Cherry Blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial

Cherry blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial — Washington, DC

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.


Painting info:
Cherry blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial
The Tidal Basin on the National Mall
Washington, DC
April 1988
Winsor & Newton watercolors
Legion Lanaquarelle 100% cotton 140 lb cold press paper
22”x15”

5 thoughts on “Cherry Blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial

    1. Oh yeah, rum! If you don’t add something, the water freezes.

      Overproof rum is high enough in alcohol to lower the freezing point so you can keep painting – it’s a trick I learned from a grizzled old watercolor painter with lots of cold weather plein air experience. I think he used to keep enough “antifreeze” in a hip flask to dose himself as well. (Heh, heh!)

      Liked by 1 person

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