrapers” exhibit several times over the years, including in 2022 when he created a portrait of Dayton doctor Gary LeRoy, which was the human figure portrait DeGroat decided to enter for consideration in the World Art Awards.

Along with the Dayton Skyscraper series of exhibits, DeGroat has been active within the Dayton arts community and the greater Ohio arts community through his involvement with organizations such as the African American Visual Artists Guild — which was co-founded by Davis — and is a first-year member of the Ohio Watercolor Society.

Two more awards may be on the horizon for the Dayton watercolorist. A piece of DeGroat’s was accepted by the Ohio Watercolor Society for its annual awards, which are set to take place the evening of July 22. He also entered a watercolor painting in the 2023 Ohio State Fair Fine Arts competition, which DeGroat placed as a finalist, with final standings still pending.

DeGroat breaks down his watercolor artistry through time-lapsed demonstration videos on YouTube, which give insight into the time and skill of each of the artist’s pieces.

For more information on DeGroat and to view more of his watercolor work, visit

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