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Lake Anza Watercolor Sketch

Lake Anza Row Boat, watercolor
Lake Anza Row Boat, watercolor

When I brought home today’s plein air oil painting, I spent a few minutes messing with it, tried to fix it, and then just wiped it all off. Then I painted the scene in watercolor instead (above). I’m getting really frustrated with plein air oil painting and I’m starting to reconceptualize how I might approach plein air painting in the future.

I love being out in nature looking closely at it, and trying to capture it in paint. I also really like hiking in these beautiful parks. But when I paint with oils I focus on painting and then when I leave, I’m often envious of the people who hiked past me as I stood there in one spot.

My new idea is to bring my watercolors, sketchbook and my camera and spend half of the time walking and taking photos and the other half making watercolor sketches. Then I can use those studies, photos and my memory and experience of the place to either make larger watercolors or oil paintings in the studio.

I so admire people who can make beautiful oil paintings plein air.  I know that there’s nothing that can compare to seeing color and light and painting it right in the midst of nature’s glory.  But maybe it’s time to accept that it’s just not my forte and focus on the things that I both enjoy and can do with some modicum of success.

Lake Anza with notes
Lake Anza with notes in sketchbook

10 replies on “Lake Anza Watercolor Sketch”

Not being an oil painter myself, I have no idea of the challenges faced by plein air painting in oil. Of course, watercolor painting outdoors is no walk in the park either, though I do it. I consider it successful if there is any ONE area of a work produced outdoors that pleases me. (I am light years away from doing a pleasing FULL painting.)

Anyway, if you do move ahead with the new plan of sketching and watercolors while hiking, please do share what your little “kit” consists of. Probably those waterbrushes are the easiest, but they’re extremely limited in terms of variety of strokes, and even the large ones aren’t all that large. Lots of people use WC pencils, but success eludes me altogether with those. Happy painting, and thanks for sharing!


Hi Rita, I think that’s a really good way to evaluate one’s work: to look for a pleasing, successfully or skillfully done passage or a lesson learned. Sometimes I try to focus on composition and feel good if I at least got that right. Or color. Or with watercolor, a nice wash, etc. My main watercolor sketch kit is a sketchbook, a Winsor Newton Artists Field Kit(with several of the colors replaced) a couple of Niji water brushes, a mini spritzer botlte and a pocket pack of Kleenex tissues and a couple of pens. I have a teenier homemade kit (one in a mini-altoids tin) and a larger one with metal Holbein folding palette and a small watercolor block. But the WN Field Kit is my favorite. Jana


I’m with you, Jana….plein air oil is not for me. But I do love hiking and bringing my watercolors…..I think the half and half balance sounds about right….when I really want to hike, though, I take my camera and paint it later…..


Thanks for the encouragement for finding balance and the idea of bringing a camera and painting later. While so many dedicated plein air artists claim that only painting on the spot allows you to see the true colors of nature, if the challenges of plein air painting make it impossible to make a decent painting, then it kind of defeats the purpose. But a combination of absorbing the colors while sketching on site and painting from memory and photo in the studio might be the best of all possible options. Jana


Well, if it were me (haa…I’m STILL too cowardly to actually sketch or paint where people can see me, so what do I know)…

Better start that sentence again.

A great deal of the enjoyment for me is the walking, especially out in the wilds (or patches of wilds within a town). And I would feel cheated, too, if I gave up exploring that walk and soaking in all the beauty around me, the relaxing and restorative moments of walking through dappled sunlight with the sounds of birds in the trees, the feel of wind in my hair.

And sketching and painting –even at my beginning level–can also be meditative and restorative when I don’t let frustration sneak into my walk. So I really do sympathize.

And I agree with Rita, whatever your new plan is, please share it with us, including the little kit you use, etc. It really
means a lot to us to walk along with you… It helps our own journey.


Thanks Annie. You bring up a lot of good points…both about the pleasures of walking in nature and how sketching and painting are enjoyable if you don’t let frustration take over! Jana


Jana, I ADORE the watercolor sketch!

Is the problem that you don’t have enough TIME in your life to do plein air oil painting AND hike?

In my observation, oil painters need a lot of time when painting en plein air… It’s the reverse of my jealousy in the studio, where they have all the time in the world to revise and I must get it ‘just about right’ when I lay paint to paper (watercolor)… In the field, my studio experience translates into easy sketches which, btw, are much cheaper to produce, so if one goes wrong I can just turn over a new leaf and try again. No guilt. Only absorbed peace.

Someone asked about field watercolor kits… Catherine Carey has a nice one (

For walking & sketching I carry:
7 paints in half-pans in a tin:
WN Quin Red,
DS Hansa Yellow Medium,
WN French Ultramarine,
DS Sap Green,
Winsor Lemon,
Winsor Red,
Winsor Blue.
I use tacky clay (for hanging posters) to position the half-pans on the bottom of the tin.

1 Cotman 222 series half-length brush (size 4).
1 medium waterbrush
1@ 3″ x 6″ mixing palette
8″ x 5″ watercolor notebook, of various makes (Moleskine, Aquabee, home made with Arches 140# paper, with Canson 90# paper and with Strathmore Kids’ paper…)
A 4 oz squeeze bottle of water
A 2.5 ounce pill bottle filled with water
3 or 4 paper towels

I use the towels to absorb excess color from the brush before cleaning it in the pill bottle, the top of which is my clean water source! Often I swab and dip several times before swishing the brush in the bottle. Keeps the dirty water cleaner, and once the paper towel dries, I can use it again to absorb paint.

The squeeze bottle dampens the paint in the pans. AND I use it sometimes to wet down the paper, to clean my brush, and to create a puddle of clean water on my palette, for quick adjustments to the texture of the paint.



Wow Gwendolyn, Thanks for providing all of this good information. You saved me a lot of time, because in fact, what you described as your kit is almost identical to one of mine.

I guess the problem is that when I go out to paint with my group, we’re there for about three hours and since I’m usually late, I have about 2 1/2 to pick a spot, set up, paint, clean up, and go to our critique. I think it’s also that I rarely like the work I do when painting plein air, although now that I’ve let go of trying to get a “real” paining out of the session it’s getting more pleasant.

And the time issue could be solved if I could just get there earlier, or bring a lunch so I could stay later. I also make time in my life to hike, but it’s usually more urban walking. Thanks, Jana


Hi Anna, There was a teen young woman who took one of my classes a couple summers ago and she did great. Are you interested in private lessons or a class? Jana


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