This is a plein air watercolor painting that I did back in 1988, a couple of months after I moved to Washington, DC, for a new job on K Street NW and a fresh start. As I recall, this was in the first week of April, on a blustery and stormy day with sporadic rain showers, and the morning hours were far colder than I expected them to be — with temperatures hovering close to 32°F (0°C).
Getting to the Tidal Basin for the cherry blossoms was a challenge for me back then, because I had totaled my car two weeks after arriving in DC. So I packed up my painting tripod, my pre-stretched watercolor paper and board, as well as all of my painting supplies, and stuffed them into a large backpack that I kept in my closet. Then — with all of that gear perched on my back — I bicycled from my apartment near the Adams Morgan neighborhood down to the Tidal Basin in the pre-dawn hours, so I could get a prime spot before other cherry blossom visitors began arriving after sunrise.
While I was painting, the temperature was so cold outside that the watercolors kept trying to freeze up on me, which I countered by adding overproof rum (125-to-160 proof) to the water — which worked great! However, it didn’t help keep my fingers and toes warm (I had no gloves and only thin socks on), and I slowly began to edge toward hypothermia. Eventually my hands were shaking so bad that I finally declared the painting to be finished, packed up everything, and pedaled back to my apartment to warm up.
As much as I love painting plein air, I’ve never painted in conditions that cold again.
Cherry blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial
The Tidal Basin on the National Mall
Winsor & Newton watercolors
Legion Lanaquarelle 100% cotton 140 lb cold press paper