A European Summer

A European Summer

This year's plein air painting trip brought me to the UK, Portugal, and Spain, where I took the opportunity to also visit friends, family, and walk (taxi and bus—haha, more on that later) the Camino! I made so many amazing memories and really refined my drawing and painting skills over the past month. I'm excited to share my work and also recount some of my favorite moments, blessings, and insights with you all!

As usual, I booked this trip on a whim after realizing that my sister would be graduating and leaving the UK soon. With the onset of warmer weather in Portugal and Spain, I expanded the scope of my trip to include my annual religious pilgrimage, plein air painting escapades, and a reunion with friends from World Youth Day. Packing for these diverse excursions proved to be quite a challenge. I opted to swap my trusty oil paints and pochade box from last year for pens, watercolors, and a handful of watercolor blocks and journals to lighten the load of my backpacking pack. Little did I know that I would fall in love and make it my medium of choice for all future plein air trips.

I had minimal practice using watercolors for landscapes prior to this trip. However, inspired by artists like Alán Ramiro (@seethelines), Juan Carlos Figuera (@jc_figuera), Phil Maltz (@maltzcreative), Teoh Yi Chie (@parkablogs), and Marek Badzynski (@marekbad64) I recognized plein air painting as the ideal avenue to refine my skills. I loved their loose sketching and painting styles that were both deliberate on the choice of pigment and expressive in capturing shapes and shadows with just the right amount of detail. These were all things I kept in mind during my initial days outdoors.

Unlike my time painting in the south of France, I began my paintings this year with sketches using waterproof pens. No pencil or eraser in sight. I used this as a forcing function to embrace my stray marks and wonky lines and found ways to establish both movement and structure. I learned to love the spontaneity of my marks and found beauty in imperfection. At times I would still overwork pieces and add too much paint or ink, but slowly found ways to balance bold strokes with restraint and find cohesion amidst the chaos of my line work. This, along with more sight-sizing techniques I picked up during my time sketching outdoors, really were the biggest technical lessons I learned on this trip.

Inspiration was also abundant with God's creation and beauty unfurling at every turn. From the rustic charm of rural towns along the Camino, the rugged allure of craggy trails, the architectural marvels of churches steeped in spirituality, and city streets lined with vibrant tiled facades—I couldn't help but stop and sketch or take pictures every day! In both Porto and Oxford, I had the privilege of slowing down and working in plein air. Along the Camino, I resorted to compiling pictures and videos of some of my favorite sights to journal at the end of each day. This was an amazing and unique experience in and of itself because I was able to see how art could foster community. It brought me so much joy to unwind and paint with other pilgrims, learn more about their experiences with art, and talk about the beauty they witnessed along the way. This shared artistic journey helped me establish connections with fellow pilgrims, locals, and even a young Portuguese girl named Constance, who, despite the language barrier, found common ground through our shared love of painting.

Unfortunately, shortly after reaching Spain, I came down with a stomach bug and had to cut my walk short, taking a series of taxis and buses on the last three days to Santiago de Compostela. I went into the pilgrimage with a fully open heart and mind and a willingness to receive whatever was in store for me. It taught me to listen to my body and let go of my desire to feel accomplished or compare my journey with others around me. Much like my time in the south of France, I was realizing that I needed to make space to rest. So although a few days of watercolor journaling on the Camino remain unfinished, I eagerly anticipate revisiting those memories through pictures and videos and weaving them into future studio endeavors.

Overall, this year's trip was instrumental to my growth as an artist in more ways than one. Looking at the world through the lens of an artist and child of God who is constantly in awe of His creation really brought me so much joy and inspiration. Sharing my work with loved ones and finding fellowship along the way has also imbued my art with deeper meaning and purpose. I can't wait to share small glimpses of this trip through my artwork and continue to dive deeper in future studies!

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