Plein Air Painting

Bucolic scene – Annapolis, Maryland

A little over three years ago, Cindy and I were going through some high levels of stress while dealing with her elderly mother and the house in Annapolis, Maryland, that she had lived in since 1960 or so. At age 94 – some 8 months prior to the images on this page – her mother had finally gotten senior dementia bad enough that she could no longer safely remain in her home on her own, and she needed to be transferred to an adult assisted-living facility. Everything was a challenge during that time. After we finally got her mom successfully out of the house, we were faced with the onerous task of cleaning it out prior to putting it on the market for sale.

Why was the task so difficult? Because the house was literally crammed with the results of nearly 60-years of hoarding, with some items dating back all the way to the early 1930s. So Cindy and I began emptying the house one room at a time, filling up more than 12 huge dumpsters with junk over the course of 9 months – and that still didn’t finish emptying the property. We finally admitted defeat and called in the experts to complete the job, which took many more dumpsters yet after our initial efforts.

At one point in June 2019, after many hours of exhausting work filling up one of the seemingly endless dumpsters, I finally called for a rest break and decided that I needed to de-stress. And for me, that entailed getting some iced tea, breaking out my plein air watercoloring kit, grabbing a chair, and sitting in the shade of some trees in the backyard. The image above was where I found myself, and I decided to just go ahead and paint that. First I used my dip pen and ink to create a rough sketch, which you can see below.

Ink sketch

Then I pre-dampened the watercolor paints and began to mix some colors, and applied them in approximate places on the paper, which you can see below.

Filling in the color

Everything goes quickly on a painting like this. For one, even though I was seated in the shade, it was quite hot outside, and the paints dried almost as fast as they were applied to the paper. Two, even though I was taking a break, we still had a virtual mountain of junk remaining to be transferred to the dumpster for pickup early the next morning – so it wasn’t as if I could take all afternoon to complete this artwork.

Mostly completed

Nearing the end of the time I had available, the painting looked pretty good to my eyes. Was it perfect? No, but then nothing ever is. Was it successful as a piece of art? Well, I was certainly pleased with it. And I had achieved my goal, which was to do something that I enjoyed immensely to lower my stress levels from the task at hand. The final result is as you see it below.

Finished painting

I later mounted this little painting to a blank greeting card, and sent it to my best friend for his birthday.


Painting info:
Bucolic backyard scene
Annapolis, Maryland
June 2019
Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors
Schmincke Horadam Aquarell watercolors
Fluid 100 100% cotton 140 lb cold press paper
4”x6”

5 thoughts on “Plein Air Painting

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s very helpful for me to see what steps you take in your watercolor painting in plein air, and oh, I can relate to all you had to deal with in house-cleaning. We’re not there yet, but we know it’s coming, and it’s a difficult situation to face.

    The big difference — what I can’t relate to — is how plein air painting is a de-stress for you. For me, anything involving plein air painting is exactly the opposite. Just thinking about it stresses me out. Except for my “nature drawing” with graphite. I’m also learning to take along my gansai and use it to color my sketches, so I’m getting a little closer to plein air painting in a casual way.

    So, thank you again for posting this. Keep pushing me — gently — and I’ll get there in time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Both studio painting and plein air painting I define as my “art nirvana”. It’s always been like that for as long as I can remember. I get into a zone, the world around me completely falls away, time and space stop, and I just happily do my art thing until I get tired or hungry (or both!).

      When I was actually paid to do art, I couldn’t believe my fantastic luck. But then personal computers came along and wiped out the niche that I had as a profession, and I couldn’t adapt to the new normal. So I switched careers.

      But I still love doing art, both indoors and outside.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can get into “art nirvana” when I’m sitting under a tree with my sketchbook and pencils. Maybe it’s being outdoors…maybe it’s the repetitive mark-making…maybe it’s just enjoying my time away from household responsibilities. I find it with graphite and sometimes with ink, not so much yet with painting. I think a lot of it for me is that I can focus on small parts of a larger whole so I’m more focused and not thinking so much about “the big picture”. Does that make any sense?

        Liked by 1 person

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