[caption id="attachment_2798" align="alignright" width="400"]Trucks in Cumberland, Maryland, an oil painting by David Diaz Trucks in Cumberland, Maryland,
an oil painting by David Diaz[/caption]

It’s Paint Annapolis week and all over town we see artists painting “plein air”, which means to paint outside rather than in a studio. As a studio artist and occasional fair-weather outdoor painter, I have great admiration for these artists who possess a special set of skills, a resistance to the elements and a different perspective on painting. For some insight into the world of plein air painters, I interviewed my friend and plein air painter, David Diaz.

Aside from his volunteer activities as President of the Board of Directors and Exhibition Chair at MFA (Maryland Federation of Art), David has been a locally and regionally celebrated full-time plein air artist for 12 years now. It is what he does for a living. All year round.

David participates in about 10 or 11 plein air competitions a year – sometimes back to back – and each competition runs about five days, with one ten-day stint in Ireland. I spoke with David while he was at a competition in Cumberland, MD, just days before his participation in Paint Annapolis, a four-day juried plein air painting competition from June 8 through June 13. He shared what it’s like to be a plein air painter: the challenges, the joys, and the results.

DD: During competitions, I get up a little earlier than usual – around 7:30 – to catch the morning low light that creates effects on the sides of buildings and trees that is perfect for impressionistic painting, which lasts until about 10 a.m. I prefer that to the harsh, direct wash of sunlight during mid-day.PD: What is a typical day in the life of a plein-air artist?

First, I find a really good coffee shop. Then I drive to a promising spot I scoped out the day before. If I haven’t done so already, I’ll do a quick sketch to see if the lines and shapes work, and to determine the best size.

Depending upon the how the day goes, I might go to dinner with some of the other artists, or just go back home and flop.

PD: How many paintings do you do in a day?

DD: I am happy with two good paintings a day. If I find the spot I connect with, all goes well and I often keep going without eating lunch, and then scout areas for the next day and do sketches. Other times I have to work at it, and if one painting is so-so, I might stay out later into early evening.

PD: What do you love about plein air painting?

DD: Being outside, and absorbing the light, sounds, smells of everything around me. The best part is finding that one place that just hits you, and you know this is going to be a great painting. Time goes by and it sort of just paints itself. I am outside in the open, yet I am focused and in a zone that is personal, concentrating on making artistic decisions about the changing light. Evening light has a wonderful glow, and you have to be ready to jump on it. You can always try coming back, but it’s never exactly the same.

I enjoy the camaraderie with the other artists. Casual interactions and conversations at lunch and dinner are educational moments, from painting approaches to nuts and bolts of equipment “how to’s”.

PD: What are some of the challenges of painting plein air?

DD: We interact with the public, which can be nice but also it can interrupt the flow and take you off track. We’re painting outside, so we do expect that people will watch. Most people are very kind and respectful.

Weather presents challenges. On gray days, you run the risk of overworking the painting, since the light doesn’t change. When it is raining, you find cover under overhangs or awnings. Sudden temperature changes are problematic, especially in the winter. Down coats and thick boots are a must!


The day after we spoke, David texted me pictures of the oil paintings he had done during the week. The painting “Trucks in Cumberland, MD” sold within 15 minutes of being displayed. Nice confirmation of his efforts, and not surprising at all.

It is clear that David has found his bliss; he is a happy person to be around. As a valuable member of the Annapolis art community and a local treasure, he is welcoming, supportive of artists in all media and he reflects the positivity that comes from being connected to his true calling.

Paint Annapolis, hosted by MFA, runs from June 8 to 14, and the work will be on display at Circle Gallery through June 21. For more information, visit www.mdfedart.org, or call Circle Gallery at 410-268-4566.