This piece was actually based on a summer childhood memory. It’s one of those memories I still remember clear as day-climbing the boulders, sliding down the waterfall, cooling off from the summer heat…I had so much fun visiting the waterfall as a kid I wanted to capture that happy feeling.
I first sketch loosely with a blue pencil on watercolor paper, pursuing the energy and composition I want for the image, then I develop details with my dip pen and ink. I used to avoid dip pens because, believe it or not, I thought it would be hard to maintain/clean. But it turns out all you have to do is wash the nib with soap and water and dry it immediately. After I’m satisfied with the inked stage, I then apply watercolor and finishing touches (I’ve also shared a process reel for this on my Instagram last month). Sometimes when things start to feel overwhelming, I close my eyes and remember the carefree summer days like this one. I hope this piece helps you feel cool and relaxed!
This summer, I set a personal goal to sketch outdoors everyday and allow myself to learn and be inspired from my surroundings.
I’m not usually one to share my thoughts and feelings with the masses, but I learned a lot during my 100 days of painting that I feel compelled to share some of my experience. This was the first time I attempted a challenge of this magnitude, so I wanted to set some clear goals at the beginning to keep myself committed and focused. The idea is as simple as 1-2-3:
Sketch Outdoors: For 100 days, I would paint 100 drawings from direct observations en plein air
Discover, Learn, and Appreciate: Connect with my surroundings
Improve Everyday: Grow as an artist through painting and research
Why do the challenge?
I suppose it all started after my vacation abroad with my husband in Spring 2017. Because we were traveling to multiple countries, and only had a limited amount of time, I put extra effort into planning out our itinerary to ensure we hit the main places we wanted to see. My biggest take away from this trip is that one can actually get a lot done in a short amount of time.
That being said, I decided to make the most of my time this summer. I have been meaning to sketch outdoors more, so I thought a summer challenge would be a good way to achieve this, and giving myself a specific timeframe to produce a certain number of paintings was the push I needed to get it done.
What I enjoyed
Painting allows me to live in the moment
Painting allows me to stay concentrated on the present. The challenge helped me establish a daily painting routine. A small canvas also means I won’t invest too much of a day’s schedule to paint. When I’m painting, all my attention is focused on what’s in front of me without concerning myself with anything else. Instead of worrying about the list of errands I need to do, I can wake up each day looking forward to spending a part of it working on my passion.
Painting allows me to encounter pleasant surprises
One thing I enjoyed about this experience was the “accidental discoveries” I encountered —that is, places or things I normally wouldn’t cross paths with if I hadn’t chosen to complete the project. When I started out I thought I was going to quickly run out of ideas for places to go paint, but actually I ended up finding more inspiration along the way. In trying something, one paves the way to new possibilities. Whether it is a new landmark, or a scene that catches my eye, it is these “accidental discoveries” that gets me excited to go out and paint. The more I go out, the more I research, learn, and develop an appreciation for my surroundings.
Painting allows me to look deeper and understand the story
At first I only cared about portraying the landscape realistically, but I’m now more conscious and deliberate with each painting. Going out is like doing fieldwork and my paintings are the notes of observation — the vibe of a place, the way a tree forms due to the wind, or how the cracks on the face of Cretaceous-age sandstone tell us they are 65 million years old. And though I’m not much of a history buff, I was surprised to find myself enjoying the research bit. I feel so fortunate to live in an era where information is readily available (applauding the dedicated individuals who shared their findings for all to see). Taking a closer look at my surroundings allows me to understand the interconnectedness of things and discover stories everyday.
Everyday is an adventure with this challenge! Sometimes I play tourist and visit popular landmarks, and other times I happen upon events in the neighborhood. Although I try as much as possible to make choosing subject matter a natural process, I often have to deliberately seek out local events or activities to do. Even so, it’s not as tedious as it sounds. In fact, among these 100 paintings are not only a list of locations I know I can paint at, but also a series of activities to enjoy even without the painting aspect.
For those who ever wondered what activities to do in San Diego during summer, here are a month’s worth of suggestions (aka. Things I crossed off my backyard bucket list):
Soak in the sun by the beach
Go surfing at the beach
Head to a surfing competition
Greet animals at the County Fair
Admire professional sandcastles
Drop by the farmers market
Get up close with animals at the zoo
Learn about history at Old Town
Travel through an urban cultural park
Sit in at panels during Comic-Con
Relax at a meditation garden
Check out museums
Explore Little Italy
Stroll in the gardens of Balboa Park
Appreciate historic architecture
Take a hike at Mission Trails
Visit one’s Alma Mater
Ride a historic roller coaster
Dine at Liberty Station
Attend an Art Walk
Dance to a symphony
Witness a solar eclipse
Climb a boulder
Marvel at a parade of tall ships
See stunning sea life at the aquarium
Kayak through million-year-old sea caves
Tour a historic beachfront hotel
Walk through a desert (garden)
Watch paragliders soar at Torrey Pines
Enjoy the view from the top of Mount Soledad, or Old Point Loma Lighthouse
This whole experience is a testament that San Diego is truly a paradise for outdoor painters. I have been blessed with days of sunshine for the majority. Sure, I had to blow off a few bugs from my painting, or wipe off some sweat from my forehead, but I just remind myself that it is summer, and tolerating the various facets of nature is all part of the growing experience. Plus, it is a small price to pay when it means constant exposure to color, light, and inspiration every time I paint outside.
I went into this challenge without much expectation except for the fact that I wanted to fulfill the overdue notion of painting outdoors. My biggest feeling is that I wish I’d started doing this sooner! Painting helps me connect with the city on a totally new level compared to just living in it. In the future I would definitely like to pick up the challenge again. My project was mostly focused on different landmarks of San Diego, so perhaps next time I’ll explore more subtle aspects or unique stories. The fun to be had in San Diego is far from over, and I’m excited to keep painting!
Video recap of all 100 paintings viewable on YouTube: