Plein Air Painting Challenge - Monthly Paintings at Quail Hollow for One Year

Here they are - the results of one year of small monthly plein air paintings at Quail Hollow. I've consolidated these monthly posts to make for easier viewing and reading.

To our readers and fellow plein air painters, if you participate in the ongoing Monthly Challenge and complete one year of paintings in the same location, we will create your own page documenting your journey here on

November 2010 - Quail Hollow Pond

My first entry for the Monthly Painting Challenge - this project pushed me to go out and paint the day after Thanksgiving when I might otherwise have sat and read a book!

My selected site for each month's painting is a local park called Quail Hollow in Felton, California. The pond there is home to a number of Western turtles and lots of water birds - ducks, egrets and great blue herons.

The weather was good if a bit cold - there were still some leaves on the trees - the pond surface very dark and moody looking.

I did a 5" x 7" panel - small size - and did it quickly as is recommended - used big brushes. It felt great to be out painting again after several weeks of not going out.

After my painting session I took a hike up the mountain to work off some turkey feast from the day before - encountered a young girl riding a beautiful black horse on the way back down the mountain.

December 2010

A lot has changed since I painted in this spot 30 days ago. All the leaves are gone - the trees now bare - showing the sculpture of their being. The ground where I stand to paint is bog-like - my socks are wet within minutes. We have had a lot of rain recently. Remember to wear waterproof boots next month!

I squint my eyes down to make out the basic color of the bare trees and then paint that color and shape with a large brush. This business of meditating on the same landscape is very calming, I feel my breathing slow.

Many water birds, mostly Mallard ducks and coots, are swimming and fishing. Some are sunning themselves in the cold winter sun - a chill breeze ruffles the pond surface from time to time. I'm glad I wore my flannel lined levis (bought in Maine) for this outing.

I'm painting an 8" x 10" panel this month. It's good to change up the format from time to time. Creates new possibilities for a familiar scene

January 2011

I waited until the very last day of January - until 3.30pm to be exact - before getting myself down to do my Monthly Painting Challenge for January. Nothing like the last minute to get it done. The fact that I had committed on-line to getting this done gave me the motivation to head out when I would rather have sat in my garden with a cup of tea!

Living in this part of California, we have been blessed with wonderful almost Spring-like weather most of January. The darling Quail Hollow Pond was alive with water birds - early Spring pairing up activity I suspect.

The sun was right in my face as I looked at the familiar scene - backlit mountain causing a glare on the water. This was very challenging - but as I waited with my painting easel set up and my canvas calling to me I started to see the possibilities that this strange lighting presented. Out of my comfort zone on so many levels, I got to work (play)and then, as always happens, started to have FUN. The abstract quality of the image that the difficult lighting presented got my juices flowing. Yes, this monthly meditation thing is working!

I finished up just as the light disappeared - early sunset these days. Now I can't wait for next month to see what that will bring. Cheers

February 2011

It was a beautiful, but frosty morning as I ventured out to Quail Hollow pond for my monthly painting challenge. 9am and a line of white frost still visible near the reeds.

I dressed warmly in flannel lined jeans, waterproof boots and gloves. I was the only person there except for the park caretaker who lives on the premises in a small bungalow.

I had set up my palette ahead of time so was ready and able to paint immediately. The morning sun was behind me and kissed the pond waters with warm colors. Early morning is definitely the best time to paint this place. The magic morning light made the pond look totally different than last month when I was here during late afternoon.

The brown and cream reeds were on fire and a bright fresh line of young green grass also pulsed with life. Two coots (moor hens) dabbled in the water plants clucking companionably at each other.

I dropped down into my happy place in my mind as my only reality became my painting and the scene in front of me. An exercise in mindfulness and delight in being. I painted a 5" x 7" small board - letting go of the "shoulds" the painting almost painted itself. Thank you Pond - and see you again next month.

March 2011

March is my 5th consecutive month of the 12 month challenge to paint Quail Hollow Pond. I almost didn't make it this morning due to the usual plethora of excuses. However, I put all of them aside and drove down to my favorite spot to paint.

Spring has certainly arrived! And the pair of Coots I saw last month are still here - happily swimming and cruising the now very full pond waters. They must have a nest somewhere close by. We have had floods of rain since a month ago - good thing I wore my L.L. Bean waterproof boots - as I had to wade through mud and standing water to get to my "spot". It was worth it however!

All the trees are now sporting lime green and chartreuse colored fresh leaves and the grass is so green it is neon.In addition to the Coots, I saw a pair of Mallard Ducks and a noisy family of woodpeckers.

The pond waters have a muddy brown tinge due to all the runoff.

I also saw 2 human mothers with their babies in strollers - they bravely made their way along the muddy path - they will have to hose everything off when they get home.

I decided to use an 8" x 10" panel and use a vertical format for a change. I love this place! See you again next month - Spring will be well advanced by then - maybe I'll see some baby Coots next time as well.

April 2011 - The Gift of Ducklings at Quail Hollow Pond

This morning it was heaven at the Pond. Sun was shining and warm - just right - not too hot yet. The Pond surroundings were lush with green - in fact, the overall sensation of green is so great I feel I am breathing green in - green from newly leaved trees, grass and water plants.

In the meadow near the pond, small lupines are in full bloom - The grasses so tall as to come half way up my legs as I hike with my gear. This month I am trying out my home made cigar box pochade painting box, so my gear is even lighter than usual.

The pond turtles are sunning themselves happily on a sandbank in the middle of the pond - safe from predators.Bull frogs bellow and croak.

Fifteen minutes into my painting session I hear, tweet, tweet, tweet - and OH JOY! Duckings with mother mallard paddle by - they are tiny! Maybe two days old at the most - all fuzzy and cheerful and sailing along behind Mom. Dad mallard is keeping up the rear - on guard. What a heart warming sight! No sign of baby coots - just a solitary adult coot - hopefully Mrs. Coot is sitting on her nest - maybe I'll see those babies next month.

This pond and it's inhabitants now feel like dear friends to me. See you again in 30 days.

May 2011

The swallows have arrived and are in flight in the warm, grass scented air around the pond. Gossamer seed pods float on the breeze all around. The earth feels warm under foot today. At the pond, the Western Pond Turtles sun themselves on a half submerged old log – their necks thrust out seeking maximum solar heating.

No sign of the mallard duck family of last month. One lone coot paddles by in the distance.

This month I decide to paint a 9” x 12” panel of the pond, trees and reflections. I am alone and yet part of it all – a peaceful happy feeling of companionship with the natural world.

After 2 hours of painting I pack up and get ready for a hike on the trail nearby. On the way I encounter a woman with two Shetland ponies and a miniature horse. The miniature horse is unbelievably tiny and cute. His name is “Mini Cooper”.

I love all the different people and creatures I am meeting during my monthly plein air painting challenge at Quail Hollow.

July 2012 at Quail Hollow

June sped by and I found myself out of time. So July 1 was the first available date to complete my Monthly Challenge at the Pond. It felt so good to be back there. A hot mid Summer morning with the smell of newly cut grass overlaying that baked earth scent. The shorn pastures now a golden stubble – the blooming lupins long gone.

At the pond, bullfrogs bellow and Stellars Jays yell with strident voice. Dragonflies dip and hover on shimmering wings. Robins seek out insects in the cut grass and California Quail scurry and call out in the brush. As usual, there is lots of wildlife activity to keep things interesting.

After setting up my gear in my usual place, I start looking closely at the pond, deciding what to paint this month and how to paint it. The reeds and reflections are looking particularly appealing.

Then suddenly, a Great Blue Heron swoops in and lands on the log normally occupied by the Western Pond Turtles. He is magnificent – and just like that, I have my painting subject for the morning. He stayed a long time – over one and a half hours in total before flying off.

Skip, an artist friend from my painting group has joined me to paint this time – we paint in companionable silence most of time – with occasional comments back and forth, mainly about His Heroness – as we have dubbed him. We decided the bird is certainly male. He stands completely still for long stretches – waiting for the fish to come to Him – this tactic works well – he gets at least 2 small fish during our painting time.

By 11.30 it’s already hot and the morning light faded. Time to seek shade. See you next month Pond – thank you for another wonderful painting adventure!

August 2011 - Summer at the Pond

9.30 amIt’s time to confess – I didn’t make it to the Pond at the end of July as I was away in Maine. So I’m now back and ready to continue with my monthly visits – to complete my Year of Painting at Quail Hollow Challenge.

This month’s painting experience is different for several reasons – for one thing, Quail Hollow itself looks very like late Summer – with the trees all mature in their leaf canopies and the meadow grasses more tan and yellow than the last time I was here 2 months ago.

I notice the faint aroma of skunk as I walk on the dried out path to the pond. No need to wear rubber boots this time – the ground is dry and cracked. The pond waters have receded a lot as well. The paired up ducks and coots no longer an item either - they have moved on to other concerns and are solitary.

Thick fog is in from the ocean several miles distant. It will clear by 11am but I start my painting without benefit of sun initially.

I am painting with four other experienced and accomplished plein air painters from my oil painting group today. They are Mary Garon, Judy Miller, Carol Bower and Christine de Faymorea. Judy and Carol are pastel painters. You can find their websites on the Favorite Links section of this website.

I have decided to try a different approach to my painting process this month. I initially put a thin coat of Liquin (a drying medium) onto my panel. I then block in the major shapes of my painting using transparent dark color only (sap green, Indian yellow, ultramarine blue and alizarin crimson)– and I keep the paint on the dry side – no mineral spirit or other thinning agent.

This transparent dark under painting is then blotted lightly with a paper towel. This creates an interesting texture and random design as the basis for the painting to follow. I work over the top of this initial layer using my usual technique and brush work. I allow small areas of the initial under painting to peek through as I work.

I think this approach can be effective for landscapes that have lots of dark areas and so the Pond is a perfect candidate this time.

All too soon, my monthly painting is done. Next month will bring Fall and some lovely tree colors so I’m already looking forward to my return. Until then, Dear Pond.

September 2011 - Quail Hollow Challenge

How things can change in 30 days with the artist but the Pond remains serene and peaceful. I, on the other hand, am not. My 90 year old Mother died a week ago and I will be flying to England for her funeral in 2 days time. I decided that my sad soul needs the soothing balm of painting on schedule – and so I am here.

It is foggy and dark initially – a bit like my mood. But, as I stand and get my gear set up, I settle into the comforting ritual of my painting.

The trees are still in summer leaf but are looking tired and a bit dry. The woodpecker family are boisterous and noisy – cheerful little devils! My mood continues to lighten the more time I spend with my animal friends and the calming influence of the familiar landscape. The slight smell of oil paint, the feel of the brush in my hand…. These things will always be there for me, no matter what. I recommend plein air painting as therapy in trying times.

This month I focus on the pond water and reflections. The only people around are 2 women walking a beautiful bay horse in the meadow – he looks really pampered.

October will be my 12th month of painting at this location - so see you then for the final installment....

The Final Installment - October 2011 at Quail Hollow

I did it!

Here is my final painting of the series where I set myself the goal of painting at Quail Hollow Pond each month for a year. I have come full circle from starting in November 2010. I managed to do 11 paintings - I missed one month due to being away in England on a family visit.

It has been such a worthwhile journey and I'm glad I did it. I have learned so much about myself in this process. One of the main things I learned is that painting and art are my great comfort and joy in life - no matter what difficulties are at hand, once I am painting and creating, I forget about them and come back to myself through art and the process of creating.

This month I decided to paint a larger panel - 11 x 14 - in honor of the occasion and to celebrate the beautiful pond. My friend and fellow artist, Marlene Fredlund came along with her cute little dog, Charlie.

I confess to having shed a tear as I was leaving. I will miss my monthly date with the Pond - but then realized, I live only a few miles away and can come here anytime and paint or just visit my animal and bird friends that live at the Pond.

Return from 12 Months at Quail Hollow to Monthly Challenge Page

Return to Home Page