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Recently I hosted a plein aire watercolor workshop taught by Frank Eber where at least two of the participants began location painting for the first time. For all the many advantages of painting outdoors there are equal challenges, especially at the beginning. Students are so hard on themselves than I always try to find ways to make them more comfortable. It was time to tell the story of my “crash and burn” plein aire week many years ago.
My children were 2, 3 and 9 that week in early July when I painted with Rex Brandt in Corona del Mar. I had painted on location in college and when I taught but it had been a good while since I had done so. I hired two sisters to baby sit who favorites of my children and I’m not sure they even said goodbye when I left. The week went like this: up, breakfast for the kids, have lunch ready for the sitters to prepare, go to the workshop, come home and fix dinner, fall into bed and begin all over again. During the day, I kept giving myself pep talks but the other painters were SO good. On the last day of the workshop our assignment was different. It was July 3rd and we were to go to the Dory Fleet in Newport Beach, get sketches and color notes and return to the Brandt studio and do the painting. Then all the paintings would be put on the wall for a final critique.
Mendocino done on location years after this story
It was Friday, the day before Independence Day and by the time I got to the area, the parking was virtually nonexistent. I finally found a 20-minute spot and raced to the pier. I got sketches in my hardbound dark green sketchbook and got to my car as fast as I could – put my sketchbook on the roof of the dark green car and loaded the rest of my gear in the back.
When I got back to the studio I was missing my sketchbook. I remembered where I last had put it so I got back in my car, returned to the pier area and scoured the area as best I could. No sketchbook.
I think it would be fair to say I slunk back to the studio. I was exhausted from my home schedule as well as the week. My fatigue was as much from all the new experiences as the natural tiredness that comes from being outdoors all day. So, I had no sketchbook from which to work and therefore I would have no painting to put up.
There was only one thing to do. I holed up in one of the bathrooms and cried. And cried and cried. There was a knocking at the door so I wiped my face and opened the door slightly. It was one of the painters who wanted to know what was wrong. So I spilled it all out and she was so kind and encouraging. First of all, no one would know if I didn’t put anything up. Secondly she said I needed to join Peg Sheppard’s weekly workshop. She promised it would be wonderful.
You know, she was right. No one knew. I sat through the critique and learned a lot. And I joined that group of fabulous painters every Thursday for a number of years. When we didn’t have painting classes it changed to critique days and at least once a year we would all contribute to the lunch banquet that was spectacular. Had I not had such a horrible day, I would never had met this inspiring teacher and a group of talented, interesting, compatible, wonderful painters. Sometimes very awful, bad days have a silver lining!


  1. Monica Paccione
    June 21, 2014

    Judy, Thanks for sharing this moving story. We are our own worst critics! I can just imagine each day getting the kids ready and then trekking out for the art journey and then to have this happen and how you pulled yourself up by the boot straps. It's a silver lining at best and look how many people's lives you've touched! Many times I've felt I can't do this and once I get started, it all comes back and I do it. You're a gem! Thanks again! Monica

  2. Sketchbook Wandering
    June 21, 2014

    I always enjoy your sharings, thank you. It's nice to accept life's happenings for better or worse, & to allow new good stuff to come in.


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