The attendees at last week’s Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE), in Tucson, enjoyed a bountiful offering of art instruction and camaraderie. But what did the instructors experience? We asked watercolor instructor Cindy Baron for a glimpse into her world at PACE.
Before she made her way from Rhode Island to Arizona, Baron told us about her preparations. “I love the Southwest but have never been south of Phoenix, so I’m really looking forward to it,” she said. Baron hadn’t yet decided on the exact subject matter for her demonstration on the watercolor stage, but she knew that she would stress her painting approach, which relies on some heavy lifting. In this case, that means lifting off watercolor pigment with water and a linen rag. Baron strategically utilizes staining pigments so that when she wipes the paint away, part of the color remains in the paper.

Baron working on her watercolor demonstration painting

Secondly, Baron does not embrace the approach to watercolor that stresses a careful order to the steps of painting to avoid mistakes. “I want everybody to look at watercolor and realize that you can do anything you want, as long as it works,” Baron says. “You need good design, yes. But there are no set rules. I make an anxiety-looking painting come together and look traditional and a little bit impressionistic. You can do anything you want with watercolor, and I am big on lifting. There are tons of rules with design, but there are no rules on how to get what’s in your brain onto the paper.”

Baron’s demo painting in progress

Doesn’t she work from light to dark? “No, I go right to medium,” Baron says. “I know where I want my lights, but I go right to medium on my paper and lift from there. The real light is the paper, and I’ll save the paper in an area if I planned that. But you have to work with the spontaneity of the medium.”

Part of Baron’s process involves splattering mixed colors onto the paper.

Baron works in both oil and watercolor, although it’s clear she has a fondness for watercolor. Infectiously upbeat, Baron gets the smallest touch of crossness in her voice when she says, “Watercolor is one of the least respected mediums out there. But there’s a richness, a certain success in the ways the colors mix in watercolor. You cannot get this in oils.”

“Morning on the South Rim,” by Cindy Baron, watercolor, 7 x 18 in.

This wasn’t her first Plein Air Convention, but it was her first full one. Last year in Monterey, she and her roommate suffered from food poisoning from grocery store sandwiches, and missed two full days of the event. “We got to know each other more quickly than we expected,” she says, clearly amused. “We had to laugh. It was an awful experience turned into a sitcom.”

Baron painting on location near the Bixby Bridge in California

This year was all better. Baron painted her demo on Sunday and worked on the piece further on subsequent days, but she had ample time to paint outside, creating studies. “I wanted to get out there and capture the colors I saw,” says the artist. “Just set the images in my brain until I get back to New England and my studio.”

Baron painted this 5”-x-7” pieces as a warmup recently.

The demo was a success. She mixed pools of colors, spritzed her taped-down watercolor paper, and flicked some of the mixtures onto the paper. She flicked more of the paint on with a loaded brush. Then she did most of the rest of her painting by mixing color on the surface, rather than on her palette. The audience was enthused.

The three stages of a demo by Baron

“Excitement and the urge to paint … that is the best feeling a teacher can give,” she says.


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