This painting was a framed gift to a valued coworker that we were sad to see leaving our employer and moving to the other side of the country. She was a big fan of the self-help book by the same title – which was one of the current business fads of the late-1980’s – so it made sense as a gift that we all signed for her.
Painting info: What color is your parachute? Going away gift for a coworker Washington, DC June 1989 Winsor & Newton Artist watercolors Legion Lanaquarelle 100% cotton 140 lb cold press paper 6”x8”
Creating different iterations of this image has become a thing for me. I have painted variations of this same image of a sunflower repeatedly for friends when a close family member dies, as the cover of a custom-made sympathy card that I create for them. This specific painting (above) I finished a couple of days ago, for a friend whose mother died last week. I’ve done this several times over the past few years now, and – sadly – I’m getting better at it.
Why a sunflower? I want something that’s bright and not down, something that can lift someone’s spirits and not be trite, something that won’t intrude, something that can be beautiful and hopefully impart a sense of peace.
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”