Plein Air Sunday – Trees, and uh, Trees.

“Forest of Wild Flowers” 15″x22″ plein air watercolor

Summer is hot! But not if you travel 60 minutes to a mountain cabin near Lake Tahoe.

I received a lovely invitation to paint out with the Tahoe Artists League (TAL) this past Sunday. A member of the League and his wife

“Morning Watch” half sheet painting, Utah

offered up their cabin and land to host a group of painters. Not only that, but coffee, tea, and snacks.

And there were trees! …and flowers…but trees!

It was, however, cool, shady and lovely. I had on my sunscreen and bug off, hat and sun poncho. I was ready!

The first stage of the painting and my chosen scene

I decided to continue pushing myself to paint large outside. Large for a watercolor artist is a half-sheet (15″x22″). I had started my “painting larger exercise” at the Arts and the Park competition in Utah last May. I found it freed me up to use sweeping strokes and seemed to help me keep “loose” (but in a good way. ha!).

I wish I could remember to take more process photos while I am in the midst of painting. I guess when one is “racing the light” (and the wet to dryness of the paper), it is hard to remember everything, right? Anyway, I did manage to remember to take one stage photo, in context, so you can see how much the light had changed from the beginning to the end of the painting.

First stage, a little after the first wash.

I felt pretty good about the first wash. A random bystander or peering stranger might think, “Huh?” But I had a plan.

At this point, though, I was a little overwhelmed by the number of trees I had to paint. After starting the four trunks on the lower right, I’m thinking, “I must find a way to summarize all these trees, or I’ll lose the light,” not to mention I would be late for lunch. We had been given a strict deadline for noon. I started painting about 9:30.

One of the challenges of watercolor, in general, is remembering to save the white of the paper. No method to regain white is ever as effective as initially saving the glowing white of the paper. And as in all 2D art, we want to create a focal point, mostly by creating contrast. I wanted to make the blue violet wild lupine growing against the country road my focal point, so I left that area white initially.

Fast forward 1.5-hours later, and Walter is calling, “Time to wrap-up and meet for lunch,” or something to that effect. Sometimes a deadline is a good thing. It makes one get to the heart of the matter quickly. I whipped out my trusty permanent marker and “found” those missing shapes.

“Forest of Wild Flowers” 15″x22″ plein air watercolor

So, ink and wash it became.  Notice the summarized trees in the upper left? Yeah? Notice too, how the light had changed?

In the photos, it is hard to see the flowers. The wildflowers were magnificent. We had a little training session during critique to identify some of the beauties.


Final painting in context. Light had changed.

We had Cowslip, Alpine Lilies (the orange in my painting), Asparagus Lupine, as well as Mountain Lupine, Yarrow, Mountain Aster, Queen Anne’s Lace, and a yellow flower no one could identify without the benefit of “The Google.”

Mountain Lupine

Alpine Lilies

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