Plein air watercolor painting - Richie Vios -
To become Texan, I have to go to the field and study my new surroundings, for which plein air painting is a perfect fit.

Watercolor artist Richie Vios (b. Philippines) shares how plein air painting has changed his life, and how he is enthusiastically “becoming Texan.”


For a person born and raised in the Pacific Islands, specifically the Philippines, it is so rare to see a vast panoramic landscape. As an architect practitioner in the Philippines I taught architectural design at the university and did architectural watercolor rendering, but with the introduction of digital rendering, the old-school rendering became a dinosaur.

In 2005 my family migrated to Florida, where I worked as an architectural designer for five years, never touching a brush to paint. It was all done on a digital platform. I felt half the person I used to be in terms of confidence. In the 2010 my family moved again, to Maryland, but I decided to go back to the Philippines to practice again as an architect. For the five-year span I again developed my love of drawing.

I consider myself a self-taught artist although I have a very strong foundation in geometric forms and linear perspective, ”an absolute must for a landscape painter,” as my mantra goes. I also like to tell others to “draw and draw with a pencil until when you hold a brush it is almost the same as a pencil. And paint and paint until the brush becomes an extension of your hands.”

In my free time, I started attending the Urban Sketching group until I encountered the words “plein air” and my compass in life changed forever. I started researching the movement and discovered the PleinAir Podcast by Eric Rhoads, and decided that this is my calling, this is the other half of my life that I was looking for, for so many years.

In 2017 my family moved down to Victoria, Texas. I decided to pull the plug on my architectural practice in the Philippines and move back to the United States again. As architects, we base our living on projects, but since I’m an artist now, I have to create a project on my own. That project became my upcoming ”Becoming Texan” exhibition. I will make a plein air painting journal and am praying for the best.

Richie Vios, “The Open Space,” watercolor, 11 x 14 in. Plein air
Richie Vios, “The Open Space,” watercolor, 11 x 14 in. Plein air

Once when I was painting on the side of the road, a guy approached me and wondered what I was doing. He told me about a local art league in town and encouraged me to join. That’s the beauty of plein air — while painting, it’s already a form of advertising since people will see you doing your thing firsthand.

The following week I signed up to become a member and exhibit my work. To my surprise the painting sold right away, and the buyer contacted me, asking me to tell more about the painting since plein air was new to most of the local collectors. I arranged a demonstration of the Art League and after that so many doors have opened for me. I became a Victoria Art League Resident Artist.

In a span of two years, I’m so blessed to do watercolor workshops and classes from Victoria, Rockport, Corpus Christi, Goliad, and Galveston, Texas. In addition to “Becoming Texan” I have two one-man exhibitions this year: “Island Vibes” in Galveston, Texas, and “Bayshore Boulevard” in Corpus Christi, Texas.

To become a Texan I plan to practice more paintings of horses, cows, shrimp boats, rodeos, and more, doing my best on-site sketching as possible.

Richie Vios, “Cowboy Office,” 2018, watercolor, 14 x 22 in.
Richie Vios, “Cowboy Office,” 2018, watercolor, 14 x 22 in. First painting of a cowboy subject

Smile on Your Face

In my watercolor workshops and classes, I always tell my students that the mark of a good artist is to be able to capture the different facets of life in their paintings, the mode, ambiance, etc. In a sense, not just illustrating or recording what they see but expressing what they feel. As a plein air artist, watercolor is the perfect medium in my opinion: it’s handy, quick to dry, yet delivers a truly magnificent work of art. Trust me, if you paint with no fear and a smile on your face, you can paint a masterpiece.

Hard Pills to Swallow

In my classes I normally inject some comic relief to make painting a more fun and enjoyable experience. I tell my students, you have three “CVS” pills to make a successful painting. C is for Confidence, V is for Visualization, and S is for Skills. You can’t be confident enough if you can’t visualize your painting first, either through thumbnail sketching or in your mind.

But you can’t visualize if you don’t have the skills. So learn techniques as well as you can, the best that you can afford. They say practice makes you perfect, but bad practice makes you worse. So look for a good mentor and get your creative juices flowing. Learning skills is like slow-cooked food — once it’s cooked, it tastes heavenly.

Rockport Art Center watercolor class
Rockport Art Center watercolor class

Paint the Iconic

As a newbie to plein air competition events, I realized that once you’re juried on a particular plein air event, you’re capable of producing gallery-level works. But what is separate from a winning piece through just an exhibited painting is the choice of subject. That’s connected to the heritage of the place and the people, plus how you bottle the subject into an extraordinary piece of work.

I called it the D-SVEC effect. Design, Shape, Values, Edges, and Color. The orchestration of visual languages … D-SVEC makes the winning piece.

“Becoming Texan: A Richie Vios Watercolor Painting Series”
Exhibit Opening Friday, March 29, 2020
Exhibit Runs Through Sunday, April 28, 2020
Square Gallery, Goliad, Texas

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